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The NLC logo is derived from a painting by a Kunwinjku man from Marrkolidjban on the Liverpool River.

The NLC logo is derived from a painting by a Kunwinjku man from Marrkolidjban on the Liverpool River.

The use of the painting as the Land Council logo, and some minor changes to the design, was approved by the artist and a copyright fee was paid. The artist has since died.  The painting is a western Kunwinjku depiction of the Rainbow Serpent which is widespread in Aboriginal beliefs.

Dreamtime (or The Dreaming or Tjukurrpa or Jukurrpa) stories tell of the great spirits and totems during creation, in animal and human form that moulded the barren and featureless earth. The Rainbow Serpent came from beneath the ground and created huge ridges, mountains, and gorges as it pushed upward. The Rainbow Serpent is understood to be of immense proportions and inhabits deep permanent waterholes and is in control of life's most precious resource, water. In some cultures, the Rainbow Serpent is considered to be the ultimate creator of everything in the universe.

In some cultures, the Rainbow Serpent is male; in others, female; in yet others, the gender is ambiguous or the Rainbow Serpent is hermaphroditic or bisexual, thus an androgynous entity. Some commentators have suggested that the Rainbow Serpent is a phallic symbol, which fits its connection with fertility myths and rituals. When the Serpent is characterized as female or bisexual, it is sometimes depicted with breasts. Other times, the Serpent has no particular gender. The Serpent has also been known to appear as a scorpion or another animal or creature. In some stories, the Serpent is associated with a bat, sometimes called a "flying fox" in Australian English, engaged in a rivalry over a woman. Some scholars have identified other creatures, such as a bird, crocodile, dingo, or lizard, as taking the role of the Serpent in stories. In all cases, these animals are also associated with water. The Rainbow Serpent has also been identified with the bunyip, a fearful, water-hole dwelling creature in Australian mythology.

The sometimes unpredictable Rainbow Serpent (in contrast to the unyielding sun) replenishes the stores of water, forming gullies and deep channels as the Rainbow Serpent slithers across the landscape. In this belief system, without the Serpent, no rain would fall and the Earth would dry up.  In other cultures, the Serpent is said to come to stop the rain. In addition to the identification with the rainbow, the Serpent is also identified with a prismatic halo around the moon that can be regarded as a sign of rain. The Rainbow Serpent is sometimes associated with human blood, especially circulation and the menstrual cycle, and considered a healer.  Thunder and lightning are said to stem from when the Rainbow Serpent is angry, and the Serpent can even cause powerful rainstorms and cyclones.  Quartz crystal and seashells are also associated with the Rainbow Serpent and are used in rituals to invoke it. The identification with quartz crystal presumably results from its prism-like appearance.

Joe Morrison delivers Keynote Speech Northern Australian Developm

Joe Morrison, CEO NLC delivers the Keynote Speech at the Northern Australian Development Conference at Cairns, Queensland 19 June 2017


I want to say at the outset that when I talk about northern Australia I am talking about the mega landscape of the river systems across the top of Australia. This was the area under study by the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce established by John Howard in 2007 and continued under a modified composition by the Rudd Government.

It is also the region covered by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) where I was CEO for 13 years. So just to make sure there is no confusion about what I refer to as the North, if you drew a line from Townsville to Karratha I am talking about all the land north of that line.

I would like to open up in a positive tone by welcoming the decision made at the recent COAG meeting to establish a ministerial forum to focus on key priority matters concerning Australia’s northern region.

The joint media statement announcing the forum said, “given the significant land holdings of Indigenous people in Northern Australia, the first meeting of the Forum will also bring together Ministers with responsibility for Indigenous affairs and senior Indigenous representatives from northern Australia.” This is an important initiative that I feel Indigenous leaders in northern Australia will strongly support. I would particularly like to acknowledge Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner for his role in establishing this proposed forum, something previous Chief Ministers of the NT have neglected.

However, I should also say that this decision to include Indigenous interests in the national commitment to develop northern Australia has been a long time coming.  “The significant landholdings” that the joint media release refers to is not just those held by Indigenous landowners who directly own or control 40% of northern Australia — either through statutory land rights laws, native title exclusive possession, pastoral lease ownership, Aboriginal reserves or management of national parks.

It also extends to coexisting native title rights to pastoral leases. This means that various traditional owner groups across northern Australia have rights to over 90% of northern Australia including its coastline. It is not just land ownership that highlights the essential importance of Indigenous inclusion; it is also demography. The Indigenous population of the North constitutes the majority of the region’s permanent population. The vast majority of non-Indigenous settlers do not live out their lives in the North.

Indigenous people in northern Australia by virtue of land ownership and demography must be seen as primary stakeholders and not special interest groups. Indigenous interests do not come to this forthcoming engagement with governments about our region’s future development with the status of advisors or marginal participants.

We come as genuinely equity stakeholders with a commitment to inclusive and sustainable development of northern Australia.

Download the complete Keynote Address

NLC sea country access map

Sea Country Access Arrangements in the NLC Region map

On 24 December 2016, the NLC issued a Public Notice, pursuant to section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act that waives the requirement for a permit to enter tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land for a period of six months, until 30 June 2017. This has since been reissued and the requirement for a permit will now expire on the 31 December 2017.

Download a high resolution PDF (2.4MB) version of the map: Sea Country Access Arrangements in the NLC Region

Download a JPG (1MB) version of the map: Sea Country Access Arrangements in the NLC Region

View the NLC Public Notice, pursuant to section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act that waives the requirement for a permit to enter tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land for a period of six months, until 31 December 2018 (PDF published 10 June 2017)

View the Information Sheet on Access to Tidal Waters on Aboriginal Land (PDF) published June 2017


NLC Corporate Plan 2017-18 to 2020-21

The purpose of the NLC Corporate Plan is to provide information about the significant activities which the NLC will undertake over the four years, 2017/18 to 2020/21.  The plan describes our purposes, what we will do to achieve those purposes and how we will know that we have achieved them.

View the NLC Corporate Plan (PDF)


Sea Country Rights in NT

On 30 July 2008 the High Court of Australia confirmed that traditional owners of the Blue Mud Bay region in north-east Arnhem Land, together with traditional owners of almost the entire Northern Territory coastline, have exclusive access rights to tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land.

Northern Territory coastal and marine areas remain some of the world’s most intact environments, rich in natural resources, biodiversity and cultural heritage and support a range of growing regional and local economies and livelihoods.

The coastline of the Northern Territory mainland is 5,100km long and offshore islands contribute a further 2,100km of coastline. Around 84% or 6,050km of this coastline is owned by Aboriginal Traditional Owner groups. 

Sea country is important because it is relevant to a large demographic of Aboriginal people. Not only do Traditional Owners have significant land holdings, Aboriginal people make up around 50% of the general population, with greater percentages living in remote coastal areas.

Traditional Owners of sea country also enjoy Native Title rights, exclusive access to closed seas, protection of sacred sites and managing their Indigenous Protected Areas.Traditional Owners of sea country also enjoy Native Title rights, exclusive access to closed seas, protection of sacred sites and managing their Indigenous Protected Areas.

Exclusive Access to Intertidal waters

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. This is regardless of whether you hold a fishing licence issued by the Northern Territory Government.

This right was affirmed on 30 July 2008 by the High Court in its decision on the landmark Blue Mud Bay case (Gawarrin Gumana & Ors vs Northern Territory).

The ‘interim’ (short-term) arrangement put in place in 2007 that allowed all recreational fishers and commercial operators’ access to tidal waters over Aboriginal land ended on 31 December 2016. After almost 10 years, the interim arrangement between the NLC and the Northern Territory Government has not been renewed.

On 24 December 2016, the NLC issued a Public Notice, pursuant to section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act that waives the requirement for a permit to enter tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land for a period of six months, until 30 June 2017.

This has since been reissued and the requirement for a permit will now expire on the 31 December 2017. Please read the Public Notice issued on 10 June 2017

Read the Information Sheet on Access to Tidal Waters on Aboriginal Land published June 2017.

As of the 1 January 2018, permission will be required for access in accordance with the Aboriginal land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Closed Seas

Two sea closures have been Gazetted under the Aboriginal Land Act (1978). They are in the Milingimbi, Crocodile Islands and Glyde River area (1981) and the Castlereagh Bay and Howard Island area (1988). Both closed seas are adjacent to Aboriginal Land and extend 2km seaward of the low tide watermark. Closed seas provide exclusive access to Traditional Owners. Permission from the land owners is required to access closed seas and can be granted through a Work, Transit, Rcreational Fishing and Tourist Permit

Native Title determinations for sea country

Non-exclusive native title determinations cover sea country surrounding Croker Island in west Arnhem Land and in the north region of Blue Mud Bay in east Arnhem Land.

These determinations, in accordance with and subject to traditional laws and customs as recognised rights under common law, provide for Aboriginal people the ability to hunt and gather resources and practice traditions. Native title enables unobstructed access from other competing interests, including commercial operators and recreational interests.

Sacred Sites

All sacred sites are protected in accordance with the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (1989). Many sacred sites are registered in sea country. Access is not permitted within 100 metres of any sacred site, though some sacred sites may have more restrictive access. Visit www.aapant.org.au/sacred-sites for more information

Joe Morrison delivers the 8th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture

Joe Morrison CEO

This year marks two major anniversaries: 50 years since the Wave Hill walk-off and 40 years since the Australian Parliament passed the NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act. Next year will mark 10 years since the Commonwealth's NT Emergency Response - the Intervention. What benefits have government policies delivered to Indigenous peoples over those decades? How would Nugget Coombs rate the quality of advice and programs that have emanated from government bureaucracies, NGOS and powerful individuals, as they have applied to Indigenous affairs?

The passage of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act remains its acme. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have been so distracted gaining, then defending, their rights that they simply have not secured their future. Developing the North is a hollow mantra without real inclusion of Indigenous peoples: the need for them to be consulted is ignored and self-management continues to elude them.

Closing the Gap targets remain unmet. In the Northern Territory, social determinants of health for Aboriginal people are stagnant while the rates of imprisonment are ever increasing. The scandalous treatment of Aboriginal juveniles by the Northern Territory’s justice system has led to a Royal Commission; at least its appointment will, to the relief of the Aboriginal population, help dispel for a long time the possibility of Statehood.

