Terra Nullius

A Journey Through No One’s Land

A provocative journey through the dark history of the creation of white Australia, exposing the hidden genocide of the Aboriginal people

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.” —Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

Long before the word “genocide” was coined, the British invasion of Australia had annihilated approximately nine-tenths of the continent’s original population of Aborigines. The creation of white Australia depended upon the legal fiction of “terra nullius”—no man’s land—the claim that Aboriginal lands were inhabited by people who would soon die out and who could be helped on the way to extinction if they lingered.

Sven Lindqvist, the widely acclaimed and internationally renowned author of “Exterminate All the Brutes” and A History of Bombing, brings his original sensibility to bear as he travels 7,000 miles through Australia in search of places where belief in the rights of the white man and the annihilation of the “lower races” were put into practice. While Australia continues to reckon with its violent past—echoed in the United States’ treatment of Native Americans and Europe’s colonization of other continents—Lindqvist evokes a shocking history in which young boys were kidnapped to dive for pearls, then whipped and abandoned when the bends ruined them for work; “half-caste” children were taken from their mothers; and natives were misdiagnosed with STDs, put in neck irons, and sent to internment camps on remote islands. Lindqvist also recalls the work of ethnologists who brought their own prejudices to bear in studying Aborigines as primitives close to the origins of civilization, later inspiring Freud and Durkheim. At the same time he describes a beautiful and strange land, sacred to the native people who had inhabited it for centuries and celebrated in a long tradition of richly symbolic art.

A movingly idiosyncratic travelogue and a powerful act of historical excavation, Terra Nullius is the illuminating and disturbing story of how “no man’s land” became the province of the white man.


“Readers of his earlier masterpieces, A History of Bombing and ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’, will know that Sven Lindqvist is a brilliant and original writer as well as a fierce polemicist. With Terra Nullius he has undertaken another devastating journey of historical exploration.”
—Geoff Dyer
“Lindqvist is a provocative guide through the intractable shame of the past.”
The Guardian
“The most original work on Australia and its treatment of Aboriginals I have ever read . . . a marvelous book.”
—Phillip Knightley, author of Australia: A Biography of a Nation

News and Reviews

The New Press Remembers Sven Lindqvist


Books by Sven Lindqvist

The Skull Measurer’s Mistake
And Other Portraits of Men and Women Who Spoke Out Against Racism

Sven Lindqvist

“Exterminate All the Brutes”
One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide

Sven Lindqvist

The Dead Do Not Die
“Exterminate All the Brutes” and Terra Nullius

Sven Lindqvist

A History of Bombing

Sven Lindqvist

Goodreads Reviews