Wild Rivers

Between 2010 and 2014, I completed a Doctoral thesis at the University of Melbourne. This project examined issues of development, Indigeneity and environmental conservation by considering how the controversial Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) was debated, reported on, celebrated and condemned in Cape York Peninsula, northern Australia between 2004 and 2012. The Peninsula has long been constructed as a ‘wild’ space, whether as terra nullius, a zone excepted from settler law or a biodiverse wilderness region in need of conservation. The past two decades, however, have seen two major changes in the political and social composition of the region, the first being the legal recognition of geographically extensive Indigenous land rights and the creation of a corporate infrastructure to govern them. Second, the Peninsula has been the centre of national debates regarding the market integration and social normalisation of Indigenous people and the site of substantial investment in Indigenous policy reform. Ironically, the Queensland state government’s own attempts to ‘settle’ land use through the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) brought out the immanent tensions within the region’s present political formation.This project adopted an interdisciplinary approach to examine how and why the controversy over the legislation occurred and what it indicates about present imaginaries of the governance and potentiality of Indigenous lands and waters in northern Australia. It showed that historically embedded forms of ‘wildness’ continue to shape debates about Cape York Peninsula’s future, debates in which economic and social development are often conflated and conceptualised as beneficent transformations. Ultimately, my thesis contended that close consideration of this event provides insights into the future dilemmas of development, conservation and Indigenous politics in remote Australia.


Below is a list of publications based on this doctoral project:

Neale T. (In Press) Regarding Self-Governmentality: Transactional Accidents and Indigeneity in Cape York Peninsula, Australia. In: Griffiths MR (ed) Biopolitics and Memory in Postcolonial Literature and Culture. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

Neale T. (2013) Staircases, Pyramids and Poisons: the immunitary paradigm in the works of Noel Pearson and Peter Sutton. Continuum 27: 177-192.

Neale T. (2012) Contest and Consent: the legacy of the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld). Indigenous Law Bulletin 8: 6-9.

Neale T. (2012) ‘A Substantial Piece in Life’: viabilities, realities and given futures at the Wild Rivers inquiries. Australian Humanities Review 53.

Neale T. (2011) Duplicity of Meaning: wildness, indigeneity and recognition in the Wild Rivers Act debate. Griffith Law Review 20: 310-323.


Wenlock River, Cape York Peninsula

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