The failure of public policies in the Northern Territory leads only to the conclusion that Aboriginal people themselves must seize the agenda for change, in order to achieve social and economic development on their own terms for themselves and for the nation

Download Joe Morrison's lecture


Access to Aboriginal land Cox Peninsula

Part view of the Kenbi land claim at Cox Peninsula

After the settlement of the Kenbi land claim, and the handover of title deeds by the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, at Mandorah on 21 June 2016, large areas of land on Cox Peninsula and nearby islands are now Aboriginal land.
Following negotiations between the Northern Land Council and the Northern Territory Government, new arrangements governing public access, under the Aboriginal Land Act (NT), are now in place.

Aboriginal land is privately owned land. It is not Crown land and it is not public land. Aboriginal land extends to the low tide mark in coastal areas (intertidal zone). You must obtain a permit to go on to Aboriginal land, including access to intertidal zones.

For the Kenbi Land Claim settlement, the NLC and the NT Government negotiated a compensation package with the Aboriginal land owners that allows permit-free access for people to visit beaches and to fish in the tidal waters of Cox Peninsula. However, there are some areas where access, including fishing, is prohibited and other areas where access and fishing is restricted. This information is displayed on the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map. Access to all other Aboriginal land requires a permit.

Beach access from the intertidal zone (where permitted) means that you can go ashore as far as the crest of the secondary sand dune, or if there is no secondary sand dune, you can go 50 metres beyond the inland boundary of the beach.
Sacred sites are areas that are protected by law and you must not be within 100 metres of any sacred site. Some sacred sites have more restrictive access. Penalities do apply. It is your responsibility to know the location of sacred sites.

You do not need a permit to use the following roads and tracks in this area:

  • Cox Peninsula Road
  • Wagait Tower Road
  • Charles Point Road
  • Harney’s Beach Track off Charles Point Road
  • Talc Head Road to Mica Beach off Cox Peninsula Road
  • Pioneer Beach track off Bynoe Harbour Access Road
  • Rankin Point track off Bynoe Harbour Access Road
  • Keswick Point track off  Bynoe Harbour Access Road
  • Tower Beach Road to Masson Point
  • Raft Point track off Bynoe Harbour Access Road

All other roads and tracks on Aboriginal land require a permit

Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map

Use the links below to view and download a detailed map showing access and restrictions. Use the zoom tool once the PDF is open to see details on the map.

View the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map (PDF 2MG)

View the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map (JPG file)


Read the Notice under section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act (NT) for access to Kenbi land



Native Title ceremony at Borroloola

Joe Morrison, CEO delivers a speech at a special sitting of the Federal Court at Borroloola on 11 August. At this sitting a “right to trade” was part of the successful native title claim by the Rrumburriya Borroloola people (the traditional owners of Borroloola and members of the wider Yanyuwa group. It’s the first time in the Northern Territory that a right to trade has been recognised in a native title claim. The court sat on the bank of the McArthur River, where Justice John Mansfield, who will retire from the Federal Court on August 24, handed certificates of title to the native title claimants.

Welcome, everybody, and I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land where we gather today.

Only nine months ago, November last year, we were gathered at this very same place for another ceremony, when native title was determined over many pastoral leases around the Gulf.
Piece by piece, the native title jigsaw puzzle across the Northern Land Council region is being filled in – maybe not as fast as Justice Mansfield may like at times, but we’re all doing our best to complete the puzzle.

And the piece of the puzzle that has brought us here today for the recognition of native title at Borroloola is important, because the Federal Court has recognised that among the bundle of native title rights recognised by the court is the right to trade.

This is a first in the Northern Territory.

The court’s decision, handed down on the 30th of June, is an important read for those interested in the history of the laws and customs of the Aboriginal people that belong to this country. It is also an important fact of life for the Northern Territory and the nation itself to recognize the long standing commercial trade that took place long before the arrival of the British to Australia.

Clearly you have maintained those laws and customs - and the connections to country which go with all of that - and the Court has recognised your rich history.

On behalf of the Northern Land Council, I congratulate you for having kept your culture against the odds.

I say, ‘against the odds’, because the invasion of your lands by white settlers was the start of a long attack on your culture.
Worse, the invasion brought horrific bloodshed and caused the deaths of many of your ancestors. Once only has to read the book “Frontier Justice” by Tony Roberts to get a sense of regions violent past.

So, I congratulate you for having won recognition of your native title rights, especially the right to trade.

You have also been leaders in the long battle for land rights, because the Borroloola land rights claim back in the late 1970s was the very first to be heard under the Northern Territory Land Rights Act.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Justice Mansfield for his great work in overseeing the native title claims across our whole region over many years.

This will be the last occasion he’ll be here as a Federal Court judge, because he’s about to retire after 20 years on the bench.

Justice Mansfield was appointed not long after the Native Title Act came into force, and he’s handled a big number of native title claims all over the Territory.
In every case His Honour has demonstrated a profound understanding of Aboriginal law and custom, the connection of people to land and how colonisation and government policies have affected them.

He brought that wisdom to the Borroloola claim which has brought us here today.

He has been not just a learned judge. He’s also been a great administrator in the way he’s managed the native title cases that he’s had to deal with in the Northern Territory.
He’s always encouraged parties to settle rather than have a drawn out battle in the courtroom.

That way, he’s managed many so called consent determinations, whereby the parties – the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments, pastoralists, the land councils and others – have come together and settled native title claims without the trouble and expense of a full blown trial in court.

That’s what happened late last year with those determinations of native title over pastoral leases around here.
Justice Mansfield’s management of his court has meant that more than 150 Aboriginal groups in the Top End have had their native title rights and interests recognised and claims resolved since 2011.

We Aboriginal people think you’ve been a very fair judge, and we thank you for all your hard work.

Above all, you’ve been very kind and understanding in your dealings with us Aboriginal people.

You will be remembered not only for your terrific intellect but also, for your humanity, generosity, and good humour.

We all wish you well in your retirement.

Not that you’ll be putting your feet up, because I’m glad to see that you will be continuing in your other job as the Aboriginal Land Commissioner.

I also want to congratulate all the NLC staff – the lawyers and the anthropologists – who did all the hard work to get a successful outcome here at Borroloola under the new leadership of Michael O’Donnell and Stephen Johnson.

And I want to thank the hardworking staff from Rick Fletcher’s office for organising today’s ceremony.

They always do an amazing job. 

Thanks, everybody.


Kenbi Land Claim: The Chairman of the NLC delivers a speech at the

Samuel Bush-Blanasi, Chairman of the NLC

The Chairman of the NLC, Samuel Bush-Blanasi delivers a speech at the Kenbi Land Claim handback ceremony at Mandorah on June 21 2016

Good morning and welcome.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land where we are gathered today, the Tommy Lyons Group.  I acknowledge the Larrakia people and the Belyuen group.

And I welcome our distinguished guests here today:
The Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull and his Indigenous Affairs Minister, Senator Nigel Scullion. Mr Warren Snowdon MP, representing the Leader of the Opposition. The Northern Territory Chief Minister, Adam Giles. And I welcome the many other distinguished guests, too many to mention by name.

This is a great day in the history of the Northern Territory. Here we are, more than 37 years after the Northern Land Council first lodged the Kenbi land claim, finally celebrating the handover of title deeds.

Too many people are not with us to witness this historic event because they have passed away too soon.

Only a week ago I was at Yarralin, a small community in the Victoria River District, to witness the handback of 50 thousand hectares of Aboriginal land. That too was an historic event. That Yarralin claim was lodged and heard in 1975, even before the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in December 1976.

So this is the fortieth anniversary of Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory. The Land Rights Act has enabled the return to Aboriginal ownership of half the land mass of the Northern Territory, and more than 85 per cent of the Territory’s coastline. And that has been achieved without the mayhem and social disruption that those who so loudly opposed land rights forecast back in the 1970s and 80s.

The Land Rights Act has delivered justice – a justice largely denied to Aboriginal people in other jurisdictions. We are a more enlightened society in 2016.  The fears about land rights which were so prevalent 40 years ago have been put aside.

And today we should also put aside the disagreements that I acknowledge some Aboriginal people feel about how this Kenbi land claim has been worked out. Today, let us join together in a spirit of real celebration.
The realisation of the Kenbi land claim is a great occasion for us all. This beautiful place we call Cox Peninsula, and the islands to the west, are finally back in Aboriginal hands, and many more Aboriginal people than just the few Traditional Owners will benefit from that.

Aboriginal people themselves now have great opportunities for economic development.

Caring for this country, nurturing its cultural and environmental values, will now be the responsibility of Aboriginal people themselves.

We will all be better off for that.

Getting here has meant hard work by so many staff of the Northern Land Council over the past four decades, and I thank them all for their dedication.  I also thank the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments for their commitment to bringing about final settlement of this claim which has hung over these lands like a dark cloud for far too long.

Thank you.

Samuel Bush-Blanasi
Chairman, Northern Land Council

21 June 2016

Kenbi Land Claim NLC CEO speech at the Handback Ceremony

Joe Morrison, CEO delivers a speech at the Kenbi handback ceremony

Joe Morrison, CEO delivered a speech summarising the history of the Kenbi Land Claim from 1979-2016

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and distinguished guests.

Firstly, I acknowledge all Larrakia people present and the Belyuen group, knowing that this journey has been long and often difficult. I acknowledge members of the Tommy Lyons Group as the traditional owners of the lands on which we stand. I welcome you all here today, and recognise that many of you have travelled from far away to attend this ceremony. I welcome our distinguished guests.

The list is too long to nominate you all, but I am delighted that the Prime Minister, the Northern Territory Chief Minister and the representative for the Opposition Leader Mr Warren Snowdon have been able to take time out of their busy schedules to be here today.

This morning I want to take you on a short journey through the last four decades of the story of the Kenbi land claim. It’s been a tumultuous journey, so buckle up and come along for a bumpy ride through a long and tortuous history.

This year, 2016, is the fortieth anniversary of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act. It passed through the Commonwealth Parliament in December 1976 under Mr Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government.
A year before then, Mr Fraser’s predecessor, Labor Prime Minister Mr Gough Whitlam, was removed from office before he could enact broadly similar legislation. But, anticipating the legislation, Mr Whitlam in April 1975 appointed an interim Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Justice Dick Ward.

The newly incorporated Northern Land Council wrote to the interim Commissioner in March 1975, seeking advice about lodging a land claim to Cox Peninsula, where we are gathered today.

The prospect of Aboriginal land rights frankly terrified much of the Territory’s non-Aboriginal population. Land rights were certainly unsettling the Country Liberal Party when it assumed self-government of the Northern Territory in July 1978.

