At Hermannsburg, in central Australia, Western Aranda people frequently propose that they live by ‘two laws’, Aranda law and God's law. This is a common phenomenon remarked throughout northern Australia and analysed by a number of anthropologists in the past. This discussion throws new light on the issue by interpreting `two-laws' talk in terms of a culture of encompassment that marks the emergence of historical or ‘ethnic’ identities as Aboriginal people make the transition from an autonomous world to one in which they must engage in the practices of European orders that can come to dominate their lives. The discussion deploys ‘ontology’ and ‘ethnicity’ in order to mark different magnitudes of difference that can shape Aboriginal experience today.