Land ownership among Aboriginal communities in NSW 1788 to 1950

Monday, 2 June 2014
Michael Bennet
Sonia Hughes

It is frequently assumed that in the aftermath of European settlement of New South Wales Aboriginal people did not own land under the new legal system which was imposed upon them.

Relegated to pastoral station camps, reserves and later fringe camps near towns, Aboriginal people lacked the means to lease or purchase land for their own use.

Detailed historical research, however, clearly indicates that numerous Aboriginal people from the mid 19 th century onwards held land under a variety of tenures. Some were substantial holdings purchased by the families themselves and used for residence and agriculture. Others were located adjacent to Aboriginal reserves and became home bases for resource gathering and employment.

There is a rich history of land ownership by Aboriginal people in NSW which is only now coming to light. Evidence of Aboriginal land ownership, based on government records, has important implications for the assessment of connection in native title applications and the negotiations with the Crown which follow.