One of the first acts of the new government, in December 1978, was to promulgate town planning regulations which declared that large areas around Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs were to be treated as if they were part of a town, and therefore unable to be claimed as Aboriginal land. That was in spite of the Northern Land Council having foreshadowed, before self-government, a claim to land on this very peninsula. Notwithstanding the Northern Territory’s town planning regulations, the NLC lodged the land claim to Cox Peninsula and various islands to the west of here on the 20th of March 1979 - more than 37 years ago. The validity of the town planning regulations would bedevil the process of the Kenbi claim for more than a decade.

The legal challenges, all the way to the High Court, were complex and expensive. The very first Aboriginal Land Commissioner, the late and much-respected Justice John Toohey, held initial hearings in 1979 to ascertain whether he could proceed with hearing the land claim. He found that he could not, as he was unable to question the motives of the Government in making the Town Planning regulations.

The NLC took the decision to the High Court which, in 1981, directed the Land Commissioner to consider whether the regulations had been made for the ulterior and improper purpose of defeating the claim. In the subsequent hearing, the Northern Territory Government refused the Land Commissioner’s order to produce all relevant documents about the planning decision. The Government took this through the Federal and High courts – and lost again. It was not until 1988 that Justice Howard Olney, the fourth Land Commissioner to deal with the matter, found that the planning regulations were invalid because they had been made for the improper purpose of preventing claims under the Land Rights Act.

The NT Government appealed to the courts, again unsuccessfully. Finally, in September 1989, the High Court’s refusal of special leave to appeal allowed Justice Olney to begin hearing the Kenbi claim. The hearing lasted for 30 sitting days and ended in disappointment. Justice Olney handed down his report in February 1991, finding that there were no traditional Aboriginal owners of the claimed land. That was because the Land Rights Act required that there be at least two persons of patrilineal descent who had primary spiritual responsibility for sites on the land, and the Commissioner found that only one such person existed.

A year later, in February 1992, the Federal Court overturned that finding and ruled that persons of matrilineal descent could satisfy the term “traditional Aboriginal owners” as defined in the Act. Thus the path was cleared for a second hearing and by then the office of Aboriginal Land Commissioner was held by Justice Peter Gray. He sat for 57 days between October 1995 and June 1999. The NT government held to its obsession that the Cox Peninsula was required for the future expansion of the City of Darwin. It argued that Darwin would expand to a population of one million, and that of four available options, only the Cox Peninsula could be used for that expansion.

But Justice Gray was critical of the government’s town planning exercise, saying that it had more to do with defeating the Kenbi land claim than attempting to plan for the possible future expansion of Darwin.
Aboriginal interests, he said, were given little or no weight, whereas much emphasis was placed on the desirability of providing vast areas for people who might wish to live in low-density, rural-residential environments. In his report, delivered in December 2000, Justice Gray observed that a town could be constructed in the south-east portion of the peninsula, which had not been recommended for grant in the land claim.

More importantly, he found that six persons known as the Tommy Lyons Group were traditional Aboriginal owners of most of the land claimed. Further, he reported that the land would be for the benefit of all 1,600 Larrakia people who have traditional interests, not just the six traditional owners.
In May 2002, that finding became a reality, and legal challenges were finally put to rest, when the Territory’s new Labor government decided to abandon any further appeals through the courts.

But that was not the end of the journey. First there were discussions with governments about how Justice Gray’s recommendations would be put to effect. That’s resulted in agreement for 52 thousand hectares to become Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act. Another 13 thousand hectares in the northern part of Cox Peninsula will be freehold land vested in the Kenbi Land Trust.
Twenty per cent of that freehold will be granted to the Larrakia Development Corporation. Then in 2008 along came the High Court’s Blue Mud Bay decision which gave ownership of 85 per cent of the Territory’s coastline, including Cox Peninsula, to traditional Aboriginal owners. That has been factored into the final settlement, and I thank the Chief Minister, Adam Giles for his leadership in those negotiations.

That’s resulted in permit free access for recreational fishers to most of the Cox Peninsula coastline and the islands to the west, barring exclusion zones around sacred sites.

Finally, the Commonwealth, through the Departments of Finance and Defence, has agreed to remediate lands across the Kenbi claim area which have been degraded by toxic waste and arms materiel.

I thank the Commonwealth for that, and I thank the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion, for the efforts he has made to enable this ceremony today.
I also thank the previous Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, for her efforts in progressing the Kenbi handback.

The journey has been stressful for many, and I acknowledge that many Larrakia remain unhappy about the outcome. Further, we must not forget those senior Larrakia people who did not live to see this day eventuate.
37 years is far too long to wait for lands to be returned.

But I stress that today really is a day for celebration. Today’s handback ceremony will deliver certainty to the whole community, and opportunity for Aboriginal people themselves to participate in the economic development and cultural protection of the Cox Peninsula now and forever into the future.

That, surely, is a great outcome.

Thank you,

Joe Morrison

CEO Northern land Council

June 21 2016


Cox Peninsula access

Map showing part of the Kenbi land claim

 Notice under section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act (NT) - Cox Peninsula

1) The Northern Land Council (NLC) gives notice, pursuant to section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act (NT), and subject to the restrictions or conditions in paragraphs 2 and 3 below, that for a period of six months from 5pm (CST) on 20 December 2016 until 5pm (CST) on 20 June 2017, NLC waives the requirements for a permit for those parts of land and sea in the vicinity of Cox Peninsula (including islands and reefs) that are the subject of the Deed of Grant to the Kenbi Aboriginal Land Trust dated 28 June 2012, being the Aboriginal land on Cox Peninsula, AND which:

  (a) lie within the intertidal zone, being between the low water mark and the high water mark; and

  (b) where there are beaches, being:

    (i) the land from the low water mark to the crest of secondary sand dune where such a dune exists; and

    (ii) where there is no secondary sand dune, to a point 50 metres inland from the landward boundary of the beach.

2) A permit will be required for:

  (a) all of the Aboriginal land on the Cox Peninsula except for:

    (i) public roads. Details of these roads are contained in the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map which can be ownloaded below; and

    (ii) the intertidal zone and beaches in the Cox Peninsula as described in paragraph 1(a);

  (b) the whole of Northern Territory Portion 4768 (Crocodile Island to low water mark);

  (c) the whole of Northern Territory Portion 4769 (Knife Island to low water mark);

  (d) that part of Ida Bay lying east of Meridian of East Longitude 130 degrees 35 minutes 35 seconds (GDA94); and

  (e) the beaches on the western side of the Cox Peninsula which are marked in the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map. There is no public access and no permits are being issued for access to Knife Island, Crocodile Island and Ida Bay.

3) Any access to the Aboriginal land in the Cox Peninsula is subject to:

  (a) the access restrictions in the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map which can be downloaded below; and

  (b) any restricted access to sacred sites in accordance with the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989.

View the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map (JPG file)

View/download the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map (PDF 2MG)

See the article on access to Aboriginal land for Cox Peninsula


S19 Land Use Agreements

Aboriginal land and sea country in north Australia is rich in biodiversity and natural resources, and has the potential to deliver economic opportunities and outcomes for Aboriginal people.

The number of micro-enterprise, private business, Government and community development activities occurring on Aboriginal land is increasing. The section 19 Land Use Agreement process gives Traditional Owners an opportunity to consider, develop terms and conditions and the right to consent to or reject proposals on their land.

Land Use Agreements are required for any commercial fishing operators wishing to access tidal waters over Aboriginal land except those areas where there is an existing agreement with the Northern Territory Government permitting commercial and recreational fishing. Agreements are also required for the two closed seas around the Crocodile Islands area and the Castlereagh Bay area in east Arnhem Land. Commercial operators include any person holding a licence issued by the Northern Territory Government under the Fisheries (Northern Territory) Act 1988 for any of the commercially harvested fisheries and for guided fishing tours.

NLC carries out consultations and negotiations on behalf of Traditional Owners with those interested in carrying out commercial activities on Aboriginal land and waters. NLC must ensure that any land use proposal is fair and equitable. Multi-disciplinary teams within the NLC, comprising of Land Use Project Coordinators, Regional Office staff, Lawyers, and Anthropologists, undertake a rigorous assessment of all land use proposals prior to going to consultation. NLC will also engage external experts to assist with the assessment of land use proposals as required.

Using this process, Traditional Owners are given the opportunity to make an informed decision in accordance with their traditional decision making processes. Affected Aboriginal people and communities are also given an opportunity to express their views in relation to land or water use proposals. Where informed consent is given, the NLC may direct the appropriate Aboriginal Land Trust to enter into a S19 Land Use Agreement with the proponent.

Please note:

  • The time frame for an assessment of a s19 Land Use Agreement expression of interest and the subsequent consultation with Traditional Owners can take a minimum of 6 months to progress if all information is provided in a timely manner. However, the time required to conduct consultations on s19 Land Use Agreements will vary depending on the type of interest and the region. The NLC makes no warranties as to the time taken to conduct those consultations pursuant to its statutory responsibilities under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act.
  • Third parties that seek an interest or a right to operate on Aboriginal land or waters are expected to bear reasonable costs associated with the delivery of NLC services associated with their expression of interest. NLC will attempt to share costs between proponents where appropriate and convenient.

To download a S19 Land Use Agreement Application click (MS Word).

To download a NLC Regional Map (PDF)

On 24 December 2016, the NLC issued a Public Notice, pursuant to section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act that waives the requirement for a permit to enter tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land for a period of six months, until 30 June 2017.

Read the Information Sheet on Access to Tidal Waters on Aboriginal Land (PDF) published December 2016

View the Sea Country Access Arrangements in the NLC region map

Our Privacy Policy

The Northern Land Council recognises the importance of protecting your privacy.

We use information provided directly from you so we can communicate with you through our newsletters and emails.

When visiting our website, information is recorded (such as your browser, date, time and pages accessed) for statistical purposes and remains anonymous. It will only be used to improve the website, in order to give you a better experience!

We are committed to ensuring that your information is secure. In order to prevent unauthorised access or disclosure we have put in place suitable physical, electronic and managerial procedures to safeguard and secure the information we collect online.

Information you provide through this website is used only by the Northern Land Council and not sold or given to third-parties unless required.

By sharing any contribution (including any text, photographs, graphics, video or audio) with us you agree to grant us, free of charge, permission to use the material in any way we want (including modifying or deleting it).

