Aboriginal Land Rights in the Northern Territory: Documenting and Preserving the Records and Memories

Project status: 

Case study description

Since the late 1970s, a significant amount of research materials were generated in the Northern Territory preparing claims to be heard under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976. Comprised of anthropological, linguistic, historical, archaeological and legal research documents, field notes, photographs, and audio-visual recordings, these materials are highly significant for the national heritage of Aboriginal peoples. Yet the materials are also vulnerable to the passing of time and are in danger of being discarded, lost, damaged and forgotten. Recollections needed to establish their provenance diminish with the passing of each generation and will ultimately be extinguished.

To address this important issue, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and Latrobe University entered into a research partnership in 2019 for Stage 1 of a project titled ‘Aboriginal Land Rights in the Northern Territory: Documenting the Records and Memories’ (the Project). A Project Advisory Committee was formed chaired by Australian National University (ANU) Emeritus Professor and Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner, Michael Dodson. The long term objective of the project is to locate, catalogue, preserve, and prepare the materials for archiving, by ensuring the provenance of the materials is described in appropriate detail and that they are safely stored.

The Project keeps Aboriginal peoples’ access to materials firmly in its sights as it works towards new approaches to cataloguing, digitising and managing returns. Its ultimate aim is to put control of appropriate materials back in the hands of the relevant Indigenous communities, recognising the rights of Indigenous peoples to their knowledge, cultures and stories under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples while being mindful of the rights of those who hold materials in their collections and who played significant roles in their production. This project forms one of a number of case studies by AIATSIS within the broader Return of Native Title Materials project.

Case study activities

A Focus Group meeting held on 1st and 2nd October 2019 at University House at ANU in Canberra. The report from that meeting, due at the end of 2019, will form the key outputs of this case study. The Focus Group event was attended by 40 practicing and retired academics and lawyers involved in land rights claims under the ALRA and who hold relevant records. Advice and guidance on issues relating to the sorting, cataloguing, storage and return of land claim materials was given by National Indigenous Australia Agency (NIAA), National Archive Australia (NAA) and the Northern Land Council (NLC) and Central Land Council (CLC).


Contact details

Toni Bauman
Visiting Research Fellow, AIATSIS;
Consultant Anthropologist, facilitator and trainer.

Research team

Last reviewed: 6 Jul 2020