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Permits / Frequently Asked Questions

Are permits legally required?

Yes. Commonwealth and Northern Territory law says that entry to Aboriginal land requires a written permit.

Aboriginal land is privately owned. It is not Crown land, nor public land. Permission must be obtained in accordance with the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 before going onto Aboriginal Land. This includes access to tidal waters over Aboriginal land. That is, access to the water and land between the high and low tide watermarks requires permission by the land owner.

Unauthorised entry to Aboriginal land and waters in the Northern Territory can result in a fine of up to $1000.

The Northern Land Council is responsible for administering the permit system for traditional owners in the Top End.

Why are permits necessary?

The permit system is designed to help protect the privacy of Aboriginal communities, preserve Aboriginal culture, safeguard the natural environment and promote visitor safety.

Aboriginal land is privately owned. It is not Crown land, nor public land. Like other landowners in Australia, Aboriginal people have the legal right to grant or refuse permission to people wishing to enter or travel through their land.

A permit is a written permission from the traditional owners to enter the private land and waters of a family or group of Aboriginal people.

When will I need a permit?

If you wish to undertake any of the following activities on Aboriginal land in the Northern Land Council region then you will need to apply to the Northern Land Council for a permit:

  • Enter Aboriginal land or waters for any purpose
  • Travel by road through Aboriginal land (Note: this does not apply to public roads)
  • Enter or visit an Aboriginal Community (Note: some exceptions apply)

Please note that permit requirements apply to all persons visiting Aboriginal communities for work or other purposes on a short- or long-term basis. This includes:

  • Travellers
  • Tourists
  • Recreational fishers
  • Contractors
  • Journalists
  • Hawkers
  • Representatives of any group, company agency or government department not covered by statutory permit arrangement

Depending on your purpose, you will require either: a Work, Transit, Recreational fishing and Tourist Permit; a Research Permit; a Media Permit; or a Commercial Filming Permit.

Note: For commercial activities on Aboriginal land and waters see S19 Land Use Agreements

Do people travelling with me in the same vehicle all require a separate permit?

No. People travelling together in the same vehicle are included on a single permit. This is issued to the nominated driver of the vehicle. The names of all passengers must be listed on your permit application and each person should sign to agree that they will be bound by the terms and conditions of the permit.

Is there a charge?

The Northern Land Council administers the permit system on behalf of the traditional owners. In most cases, there is no charge for a permit.
However, entry fees apply for some destinations.

Contact the Land Council head office for latest information:
Phone: (08) 8920 5100 or email: permits@nlc.org.au


The Land Council permit officer contacts the permit delegates of the relevant Aboriginal community. These permit delegates are traditional Aboriginal owners, often employed in the local government council. There are usually three delegates, all of whom must be contacted and agree to the issue of the permit.

Because permit delegates of particular Aboriginal communities have to be contacted directly by the Land Council in each case, it is not possible to issue a global or general permit to enter all Aboriginal land in its area.

Traditional Aboriginal owners have provided guidelines to the Land Council concerning who will be considered eligible for a permit and the type of reason for which they would allow a stranger onto their private land. If the reasons given by the applicant fall outside the guidelines given by the traditional owners, then the applicant would not be encouraged to proceed with the application for a permit.

If permission is granted, the applicant generally picks up the permit from a designated Land Council office. The issue of a permit is purely discretionary and may be revoked at any time.

How long does it take for a permit to be processed?

The Land Council requires a minimum of ten (10) working days to process a transit or visitor permit. Depending on your plans, extra time may be needed to contact all the relevant groups of traditional owners along your route.

While it is important to allow enough time for traditional owners to be contacted, it is not advisable to apply for a permit too far in advance of your trip, as this increases the likelihood of unforeseen circumstances affecting permission. The Land Council reserves the right to accept or refuse a transit or visitor permit application if it is more than 25 days before your intended trip.

Work permits may require a formal written agreement to be negotiated and should be applied for at the earliest stage possible.

Weather conditions, ceremonial events or funerals can result in a permit being cancelled at short notice, so you will have to check closer to your travel dates to make sure the permit is not cancelled or delayed.

Are there special rules to observe?

Yes. A full list of general conditions for entry onto Aboriginal land are listed on the permit application forms. Traditional owners or the Northern Land Council may stipulate special conditions of entry. You must carry your permit with you at all times.

  • Liquor: Many Aboriginal communities and areas of Aboriginal land have been declared dry by the NT Liquor Commission. Alcohol must not be consumed on those areas of land. There are very severe penalties under the Liquor Act for breach of these provisions. For more information relating to alcohol on Aboriginal land please contact the Liquor Commission on 08 89991328.

  • Environment: A number of permit conditions aim to protect the environment. These include conditions relating to the condition of motor vehicles, litter disposal etc.

  • Activities: Other conditions point out that the permit does not authorise a range of activities, including taking animals onto the land, cutting down trees, fishing and hunting and carrying firearms.

  • Privacy: We ask that you respect the privacy of people living in the communities as you are travelling through. Aboriginal people tend to be more polite to strangers than most non-Aboriginal groups and are therefore more inclined to 'agree' to requests from visitors - for example to take photographs - so it is important to avoid taking advantage of people's hospitality, offending people or intruding into people's lives uninvited. Please also be aware of local views on such matters as dress, as skimpy attire can offend in some regions.