In order that we can use your contribution, you confirm that your contribution is your own original work, is not defamatory and does not infringe any Australian laws and that you have the right to give us permission to use it for the purposes specified above.


Joint Management

The Northern Land Council has statutory responsibilities to protect the interests of traditional owners within its region, in particular the conservation of land and sea. Many of the Northern Territory’s most popular National Parks are owned by Aboriginal peoples and leased to either the Commonwealth or Northern Territory Government.

These parks include over 50% of Kakadu (with the remaining portion under claim), Nitmiluk and Garid Gunak Barlu as well as Judbarra/Gregory, Djukbinj and Barranyi. This represents just over 20% of all Aboriginal owned land in the NLC region.

At present, 27,851km/sq of Aboriginal owned land and sea and is included in jointly managed National Parks in the NLC region. The NLC anticipates that this figure will increase by approximately 12,700km/sq as joint management arrangements are in place for land affected by the NT Parks and Reserves (Framework for the Future) Act. 

The NLC provides support and assistance to Aboriginal landowners, so that they can successfully participate in the joint management of parks and reserves.

Aboriginal landowners must:
• Make informed decisions about land use and land management proposals;
• Understand the social, economic and cultural implications of laws or proposals affecting parks and reserves; and
• Manage and resolve disputes.

Joint management presents Aboriginal peoples with a range of opportunities, from potential employment and enterprise development, to increased involvement in natural resource management.


Fire Management

Rangers undertake fire management work in the West Arnhem region

Fire management is part of how Aboriginal people have looked after country for thousands of years in the Top End. Early dry season burning has created a variety of habitats including places that are very sensitive to fire like rainforest (jungle), cypress pine forest, sandstone heath and riparian areas along rivers and springs.

With the arrival of Europeans there were changes to Aboriginal people’s lifestyles and movements towards communities, missions and cattle stations. The practice of early dry season burning largely ceased and cultural knowledge about burning was lost.

Large late dry season wildfires lit by lightning or people burnt large areas of the Gulf, Arnhem Land and the western Top
End every year until quite recently. This has caused a lot of damage to cultural sites, bush tucker, plants and animals, cattle stations and community infrastructure.

Many animals including emus, small mammals, reptiles and some birds are still recovering from too many years of
late season fires and numbers of some of these animals are still very low across the Top End. In some areas, especially around towns and communities, country is still being burnt too frequently and not getting a chance to recover.

Most woodland areas should be burnt in the early dry season then rested for 2-3 years to allow plants and animals to recover and breed.

Rainforest areas including jungles, springs and riparian (river) areas should not be burnt at all. These areas
require careful firebreaks around them to protect the plants, animals and cultural values of these areas.

Fire Abatement

Early dry season burning which prevents the large amounts of smoke and carbon pollution from late dry season wildfiresis now recognised as a way of reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere and the rising temperature of the planet.

The Australian Government is currently drafting legislation to recognise savannah burning in the Top End under the Carbon Farming Initiative. In this scheme, companies that produce large amounts of carbon pollution or greenhouse gas will have to pay to offset this pollution through projects such as the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project (WALFA).

The WALFA Indigenous partnership comprises of:

  • The Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation
  • The Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation
  • Warddeken Land Management
  • Mimal Rangers (hosted by NLC)
  • Adjumarlarl Rangers (hosted by NLC)

The WALFA partnership exemplifies the importance of collaboration at an extralarge landscape scale. The strength of
the partnerships lies in mutual respect and recognition of the strength and mutual benefit from collaboration: among
Indigenous groups and with non-Indigenous parties including Government, private enterprise and conservation philanthropy.

In its first year the WALFA project produced less than the target abatement of 100,000 tonnes CO2e. But over the five years 2006 to 2010 total abatement was more than 40% above target. In 2010, abatement was 210,232, more than double the annual target.


Ranger Programs

Ranger groups across the Top End of the Northern Territory

Caring for Country rangers operate across almost 200,000 square kilometres of land owned by Aboriginal peoples in the Land Council's area, which includes about 87% of the Northern Territory’s. Ranger groups provide a formalised structure for the transfer of traditional knowledge from old to young, as well as being a vehicle for the training and employment of young Aboriginal people living in remote areas.

To support the ranger groups' activities the Caring For Country unit has developed partnerships with a number of external funding agencies including Territory and Federal Government departments, various research bodies such as the Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre and the Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management, the Natural Heritage Trust and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
As more ranger groups join the ranger network, Aboriginal peoples' ability to care for country and manage pests will also increase. This growing capability is already recognised at a national level, with Aboriginal rangers now also playing important  roles in border security and quarantine protection.

The Ranger Groups:

Bulgul Land and Sea Management ranger group:
The Bulgul Land and Sea Management program manages 36,000 hectares of land and sea country across the Delissavale/Wagait/Larrakia Land Trust and undertakes extensive weeding, fire management and beach patrolling works
This ranger group also utilise both chemical and biological solutions for weed management works, which focus on Mimosa and Olive Hhymenachne.
Core activities: Invasive species control (weeds, animals), fire management (managed burns and wildfire response), beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, environmental monitoring (soil, water, native species), sacred site protection, cost recovery works, compliance.

Garngi Land and Sea Management ranger group:
The Garngi ranger group undertake work across approximately 110 000ha's of land and sea country at Croker Island and nearby mainland areas of cultural connection. Garngi rangers often work closely with the Warramunburr, Mardbalk, and Adjumarllarl ranger groups to restore the integrity of biodiversity in the northern sector of the internationally-significant Murganella flood-plain. A key area of this work is the removal of Mimosa pigra, Mission grass and Coffee Bush.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, environmental monitoring, sacred site protection, cost recovery, compliance.

Mardbalk Land and Sea Management ranger group:
Mardbalk rangers manage more than 440,000 hectares of land and sea country, including the Goulburn Islands and adjacent mainland areas of cultural significance.  Invasive animals such as horses, pigs, and goats are managed on the islands, as well as buffalo and bantang on the mainland. A number of pig infestation sites have been targeted for management during the reporting period.
The ranger group also undertakes crocodile and fire management work alongside the  Garngi and Adjumarllarl ranger groups. Extensive weeding and burning work was undertaken around the Northern reaches of the Murganella floodplain, with particular focus on Mimosa control. Beach and sea patrol work is conducted in conjunction with Fisheries NT. The ranger group also identifies and documents sacred sites for protection and management.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net learance, cultural support, environmental monitoring, sacred site protection, cost recovery, compliance.

Malak Malak ranger group:
The Malak Malak ranger group us active in managing the intense invasive weed infestations across 30 000 hectares of land bordering the iconic Daly River.
The ranger group breeds and distributes biological control species and have demonstrated high levels of success in eradicating dense infestations of Salvinia weed, as well as impacting upon Mimosa infestations.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, cultural support, environmental monitoring, sacred site protection, compliance.

Mimal ranger group:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Mimal rangers operate across 600,000 hectares of rugged central Arnhem land country. Funding from the Aboriginal Benefits Account (ABA) has facilitated extensive matrix burning to optimise biodiversity and defend against wildfire invasion. Mimal rangers also conduct active cultural support programs, including patrolling for and documentation of significant traditional art sites and native plant species.The group has also been active in protection of springs and billabongs where damage has occurred due to buffalo and pig activity. Large areas of native grasses critical to the survival of Magpie Goose populations have also been protected.
Mimal rangers are among five ranger groups delivering the internationally recognised West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project (WALFA), a project that is receiving payment for reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere by implementing a traditional fire management regime.
Core activities: Invasive species control,f ire management, cultural support, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Numbulwar Land and Sea Management ranger group:
Numbulwar rangers manage 330,000 hectares of land and sea country.  Rangers have undertaken extensive planning in land and sea management in conjunction with traditional owners. Rangers undertake beach and debris patrols, and have commenced a cultural plant identification project.                              Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, environment management, cost recovery, compliance.

Yugul Mangi Land and Sea Management ranger group:
Yugul Mangi rangers throughout the 670,000 hectares of land and sea country in the Roper-Gulf region. The group undertakes vital monitoring and reporting on populations of sawfish and dugong and on water quality and seagrasses along the coastline. The group also conducts river, beach, and sea patrols and is also busy on land conducting extensive Dry Season burning work and weeding works. Problem weeds include Mimosa, Parkinsonia and Rubber Bush. ABA funding has facilitated the work of Yugul Mangi rangers in a number of areas.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Garawa and Waanyi / Garawa ranger group:
Together, the Garawa and Waanyi/Garawa ranger groups manage over 16 000km2 of Waanyi and Garawa country. The rangers continue to implement extensive fire management and weeds management programs. Aerial and ground burning work has been carried out to optimise biodiversity and defend against wildfire.
The rangers have participated in scientific carbon-measuring and analysis with a view to capacity-building and positioning ranger groups and other traditional owners in the carbon marketplace.
The ranger group have also commenced cultural documentation work in relation to traditional knowledge in their work area.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, environmental monitoring, compliance.

Wagiman ranger group:
Wagiman rangers undertake weeding and burning work over the Wagiman Aboriginal Land Trust, which covers 130,000 hectares. Rangers have focussed on treating extensive infestations of Gamba Grass, Mission Grass, Bellyache bush, and Mimosa. They have also undertaken a major fencing project of sacred sites to protect them against damage from feral pigs.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire managment, cultural support, sacred site protection, environmental monitoring, compliance.

Wanga Djakamirr ranger group:
Key achievements for the Wanga Djakamirr rangers include the work in relation to the prevention of salt intrusion into the fragile and biodiverse Arafura Swamp complex. This work has included extensive monitoring and reporting in conjunction with Charles Darwin University and Territory Natural Resources Management.
Rangers also undertake feral animal control (mainly buffaloes and pigs), matrix burning, riparian weeding, and beach and sea patrols.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, environmental monitoring, compliance.

South East Arafura / Gurrwiling ranger groups:
The Arafura Swamp ranger groups undertake extensive weeding, burning, and feral animal monitoring and management work within the Arafura Swamp across 250,000 hectares of rangeland, riverland and swampland, including the protection of sacred sites. 
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, cultural support, environmental management, sacred site protection, cost recovery, compliance.

