Nobody’s Land: Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

Terra nullius is a legal concept, arising from the Roman legal concept of res nullius. Res nullius means “nobody’s thing,” and applied to such things as wild beasts, lost slaves, and abandoned property: things anybody could own by seizing and claiming them. Terra nullius means “nobody’s land,” and seems to have become an established concept in international law by the early 20th century.

But the idea that habitable land is empty and there for the taking goes back a lot further.

Terra Nullius is a tremendously accomplished book. It’s Claire G. Coleman’s first novel, and since its 2017 publication in Australia, it’s been shortlisted for several awards and won at least two. Coleman is an indigenous Australian Noongar woman, and Terra Nullius is a story about settlement, about cultural erasure, genocide, exploitation, suffering. It’s a novel about residential schools who take children from their parents as young as possible and ...