Truth-Telling: History, Sovereignty and the Uluru Statement

Henry Reynolds

If we are to take seriously the need for telling the truth about our history, we must start at first principles.

What if the sovereignty of the First Nations was recognised by European international law in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? What if the audacious British annexation of a whole continent was not seen as acceptable at the time and the colonial office in Britain understood that ‘peaceful settlement’ was a fiction? If the 1901 parliament did not have control of the whole continent, particularly the North, by what right could the new nation claim it?

The historical record shows that the argument of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is stronger than many people imagine and the centuries-long legal position about British claims to the land far less imposing than it appears.

In Truth-Telling, influential historian Henry Reynolds pulls the rug from legal and historical assumptions, with his usual sharp eye and rigour, in a book that’s about the present as much as the past. His work shows exactly why our national war memorial must acknowledge the frontier wars, why we must change the date of our national day, and why treaties are important. Most of all, it makes urgently clear that the Uluru Statement is no rhetorical flourish but carries the weight of history and law and gives us a map for the future.

Judge’s Comment

Celebrated historian Henry Reynolds has spent five decades working to change Australia’s official public memory by writing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories back into our history. Prompted by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Truth-Telling is an extraordinary addition to his impressive catalogue in which he makes a compelling argument for First Nations’ rights of sovereignty. This beautifully written book will be a building block towards the change that must come if all Australians are to move forward to a better future.

Truth-Telling provides a detailed and comprehensive examination of the claims laid bare in the Uluru Statement, unpacking these from a legal, political, historical and social perspective. Re-examining the traditional doctrine of sovereignty from the arrival of James Cook to the all-important Mabo judgment, Reynolds asks whether it is possible the First Nations peoples’ sovereignty has survived and whether it can co-exist with the sovereignty of the Crown. Or whether the home truths are just too difficult to accept. Reynolds argues that to ‘allow us to complete the liberation’ and to move towards ‘completed decolonisation’, we must acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and the Europeans took possession of the land in contravention of international and Crown laws at the time, and treaties must be established with our First Nations peoples to redress the wrongs of history and establish a new truth moving forward.

Winner, Scholarly Non-Fiction Book of the Year
Resource type
Scholarly Non-Fiction Book
Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences
1 Februrary 2021
Print only


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