Gumurr Marthakal Land and Sea Management ranger group:
Marthakal rangers are actively involved in extensive coastal and sea operations, as well as land-based species management and weeds management across 800 000 hectares of land and sea country. Rangers have undertake regular beach debris patrols, removing large ghost nets from a largely pristine coastline.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, sacred site protection, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Acacia Larrakia ranger group:
The Acacia Larrakia ranger group manages 130,000 hectares of country on the Delissavale/Wagait/Larrakia Aboriginal Land Trust. The rangers are involved in fencing projects to protect sacred sites, as well as feral animal control and implementing an annual prescribed burning program. The main weeds of concern on the Land Trust are Mimosa pigra, Mission and Gamba Grass, with infestations targeted by spraying and regularly monitored.
The ranger group actively persues enterprise development and cost recovery works.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, sacred site protection, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Asyrikarrak Kirim ranger group:
Asyrikarrak Kirim ranger group operates in the Daly River/Port Keats Aboriginal Land Trust and has effectively reduced Mimosa pigra infestations to manageable proportions. The Asyrikarrak Kirim rangers, in co-operation with the Thamarrur Rangers and Wudicupildiyerr Rangers, manage regional weeds infestations.
The rangers also undertake extensive fire management on a collaborative basis between the regional ranger groups and with the assistance of Bushfires NT.
The ranger group actively peruses enterprise development and cost recovery contracts.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, sacred site protection, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Wudikupildiyerr ranger group
The core activity of the group is the monitoring and treatment of Weeds of National Significance within the Wudikupildiyerr ranger’s operational area of the Daly River/Port Keats Aboriginal Land Trust.
The ranger group actively persues enterprise development and cost recovery contracts.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, sacred site protection, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Timber Creek ranger group
Judburra (formerly Gregory) National Park in the western Top End the Timber Creek Rangers have entered into numerous cost recovery contracts with NT Parks & Wildlife and other neighbouring stakeholders, including pastoralists. Key tasks include invasive weed surveillance and control and the maintaining park infrastructure such as signage, and camping areas and fences.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, sacred site protection, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Adjumarllarl ranger group:
This group is evolving strongly with core weed, fire and Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service work. Several cost recovery contracts are now established.  The ranger group is contracted on a cost recovery basis by Gunbalanya Station (pastoral) to carry out Mimosa pigra management of the core infestation on the Oenpelli floodplain.
The rangers are in the process of creating a business plan for cost recovery activities. Short-term plans will revolve around the harvest of native honey bee products and Kakadu Plum. The group is also preparing to take on vehicle recovery activities utilising a tilt-tray trucke. Longer term activities are anticipated for the breeding of crocodiles in suitably constructed and located pens.
Adjumarllarl  rangers are one of the five ranger groups that are delivering the internationally recognised West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project (WALFA), a project that is receiving payment for reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere by implementing a traditional fire management regime.
Core activities: Invasive species control, fire management, beach and ghost net clearance, cultural support, sacred site protection, environmental monitoring, cost recovery, compliance.

Bagala ranger group:
In July 2011, the NLC approved the commission of the Bagala Ranger Group as stipulated in the NLC Policy relating to the commissioning and decommissioning of ranger groups.  The ranger group will perform core land management activities which includes fire management, weeds management (Hyptis, Rubbervine, Mimosa), feral animal control (pigs, cats, buffalo) and the protection of sacred sites.The ranger group will actively peruse enterprise development and cost recovery contracts.



Kinship has wide implications in Aboriginal life and social structure. All facets of life are influenced by it, including relations to ancestral beings, sites and land. That is to say, it is not restricted to one’s ‘family’ as might be expected by comparison with mainstream Australian norms.

In the Top End, as elsewhere, Aboriginal kin organisation has a number of fundamental elements with wide ramifications.

These are:

  • Kinship system
  • The moiety system;
  • The semi-moiety system; and
  • The skins

Each is addressed briefly below:

Kinship System:

Each Aboriginal language in the Top End has a set of terms that are used by persons who are related in some way. Each term also has a reciprocal term, the one which is used back by the other person. Each language for example has a term generally covered by the English word, ‘father’ and anyone I would call father, must necessarily call me ‘son’, (being a kinship term and its reciprocal). As can be readily appreciated, even in English most terms have one - although it may be the same term. I call my cousin, ‘cousin’ and in turn am called ‘cousin’ by him or her.

English has much fewer kin terms than do most Aboriginal languages. All Aboriginal languages, for example, recognise an ‘elder brother/sister’ from a ‘younger brother/sister’ and each term in this example would be a reciprocal to the other. (If I call you elder brother, you must be someone who calls me younger brother.) While not present in English, this is a common feature in Asian languages within our wider geographic region.

In addition, most Aboriginal languages have several terms for the English ‘grandfather/grandmother’, with one for the father’s father grandparent and another for the mother’s father’s grandparent.

A further and very obvious difference to English can be seen in the way that every member of society has a kin term that any individual can, and should, use to address them. The terms are not restricted by simple genealogical connections, one can have many ‘fathers’ and ‘brothers’.

In these ways Aboriginal kinship differs from English and more closely, often very closely, resembles that from much of the non-Western World.

Moieties and Semi-moieties:

Everything in the world, the countryside, nature and society is known to be of one, or the other (never both). A man and his offspring are in one of these, his wife and her siblings and their father are in the other.

One anthropologist expressed it this way:

“Moiety means half, and over quite a large area of Australia, each tribe is divided into two halves or moieties. This division, known as the dual organisation, is a definite social and ceremonial grouping. Moreover, it is usually extended to embrace all things in heaven and earth so that it is totemic in nature, bringing man and nature into a common scheme, which is animistic or even “personal” in character. More specifically, each moiety has in some regions an animal or bird for its totem and name.”

All societies in the Northern Terriotry divide the world into two patrifilially recruited halves.
While not all societies name the two halves that result from this division, Dua and Yirritja are the two terms most frequently heard in the NLC’s region, though there are others. For example: Mandirrija / Mandhayung  (Nunggubuyu language), Wilyuku / Lirraku (Mudburra) and Wilyiji / Lirriji (Jingalu).

In some regions the moieties do not appear to have one specific ancestor species associated with them, though they do have names, for example the Dua and Yirritja. Instead of an intimate connection to an animal species they are linked with other aspects of social life, whatever it may be, they are always important.

Each of them has within it two smaller groupings, often called by anthropologists, ‘semi-moieties’. These divide non-European phenomena into four named categories: such as Burdal, Guyal, Murrungun and Mambali, which are terms for the four semi-moieties used in the Gulf Country of the Territory. These were among the first words recorded from the Top End by non-Aboriginal people as the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt noted their use by Aboriginal people along the Roper River in 1845.

All flora and fauna, ancestral beings, natural phenomenon, sites and land belong to one of these categories and all of the four semi-moieties are subroups of one of the moieties. Like them they are not necessarily named in all languages of the Top End and not all Aboriginal groups recognise or use them in their own systems. Where they do, an individual belongs to the same semi-moiety as his or her father and their marriage partner should be to a person from a semi-moiety of the opposite moiety.

Subsections or “Skins”:

Subsections or “Skins”, although not found in all societies in the region, are a further division of society into eight categories and are named groups of persons related by specific kinship connections. For example, the children of a woman of one particular skin will always be of another specific skin. This results in all members of society being considered as a person of some particular skin, and who can be addressed by one of eight skin names. (You will often see these called ‘subsections’ in books.) Each has a male and a female version. Some examples are given below. *Where used, the bracketed syllables show that the word has a longer, and a shorter version.

From the more arid region to the south we have;

  • Jana[ma] (male name) and Nana[ku] (female name)
  • Jangiri and Nangiri
  • Jalyirri and Nalyirri
  • Jimija and Namij[a]
  • Jurla[ma] and Nawurla
  • Japarta and Nimarra
  • Jangala and Nangala
  • Jampijina and Nampijina

And from further north;

  • Burralang (male) and Galiyan, Galikali (female)
  • Wamut and Wamuttjan
  • Balang and Bilinydjan
  • Gamarrang and Gamanydjan
  • Bulany and Bulanydjan
  • Gayak, Guyuk, Gudjuk and Gutjan
  • Ngarritj and Ngarritjan
  • Bangadi and Bangaditjan

In the Port Keats region Murin’bata subsections;

  • Djangala and Tulama
  • Djabada and Djabidjin belong to the moiety Kartjin (brown and white chicken-hawk)
  • Tjalyeri and Djangari
  • Tjanama and Tjimij belong to the moiety Ti’wungu (black eagle-hawk)

There are very precise rules that govern which skins are allowed to marry and which are not, for example one can never marry a person who is of the same skin as a parent - which would in some ways be like marrying a ‘mother’ or ‘father’.


Research Permits

The purpose of this document is to provide guidelines for and ask questions of researchers and their teams who wish to enter and remain on Aboriginal Land, or sea adjoining Aboriginal Land, to conduct research or surveys.

Please answer the questions in detail and provide information as outlined below.

The information/project brief you provide will be presented to relevant traditional landowners and the resulting directions from these landowners will be conveyed back to the researcher.

Below is the application form for a research permit, available in both electronic and PDF formats.

It is strongly advised you read the Frequently Asked Questions (linked to the left) before completing your application form.

Research Permit Application Form
(electronic format)

Research Permit Application Form
(PDF format)

Gove mining agreement

A new era in respect and co-operation has been ushered in on the Gove Peninsula, with the signing of an agreement between traditional owners and mining giant Rio Tinto Alcan.

The agreement will extend the life of Rio Tinto Alcan’s Gove bauxite mine and alumina refinery for a further 42 years, providing long-term opportunities for education, employment and economic development for the Yolngu peoples of the region.

The mine, which was established prior to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, had previously operated for more than four decades without an agreement with traditional Aboriginal owners.

The bauxite mine led to the Gove Bark Petition being sent to Federal Parliament, sparked a High Court challenge and, ultimately, led to a Royal Commission which paved the way for land rights in the Northern Territory.

Clearly emotional at the signing celebration, former Australian of the Year and Gumatj clan leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu said, while the agreement was long overdue, it would help provide employment and business opportunities for his people.

“We have been direct as to our needs and the company has supported our vision for the future. We go to the future with Rio Tinto as a partner,” he said.

“This agreement is with the traditional owners of the land – but it is, in reality, for all Yolngu of East Arnhem Land. Our land is a shared future.”

Mr Yunupingu’s  sentiments were echoed by senior leaders of traditional owner groups, the Gumatj and Rirratjingu.

Rirratjingu clan leader Bakamumu Marika said the agreement was “forty years overdue”.

“This partnership secures for Yolngu people participation in mining on their lands, on commercial terms,” he said.

