History Lab – Reading the Signs

The signature is one of the most fundamental tools used by the law to authenticate or identify a person. But strangely, the law struggles to define what exactly a signature is.

In Australia’s settler colonial history, it’s been used as a tool of oppression.

I wrote and produced this episode of History Lab that looks at how Australia’s legal system has been inconsistent in how it has interpreted signatures of Indigenous people. We hear from a boy who was stolen, the man who took him away and the judge who was asked to decide if a mother’s thumbprint was a sign of consent.

From the Yirrkala Bark Petitions in 1963 to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 Aboriginal people have been reclaiming this marker of individual identity to represent the many and speak back to an empire.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this episode of History Lab, ‘Reading the signs’ contains the voices and names of deceased persons.