Land, Law and Indigenous Australians

When developing units of work on this particular topic, the following learnings need to be considered:

  • Indigenous people in Australia have unique rights to land which have now been recognised in common law.
  • For many Aboriginal people, land has a profound spiritual value, and land rights incorporates spiritual ownership. Land is a source of life to which Aboriginal people belong by virtue of their birth into a region and group of people.

'You must all remember . . . land to Aborigines is not a commodity or a possession to be fenced off and guarded. Land is a source of life to which Aboriginal people belong - a spiritual base which needs to be maintained"'.

Kirrae Wurrong community member

  • For Indigenous Australians, ownership and management of land are important measures of social justice that offer:
    - the use and control of land for people still living on ancestral homelands;
    - economic compensation for injustices suffered as a result of enforced alienation from homelands;
    - the continuity and nurturing of their spiritual and cultural identities and heritage;
    - political rights, political power and self-determination.
  • Indigenous communities and groups have mounted campaigns over many decades to have even limited land rights recognised and to regain control over some of the land that was originally theirs. Many of the activists most committed to the struggle have not lived to see their lands returned.
  • In recent decades the most significant events in the land rights movement have involved legal and legislative challenges. 'Watershed' events affecting the entire nation include the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (NT), the High Court's Mabo decision (June 1992), the Native Title Act 1993 (Cwlth) and the High Court's Wik decision (December 1996).
  • It is now widely recognised that the achievement of an authentic and abiding Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians will not be possible unless:
    - previous injustices are acknowledged;
    - ongoing or current injustices are corrected;
    - Indigenous people's rights to preserve and strengthen their ownership of land are adequately provided for and protected in law.