Much of the royalties received under the deal will be placed in future funds, which will help develop education, training and employment initiatives for Yolngu peoples.

Northern Land Council Chairman Wali Wunungmurra said the landmark agreement  “would go a long way to righting the wrongs which have occurred on the Gove Peninsula since mining began more than four decades ago.”

“This is an historic day for traditional owners, who have been fighting for an agreement like this since the 1969s and 70s,” Mr Wunungmurra said.

“I praise Rio Tinto Alcan for conducting good will negotiations throughout this long process.

“Their willingness to listen to the needs of traditional owners. This agreement will provide economic development opportunities for all Yolngu peoples, not just the identified traditional owners.”

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin both attended the signing ceremony, along with hundreds of Yolngu, executives and employees from Rio Tinto Alcan and a large gathering of local and interstate media.

In months following the celebration, Rio Tinto flagged the possiblility of selling the Gove mine and refinery.

While this has caused angst for many traditional owners on the Gove Peninsular, the landmark agreement must be honoured by any mining company which takes over the operation.


Work, Transit, Recreational fishing and Tourist Permits

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.

Permission to enter private land and waters is required through the grant of a Permit.

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

Below is the application form for a work, transit, recreational fishing or tourist permit. The form is available in electronic, word and PDF formats.

It is strongly advised you read the Frequently Asked Questions before completing your application form.

Work, Transit, Recreational fishing and Tourist Permits application form:

Electronic version
Printable PDF version
Printable Word doc version

Recreational fishing - additional information

Download the NLC Sea Country Access Arrangements Map (PDF) to see where permitted access areas are and where a permit is required.

Read the Information Sheet on Access to Tidal Waters on Aboriginal Land for more information.

Read the NLC Notice pursuant to section 5(8) of the Aboriginal Land Act  that relates to access to tidal waters over Aboriginal land.

Specific Permit Requirements – Other than NLC

East Arnhem: Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area

Dhimurru is an incorporated Aboriginal organisation established by Yolngu traditional Aboriginal owners in north east Arnhem Land, Australia. Yolngu have agreed for visitors to safely enjoy the 20 designated recreational areas within the Indigenous Protected Area in a sustainable way.

Permits: Visitors wishing to visit the recreational areas must firstly obtain a permit from Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation. Specific permit information and applications can be completed online at http://www.dhimurru.com.au or in person at the Dhimurru office in Nhulunbuy. Phone enquiries should be directed to (08) 89392 700.


Media Permits & Information

Under the Aboriginal Land Act 1980, it is the Northern Land Council’s responsibility to oversee media access to Aboriginal land on behalf of traditional owners across the NLC’s area.

While Aboriginal land is privately owned, Aboriginal people recognise that it is important for media to have access to their communities so long as cultural sensitivities (e.g. sacred sites, periods of mourning) are respected and appropriate behaviour is observed (see separate Protocols for Media Behaviour).

Protocols for Media Access

Protocols for Media Behaviour

Below are the application forms for our various media permits, available in both electronic and PDF formats.

In addition to the above information on access and behaviour, it is strongly advised you read the Frequently Asked Questions before completing your application form.

Media Permit Application Form:
Electronic or Printable

Media Permit for all Commercial Operations:
Electronic or Printable


Sacred Sites

Aboriginal sacred sites are places that have special significance for Aboriginal people and their traditions. Often they are features of the landscape. They may be rocks, reefs, trees, hills, waterholes or rivers.

A sacred site may be as small as a rock or as large as a mountain range.

Often sacred sites are connected with Dreaming (creation) stories and may have significance to several tribal groups, they can also be ceremonial grounds, rock art galleries or pigment deposits used for cultural practices.

The living culture of Aboriginal Australians is intrinsically linked with their sacred sites.  The protection of sacred sites ensures the wellbeing of country and the wider community.  While local custodians are traditionally responsible for their protection, Australian law also provides for their safeguarding.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act defines a sacred site as any site that is sacred to Aboriginals or is otherwise of significance according to Aboriginal tradition, and includes any land that, under a law of the Northern Territory, is declared to be sacred to Aboriginals or of significance according to Aboriginal tradition.

Through the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Act, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority was established as an independent statutory body responsible for overseeing and protecting Aboriginal sacred sites across the NT.

Protocols for Media Access


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.


Caring for Country

Rangers form a key part of the NLC’s Caring for Country unit

Aboriginal people have a special relationship to land that is different to the majority of non-Aboriginals. It is not a commodity to be bought and sold. This relationship has survived intact despite the destructive impact of European settlement, which began in earnest in northern Australia 100 years ago.

In 1995 the Northern Land Council created the Caring for Country Unit to help Aboriginal landowners deal with the new land and sea management challenges they faced and to consider commercial enterprises promising environmentally sustainable development. The establishment of Aboriginal ranger groups has been a central part of the Unit's work.

Caring for Country plays a key role in land and sea management - including fire management and feral weed and animal control - across the Top End, and has been active in preserving traditional knowledge for future generations of Aboriginal people. Its success in forging funding partnerships with external organisations has allowed it to progressively expand the scale of its activities to the point where it is now one of the largest operating units within the NLC.

The Northern Land Council’s Caring for Country unit is involved in all aspects of re-establishing and maintaining traditional connections to the land while dealing with the myriad issues that have arisen since the advent of European settlers.

As well as the practical need to take action quickly to deal with severe and immediate threats such as the weed Mimosa pigra, other issues include dust suppression action in community areas, management of tourist/recreation areas, wildlife protection programs, control of feral animals and fire management.
The Caring for Country Unit works closely with traditional landowners and managers and has been instrumental in setting up a network of Aboriginal Ranger groups which now number more than 20 across the Top End. Intensive consultation and coordination underpins these ranger programs, allowing Aboriginal people to determine how the programs are carried out.

A number of programs incorporate joint research with government and other agencies, often paving the way for traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and contemporary scientific knowledge to be used side by side to combat environmental problems and find solutions.
Caring for Country has also been conscious of the need to integrate women into land management activities. Most ranger groups now have active participation from women rangers who include themselves in all aspects of the ranger work from spraying weeds to protecting sacred sites. Women have also been enthusiastic participants in the development of family culture groups for all age groups conducted in the school holidays.
The rangers' year culminates in the annual Rangers' Conference, held during the Dry Season, which allows each group to share knowledge and experiences with other groups and to forge action plans for the year ahead.

While women are strong participants in the Rangers' Conference, the women rangers also organise their own Ngalmuka Land Management Conference each year during the dry season.

Fire Abatement

An absence of people from the land brings its own unique problems, especially in a highly fire-prone environment that is also vulnerable to invasion by exotic plants and animals.

There is increasing evidence that the changes in fire regimes that occurred when Aboriginal people left the land during the colonial era are causing widespread change in vegetation and subsequently in the dependent fauna.


Bush Business

Aboriginal land is private property owned under special freehold title. It is inalienable – in other words, it cannot be bought, acquired or forfeited.

Aboriginal land is not owned by individuals. It is granted as a communal title. Land is formally held by land trusts - groups of Aboriginal people who hold the title for the benefit of all the traditional owners and people with a traditional interest in the land.

Under the Land Rights Act, decisions over the use of Aboriginal land must have the consent of the traditional owners as a group and ratified by the Land Council. Aboriginal land in the Northern Land Council area is held as inalienable Aboriginal freehold – the strongest form of title in Australia.

The nature of Aboriginal inalienable tenure differs from mainstream definition of private land inasmuch as such land cannot be bought or sold. It can however be leased from the Aboriginal Land Trusts (which hold title) to Aboriginal corporations or to non-Aboriginal interests with the informed consent of traditional owners.

The Land Rights Act sets out processes which require the Northern Land Council to ensure that informed consent has been given and that terms and conditions are reasonable.

Powers of control

For the most part, Aboriginal landowners with inalienable Aboriginal freehold have the exclusive power to control the direction and pace of development on their lands. The public, in the form of Government at various levels, has only limited rights to impose external development or conservation direction or constraints.

Role of Councils and Associations

It is important to note that except where leases or licences have been issued to Aboriginal community councils or resource agencies, these incorporated bodies have no legal interest in land, nor control over its development, with that right remaining firmly in the hands of groups of landowners as defined by the application of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act and Aboriginal customary law.

Even a well-established Aboriginal organisation may not have the mandate to make decisions about land without reference to the landowning group. Applications for land use or commercial developments on Aboriginal land should be made through the Land Council, not through a local council, association or resource agency. See Section 19 Land Use Agreements

Land Council Role

Because of the communal form of land ownership, it is unlikely that a single individual or even a single group has an absolute right to approve a business activity carried out on Aboriginal land, particularly where that activity involves substantial interference and disturbance to 'country'.

Relations within a landowning group and between groups may be diverse and complex, reflecting the richness and complexity of Aboriginal tradition and Aboriginal peoples' relationship with their land. The Land Council's role is to ensure, as far as possible, that Aboriginal culture, traditions and law are respected and followed on Aboriginal land; that the relevant Aboriginal people make informed decisions and that commercial and resource exploitation agreements are fair. The Land Council must be satisfied that the relevant traditional Aboriginal landowners understand the nature and content of any land use agreement which is entered on their behalf and that they agree to it.

The relevant provisions of the Land Rights Act are Part IV in the case of mining and sections 19 and 23 in the case of other business operations.

Land Use Agreements

The process of entering a land use agreement or joint venture for Aboriginal land takes time, it can be expensive and a high level of openness and financial disclosure is required of the proponent.

Businesses need to follow all the relevant procedures to comply with the Land Rights Act, have financial security, security of tenure and a genuine and lasting relationship with the Aboriginal landowners concerned.

Some examples of existing Land Use Agreements include agreements for a diamond mine, pearl farms, crabbing ventures, safari hunting, retail stores, commercial filming and infrastructure development.

See Section 19 Land Use Agreements


A detailed business proposal is required, including a business plan, financial projections, proposals for payments, local employment, joint venture proposals and other benefits to the relevant Aboriginal land owners and environmental impacts.

The Northern Land Council will consider the proposal and may request further information from the proponent, an environmental study and/or expert analysis.

Where preliminary inquiries indicate that traditional Aboriginal owners may be interested in a particular business proposal, the proponent will be invited to contribute to the Land Council's expenses in carrying out consultations with traditional Aboriginal owners. This usually takes the form of reimbursing the costs of bringing the traditional Aboriginal owners and affected communities and groups together for a meeting or meetings, which are preferably held on the land concerned. A contribution to the legal costs of the Land Council/Land Trust is usually sought on a "user pays" basis.

