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Dr Trish Luker
University of Technology Sydney

In May 2017, over 250 First Nations delegates gathered at the National Constitutional Convention at Mutitjulu on Anangu lands, and produced the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’. The statement calls for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission, a First Nations voice enshrined in the Constitution. The statement was brought into life over three days of discussion, accompanied by songs of country. It was produced as a canvas document with painting depicting key Anangu stories by senior artists and members of the Maruku Arts Centre and bears the signatures of all delegates involved in the convention. In this way, the Uluru Statement has a significant material form that is both an artistic and legal document. There is a long history of Australian Indigenous peoples’ use of legal documentary practices, including letters, petitions, statements and treaties, as strategies to assert sovereign rights and as expressions of political and legal action. These include the Petition of the Free Aborigines of Van Diemen’s Land (1846), the Coranderrk petitions (1870s), William Cooper’s petition to King George V (1933), the Yirrkala bark petitions (1963), the petition by the Larrakia people to Queen Elizabeth II (1972), and the Barunga Statement (1988).  These documents have often taken both legal and artistic form and have often included signatures. In this paper, I will outline research I have undertaken into the history and use of sacred knowledge, in the form of art, in the production of legal and political documents by Australian First Nations peoples. In particular, I will investigate the unique and innovative ways that signatures are mobilised as validation signs intended to transform written and artistic documents in to legal actions. I am conducting this research as part of a project called ‘What is a Document? Evidentiary challenges in the digital age’ (with Katherine Biber, UTS Law). In this project, we are employing understandings of documentation developed in information studies, cultural theory and visual arts to challenge outdated legal evidentiary frameworks and propose more nuanced and flexible paradigms that can accommodate diverse forms of material culture.

Dr Trish Luker is based at the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research focus is in interdisciplinary studies of law and humanities, particularly in relation to documentary practices, court processes and evidence law. She is co-editor of Australian Feminist Judgments: Righting and Rewriting Law (with Heather Douglas, Francesca Bartlett and Rosemary Hunter; Hart, 2014), Evidence and the Archive: Ethics, Aesthetics and Emotion (with Katherine Biber; Routledge, 2017), and The Court as Archive (with Ann Genovese and Kim Rubenstein; ANU Press, 2019).

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