Ron Merkel discusses the phrase 'washed away by the tide of history', 2008

Transcript of interview

One of the judges in the High Court in Mabo's case used the expression that a person's connection with the land may have been 'washed away by the tide of history'. In that context, it was merely meant to demonstrate that the kind of legal connection that you needed to establish to show you had native title may no longer be provable.

But that's an unfortunate wording that's been taken out of context and not understood, and it's become a very hurtful term because when people have lost a native title case, for them the connection has never been lost, but the legal requirements of the connection have been lost.

So when a judge says 'your connection's been washed away by the tide of history', they take that as something personal. It's very confronting, and it means that they have, in effect, invented part of their identity and part of their connection, and it's not the way the expression was ever intended to be used.