Steps after Consent of Traditional Owners

Land Use Agreements where the term is less than two years may be entered upon the direction of a delegate of the Land Council, that is the Chairman, Chief Executive Officer or the relevant regional Council.

The Land Rights Act requires that longer and larger agreements must be approved by the Full Council of the Northern Land Council, which meets twice a year.

Agreements where the term could exceed 10 years or consideration could be more than $100,000 require the consent of the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Affairs.

Any enquiries or proposals for business development on Aboriginal land should be directed to the Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Land Council.

Work Permits

Work permits issued by the Northern Land Council only authorise the holder to work in a specific area. If you wish to fish and camp at any time during the job, you must also have a recreational permit.  See information about permits

Government contractors: All Government contractors or sub-contractors need to fill out a permit application form, stating what Government department they are doing the contract for, along with a phone number for the department.

Self-employed contractors: Self-employed contractors need to complete an application form for a work permit and also supply a supporting letter from the contractor stating the following:

  • your company name,
  • what your company does
  • your name and
  • what you do.

If a particular community has offered you a position, the Northern Land Council requires a letter from that community stating that you have the job and providing the name of the contact person you have dealt with in the community.

See information about permits



Tourism is a growing industry on Aboriginal land and many Aboriginal communities and organisations are developing tours and activities to help you enjoy and appreciate the landscape and environment.

There are also a number of non-Aboriginal tourism operators providing services on Aboriginal land, who operate by agreement with traditional owners.

Cultural and scenic tourism in jointly-managed areas like Kakadu National Park and Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park are outstanding successes of the Land Rights Act. These parks are on areas of Aboriginal land, leased back by the traditional landowners for all the world's people to enjoy. They attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It is the Land Rights Act which has allowed these natural and cultural features to be protected and managed.

Smaller ventures such as safari hunting, sports fishing, camping, boat cruises and scenic/cultural tours are being developed by the Northern Land Council and traditional landowners. In addition, the number of tourism activities on Aboriginal land occurring with the agreement of traditional owners is steadily growing.
Tourism operators are more and more interested in getting exclusive access for small groups of "eco-tourists" to the unique natural and cultural features of Aboriginal land.

Agreements for tourism operations on Aboriginal land contain provisions for access arrangements, fees, leases, use of local Aboriginal "guides", use of local Aboriginal contractors and training of local Aboriginal people.



More than 80 percent of the value of minerals extracted in the Northern Territory comes from mining on Aboriginal-owned land, amounting to more than $1 billion a year. Approximately 30 percent of Aboriginal land is under exploration or currently under negotiation for exploration.

Different processes apply for those wishing to mine and explore on land covered by the Land Rights Act (Aboriginal-owned land) and on land covered by the Native Title Act (land where Aboriginal people have native title interests). In all instances, where enterprises have entered into good faith negotiations and respected Aboriginal rights, agreements are being reached with benefit to all parties.

Facilitating exploration

While the Land Rights Act is primarily social justice legislation for the granting of traditional Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory for the benefit of Aboriginal people, it is clear that the Land Rights Act facilitates exploration and mining.

Established process

The Land Rights Act provides an established process which offers certainty for developers and landowners. The Land Council can ensure that the rightful owners are party to the consultations and negotiations; that any agreement is based on presentation of all relevant information in an objective manner; and that any agreement made will be honoured.

Under the Land Rights Act, Aboriginal landowners have the right to say "yes" or "no" to mining and minerals exploration on their land. Justice Woodward said in the findings of his Royal Commission into Aboriginal Land Rights: “I believe that to deny Aborigines the right to prevent mining on their land is to deny the reality of their land rights.”

Relevant legislation

The laws governing the granting of exploration licences and petroleum permits on Aboriginal land in the NT are the Northern Territory Mining Act 1980 and the Land Rights Act. An exploration licence or permit which allows the holder to explore for minerals or hydrocarbons cannot be issued by the NT Minister for Mines and Energy unless the applicant and the Land Council have entered into an agreement. Part IV of the Land Rights Act gives a clear procedure for a prospective company to obtain exploration and mining rights on Aboriginal land.


An equivalent amount of royalties paid to the Northern Territory and Federal Governments for mining on Aboriginal land is paid to the Aboriginals Benefits Account. The ABA then distributes 30 percent of the royalties to Aboriginal people affected by the mining on their land, 40 percent of the royalties to Northern Territory Land Councils to administer their statutory responsibilities and a further 30 percent for the administration of the ABA and for distribution to Aboriginal people throughout the Northern Territory.

Exploration Licence Agreement - Process Summary

  1. Exploration Licence Application - The mining company applies to the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy (DME) for a licence or permit.
  2. Consent to Negotiate - The Minister for Mines and Energy grants the mining company 'consent to negotiate' with the NLC.
  3. Application for Consent - The mining company must submit its application including exploration proposal and mining details to the NLC within three months, otherwise the application is deemed to have been withdrawn. The exploration proposal must describe all aspects of the exploration activity including possible impact on the environment and the social impacts.
  4. Acceptance or refusal - Having ensured that the proposal provides adequate information for traditional landowners to make a decision, the NLC informs traditional owners and affected groups and communities within 30 days, and organises a meeting at which the applicant presents its proposal. A representative of the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs may also attend the meeting. The traditional landowners have the right to instruct the NLC to refuse consent to an exploration proposal that affects their land. Refusal freezes the application for five years after which the same company may re-apply. Alternatively, traditional landowners may instruct the NLC to negotiate an agreement with the company.
  5. Negotiations - Negotiations must be concluded within 12 months. The NLC provides the company with a draft exploration agreement containing fundamental clauses, and the company is invited to use this document as a basis for negotiations. A liaison committee of traditional landowners can be involved in negotiations. The negotiated agreement is then presented at a meeting of traditional landowners for their consideration.
  6. NLC Full Council - Once the traditional landowners have instructed the Northern NLC to enter into the Agreement, their decision must be considered by the NLC Full Council to ensure that due process has been adhered to. The NLC must then seek the approval of the Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs to enter into the Agreement.

Once the Agreement has been executed by all parties, the NLC then notifies the Northern Territory Minister for Mines and Energy who subsequently issues the exploration licence for a period of six years, with an ability to extend for a further four years.

Mining and exploration under the Native Title Act

The Native Title Act is relevant for mining on Crown land and pastoral leases.
Under the amended 1993 Native Title Act, provisions have been put in place which give registered applicants for determination of native title the "right to be consulted" over some types of mining and mineral exploration. The right to be consulted includes the right:

  • to be notified
  • to lodge an objection
  • for objectors to be consulted
  • to be heard by an independent person
  • to seek compensation for loss or impairment of native title rights and interests.

Those applicants intending to make an objection to an application for a mining or exploration lease have three months in which to formally lodge their objection with the Native Title Tribunal.



The pastoral industry is iconic in the Northern Territory. Up until the early 1970s, the Northern Territory cattle industry depended on cheap Aboriginal labour for its success.

It was Aboriginal people who built the fences, dug the bores and tended, mustered and drove the cattle. It was common to find them 'paid' with meager rations of flour, tea, sugar and tobacco. Aboriginal people also had extensive knowledge of the land which was vital to the operation of grazing enterprises.

In 1968 Aboriginal stock workers won the right to award wages and conditions equal to white workers. It was a hollow victory. With the mechanisation of the industry - sub-divisional fencing, modern trapping yards, road transport replacing droving and the advent of helicopter mustering - pastoralists had already begun to do away with Aboriginal labour. The Aboriginal camps which had been pools of cheap labour were no longer needed and many people were forced off the stations.

Under the Land Rights Act, Aboriginal people cannot claim pastoral land that is leased to someone else. However, they can claim the land if they themselves own the lease. A number of Aboriginal organisations run pastoral leases in the Northern Territory and have claimed ownership of the land under the Land Rights Act.

Indigenous Pastoral Program

The Indigenous Pastoral Program was developed by the Northern and Central Land Councils in 2003 to increase Aboriginal-managed pastoral production and improve rangelands management on Aboriginal land. The strategy involves joint action by partner agencies including the Indigenous Land Corporation, the NT Government, the NT Cattleman’s Association and the NT Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).

Since its inception programme staff, within the NLC region, have successfully negotiated 13 Pastoral Land Use Agreements worth over $10 million to traditional owners in infrastructure development and lease payments. This investment has created over 40 jobs and put up to 40,000 head of cattle back on Aboriginal pastoral land.

The wider result of this is greater access and engagement by traditional owners with their land.


Native Title

Traditional owner Jimmy Wavehill and the Federal Court’s Justice Mansfield at consent Native Title determination celebrations at Pigeon Hole in 2011.

On 3 June, 1992, the High Court of Australia delivered its landmark Mabo decision which rewrote the Australian common law and gave a massive boost to the struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal land rights.

Put simply, the decision said that under Australian law, Indigenous people have rights to land – rights that existed before colonisation and which still exist. This right is called native title.

By a majority of six to one, the High Court ruled that native title to land is recognised by the common law of Australia, throwing out forever the legal fiction that when Australia was "discovered" by Captain Cook in 1788 it was terra nullius, an empty or uncivilised land.

The case centred on the Murray Islands in the eastern part of the Torres Strait Islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The Meriam people, led by Eddie Koiki Mabo, took the action to the High Court to overturn the doctrine of terra nullius.

The judges in the case declared that:

“... the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands”

It was the first time that the High Court had considered the position of Indigenous people in Australian property law and their judgement was not restricted to the Murray Islands.

Justice Brennan said:
“... there may be other areas of Australia where an Aboriginal people, maintaining their identity and their customs, are entitled to enjoy their native title.”

Reviewing the history of non-Aboriginal Australia, Justice Brennan wrote:
“Aborigines were dispossessed of their land parcel by parcel, to make way for expanding colonial settlement. Their dispossession underwrote the development of the nation.”

Settlements, land grants and pastoral leases:
“... spread across the continent to dispossess, degrade and devastate the Aboriginal peoples and leave a national legacy of unutterable shame.
The acts and events ... (of Aboriginal) dispossession ... constitute the darkest aspect of the history of this nation... The nation as a whole must remain diminished unless and until there is an acknowledgment of, and retreat from, those past injustices.”   - Justices Dean and Gaudron

While recognising the existence of native title, the High Court also confirmed the sovereignty of governments and said that they had the power to acquire native title providing they kept within the law, particularly the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Sections of the mining and pastoral industries, and conservative politicians, reacted angrily to the High Court's decision and urged the Commonwealth Government to overturn it by legislation. They conducted a massive fear campaign against the newly-established land rights of Indigenous Australians.


