The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement

By Max Charlesworth | Go to book overview

Land rights: the present situation

The States

In 1966 no Australian Aborigines had land rights as Aborigines: in 1983 Aborigines hold title to more than 500 000 square kilometres of land (though it should be noted that a great deal of this land is desert or semi-desert). In 1981 the South Australian Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act became law, granting title to a very large area of land to the Pitjantjatjara people. This is a very significant piece of legislation and was largely negotiated by the Pitjantjatjara people themselves.

In Queensland, however, there seems to be very little prospect of land rights in the strict sense.

The Queensland Government explicitly rejects any notion of Aboriginal land rights in the State, maintaining that Aborigines should have no entitlement to land which is not available to non-Aborigines. What is considered to be the Aboriginal peoples' 'special situation' is covered, they argue, by the fact that reserves are temporarily set aside on which communities exist which provide training' for Aborigines before they (inevitably) move into the general community.

Christopher Anderson, "Queensland", in N. Peterson (ed.), Aboriginal land rights: a handbook, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1983, p. 5

The confrontation in 1978 between the Aurukun and Mornington Island peoples and the Queensland Government illustrates the situation of conflict in that state over the land rights issue.

In Western Australia, also, the former state government refused to transfer the title and control of land to Aboriginal groups. Aborigines may be given occupancy of Crown Land through the Western Australian Lands Trust but ultimate control of the land is retained by the State Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

The Noonkanbah crisis of 1980, when Aboriginal groups protested against proposed drilling for oil at Noonkanbah in north-western Australia--the drilling company being given support by the state government and police protection-- illustrates the prevailing situation in Western Australia up to 1982.

As for NSW, new Aboriginal land rights legislation is due to be enacted in 1984. The same is true for Victoria.


Significance of the land rights movement

The practical effect of the land rights movement has been well expressed by Peterson:

Only where land rights have been granted which build

-41-

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The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 3
  • Introduction 4
  • The Land Rights Movement 6
  • Who Owns Australia? the Legal Basis 12
  • Aboriginal and European Relations in Australia 16
  • A History of the Land Rights Movement 20
  • Traditional Owners 27
  • Land Rights: the Present Situation 41
  • Conclusion 45
  • Resource Materials 49
  • Select Bibliography 51
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