On TV–and on how little I really know about my own country despite almost 70 years in it

I have been enjoying Sunday nights on ABC.

This has been inspiring:

That particularly episode took me back rather…

May 2007 – 5 years now!

Then I have been stimulated and informed by Two on the Great Divide.

The third in the successful ‘Two Men’ series, environmentalist Tim Flannery and satirist John Doyle travel along the Divide by car, by foot, by boat and by air, as they endeavour to climb six of the most important spectacular peaks along the range.

Each episode features the same eclectic range of stories that characterised the earlier series. There are moments of adventure, moments when the boys excitedly dip into the fossil or historical record, and other times when they simply revel in quirky Australian characters.

But its not just spectacular scenery and beautiful vistas. True to the title, John and Tim also set out to investigate some of Australia’s ‘Great Divides’ in society. The ‘Great Divides’ include debates over climate, mining, food security, land ownership, patriotism, censorship and wealth distribution. They will also look over some less weighty issues; Melbourne versus Sydney, hippies versus hoons, tidy versus untidy towns.

Here is Lithgow NSW, where my cousin Ray lives.

A tidy town.

But there was so much in this series that I hardly knew about. Sure it was a touch sardonic at times, but also vey informative. For example, until last night’s episode I really was quite dim on mining law:

Ownership of minerals

According to the maxim "to whomsoever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and to the depths", there is a presumption that a land owner also owns all minerals on or beneath the surface of that land. The presumption is subject to the exception of the Royal metals. As early as the sixteenth century, the common law has held that all gold and silver, whether situated on public or private land, has been owned by the Crown. This Royal prerogative has also been applied in Australia, by both common law and legislation.

However, the principle of the owner of land owning the minerals within it has been virtually abolished by statute in Australia. The general rule is that the Crown (in right of the State) owns all minerals. This has been implemented by statute; initially by enacting that all future grants of land must contain a reservation to the Crown of all minerals. Now, all new grants of freehold titles in Australia have provided that all minerals were reserved to the Crown.

In respect of titles granted prior to the legislation, the owner of the land retained ownership of the minerals (except the Royal metals of gold and silver). That owner may grant a profit à prendre to enter and take minerals.

Crown ownership of minerals has been made universal in Victoria and South Australia by legislative expropriation of all minerals. In Tasmania and New South Wales, this approach of legislative expropriation has been applied on a selective basis (in Tasmania, for gold, silver, oil, hydrogen, helium and atomic substances, and, in New South Wales, for coal). The Crown, pursuant to statute, may grant various leases or licences to enter onto land and take minerals.

State ownership of minerals has had the important result that governments, rather than private landholders, determine the legal regimes governing mineral exploration and production.

I couldn’t help thinking of Portia, Shylock and the pound of flesh…

There will be a very weighty episode of Four Corners tonight on the High Court’s Mabo judgement.

We hear from the power brokers who forced the nation to confront its history, and their critics.

Former High Court Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason: "I foresaw that the judgement would be controversial but as often happens you don’t actually foresee the extent of the controversy."

Former President WA Liberal Party Bill Hassell: "It was a sense of outrage. That the High Court, which is not elected by anybody, not accountable to anybody, had presumed to move into the legislative area to make a whole new law."

Aboriginal negotiator, Mick Dodson: "Certainly it was something different for the leadership, probably the first time when we had such a huge issue, being directly negotiated with the Prime Minister."

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating: "Well the biggest pressure came at the end. The greater body of the parliamentary caucus in the form of senior people in the cabinet wanted me to give it up towards the end… and I said you’ve got to be joking, you’ve got to be joking, but they weren’t joking. You know they didn’t think I could get it through."

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