Land Rights

Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari has sand poured into his hands by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1965.

Traditional land and sea ownership is based on customary law, passed from generation to generation. This sacred trust involves defined groups or people, their ancestors and descendants.

In many areas, a system of 'managers' and 'owners' operates. Land managers generally have maternal links to land while landowners generally have paternal links to land. Aboriginal landowners and managers have specific and complementary rights and obligations to ensure the spiritual and physical health of defined areas of land.

In other areas, different land tenure systems operate.

Land Rights

After many years of struggle Aboriginal law and land rights were finally recognised in Australian law in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA). It is often referred to as the Land Rights Act. This act recognises our rights to land and sets up processes to win back our land through Land Councils, and manage its resources.

Importantly, the act is the first attempt by an Australian government to legally recognise the Aboriginal system of land ownership and put into law the concept of inalienable freehold title. This has allowed Aboriginal people to retain and in some cases re-establish their cultural identity, while at the same time contributing to the peaceful and responsible development of the Northern Territory.

The Land Rights Act sets down detailed procedures for:

  • the negotiation of mining agreements on Aboriginal land and the application of laws for mining on Aboriginal land
  • funding of Land Councils through the Aboriginal Benefits Account (previously Aboriginal Benefits Reserve)
  • a number of minor but important provisions, such as roads and entry onto Aboriginal land, a protection of sacred sites and protection of traditional rights over land
  • the application of NT laws and complementary NT legislation

The Whitlam Government introduced legislation based substantially on Woodward’s recommendations. The bill was before Parliament when the Government was dismissed in the constitutional crisis of November 1975.

Despite election campaign promises from the Liberal-Country Party that the bill would be passed without amendment, the new Government of the Liberal Prime Minister, Malcom Fraser, buckled to pressure from mining and pastoral industry groups and the conservative politicians in the Northern Territory.  A new bill was drafted from which many of the important provisions of the Labor Party bill were absent.

A national campaign by the newly-created Land Councils salvaged a number of key elements, but the final Bill removed needs-based claims and gave the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly responsibility for complementary legislation covering sacred site protection, sea closures and permits for access to Aboriginal land.

Nonetheless, it was the recommendations of Mr Justice Woodward which formed the basis of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act which passed both houses of the Federal Parliament with historic bipartisan support in December 1976. It came into force on 26 January 1977, one-and-a-half years before the Northern Territory was granted self-government.


Our History

Scientific evidence dates Aboriginal inhabitation of northern Australia to 60,000 years and southern Australia to 40,000 years. European settlement of the Australian continent began in 1788 when a British penal settlement was founded at Sydney Cove.

Colonisation spread across the continent and its islands.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations resisted the occupation of their lands by pastoralists and the destruction of their way of life.

Following unsuccessful attempts to establish settlements in northern Australia, colonial officials, pastoralists, prospectors and missionaries began to arrive in what is now the Northern Territory in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Traditional hunting grounds and fertile lands were taken by pastoralists.  Many groups were left to live on unproductive land.  Despite receiving unjust compensation for their labour, many worked on cattle stations and were able to maintain their historic cultural links to their land.

In the 1960s the land rights movement began to gain momentum. 

In 1973 the Woodward Commission of Inquiry into the appropriate way to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory was announced.  The Northern and Central Land Councils were formed in the same year to assist with the work of the Commission.

I have ... felt very strongly the lack of any cohesive organisation linking these various people to whom I have spoken. There is no body or council which can speak for the Aborigines of the Territory as a whole. ... They have no means by which they can formulate a generally supported claim or make their voices heard in a way likely to influence ultimate decisions.- Justice Woodward

The Land Rights Act was intended to be a model for national land rights legislation.  Opposition from State Governments and the mining industry, however, defeated this objective.

Since the introduction of ALRA in 1976 the Act has been the subject of continual attacks and attempts to reduce the rights which Aboriginal people had reclaimed to manage their land.

Previous Northern Territory Governments’ policy of extensive legal challenges to land claims has continued over the life of ALRA.  Such challenges have ignored the obvious strength of claimants’ cases, the efficacy of the Land Councils’ approach and the failure of nearly all of their challenges.  Whilst wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, this policy delayed the outcomes of land claims and delayed or denied Aboriginal people their rights to reclaimed land.

Many claimants have died before their claims have been successfully resolved.

Despite the challenges, Land Councils have won back almost half of the land mass of the Northern Territory and 85 percent of the coastline of traditional Aboriginal land owners.  Significant areas of Aboriginal land have been opened up for development through agreements with Aboriginal peoples.

Aboriginal landowners continue to rely on the natural environment for spiritual, social and economic wellbeing.

Governments are increasingly recognising the critical role that traditional Aboriginal landowners have in caring for the land, waters, seas and flora and fauna in the Northern Territory.

As the ability of Aboriginal peoples to succeed in further land claims diminishes, the role of Land Councils is shifting to focus more on land management and development.

1963 – The Bark Petitions:  Yolgnu peoples from northeast Arnhem Land present the Commonwealth government with a petition of bark paintings protesting a bauxite mine lease granted on their land.

1966 – The Wave Hill Walk-Off:  Gurindji stockmen and their families walk off Wave Hill Station, demanding fair wages and the return of some traditional lands.

1967 – Constitutional Change:  Ninety-one percent of Australians vote in a referendum to give the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal people and count them in the census.

1971 – The Gove Land Rights Case:  Yolgnu peoples of Yirrkala unsuccessfully seek a court order restraining the Nabalco mining company’s operations.

1972 – Tent Embassy:  Aboriginal peoples set up a tent embassy on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra to protest the lack of land rights and other issues.

1973 – Commission of Inquiry:  The Federal Government appointed Justice Woodward to conduct a Commission of Inquiry into the appropriate way to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory. The Commission’s first report recommended the establishment of land councils in the Central and Northern regions of the NT to represent the views of Aboriginal people.

1974:  The Northern Land Council commences operations.

1975 – Gurindji Success:  Prime Minister Gough Whitlam returns land to the Gurindji people almost a decade after they walked off Wave Hill Station.

1976 – Land Rights:  Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act (ALRA) passed by Parliament of Australia with bipartisan support.

1977:  ALRA comes into effect.  Most Aboriginal reserves become Aboriginal land with freehold title held by local Aboriginal people.

1978 – Yolgnu Justice:  Fifteen years after the Bark Petitions were delivered to the Commonwealth Parliament, Yolgnu people receive title to their land through ALRA.

1992 – Mabo:  The High Court of Australia ruling in the Mabo v Queensland case grants Native Title rights.

2008 – Blue Mud Bay:  On 30 July the High Court of Australia granted Aboriginal peoples sea rights to approximately 85 percent of the NT coastline, heralding a new era in the fight for land and sea rights.


Chairman: Samuel Bush-Blanasi

NLC Chairman Samuel Bush-Blanasi

Profile of Mr Bush-Blanasi to come...



NLC Chief Executive Officer

NLC CEO Mr Joe Morrison

THE NLC’s Chief Executive Officer, Joe Morrison, was born and raised in Katherine and has Dagoman and Torres Strait Islander heritage.

After growing up and schooling in Katherine, he gained a BA from the University of Sydney in Natural Resource Management and set about working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to establish land and sea management efforts across northern Australia.

Mr Morrison's first job after leaving school was at the NLC from 1992-94. He worked first at the old mechanical workshop at Coconut Grove, moved into administration, then at the NLC's Registry Office.

He then moved onto Greening Australia where he helped to establish the Aboriginal Landcare Education Program -- designing living areas on Aboriginal communities.

In 1998, Mr Morrison began work with NT Parks and Wildlife as a land management facilitator, establishing land and sea ranger groups in south-east Arnhem Land, the VRD and Barkly -- many of them now under the management of the NLC, but some now independent.

Two years later he became founding Chief Executive Officer of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance. Mr Morrison nurtured the development of NAILSMA from a small unit within a large western science-focused research institution, to the nationally recognised Aboriginal institution operating across tropical northern Australia.

Mr Morrison has an ambitious agenda for his new role as NLC CEO, connecting with the NLC's constituency to reinvigorate the importance of maintaining control over the lands and waters that Aboriginal people have fought hard for and to work towards appropriate social, cultural and economic development that creates lasting employment opportunities in a post determination era.

Mr Morrison has authored and co-authored many articles relating to Indigenous rights, management of country, economic development and of northern development.

He has a young family and has lived in Darwin since 2001.


Full Council and Executive

The NLC Council Members 2016-2019 at the Timber Creek Full Council Meeting, November 2016

The Northern Land Council’s Full Council is the major decision-making body within the organisation.

Full Council consists of 78 members, as well as five (5) co-opted Women's positions, elected from across the NLC’s seven (7) regions. Each region has one elected Executive Council member. The Full Council meets twice a year to provide leadership and policy directions and to ratify land use agreements.

Council sits for three-year terms and appoints a Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Executive Members in its first meeting following elections. Members of the Full Council meet twice a year; the seven regional councils meet in between those meetings.

14th Full Council of the Northern Land Council 2016-2019

Executive Council 2016-2019

Chairman Samuel Bush Blanasi - Wugularr/Beswick

Deputy Chairman John Christopherson - Kakadu

Richard Dixon – Borroloola Barkly
Elizabeth Sullivan – Darwin Daly Wagait
Bobby Wunungmurra – East Arnhem
Ronald Lami Lami – West Arnhem
Peter Lansen – Ngukurr
Raymond Hector – Victoria River District
Helen Lee – Katherine

Council Members 2016-2019

Borroloola Barkly (13 Members)
Brian Limerick - Alexandria
Jason Mulholland - Borroloola
Keith Rory - Borroloola
Jody Evans - Borroloola
Maxine Wallace - Brunette Downs
Christopher Neade - Elliott
Jason Bill - Muckaty
Shannon Dixon - Murranji
Timothy Lansen - Nicholson
Joy Priest - North Barkly
Richard Dixon - Robinson River
Gordon Noonan - Rockhampton Downs
John Finlay - Wombaya

Darwin Daly Wagait (15 Members)
Sharon Daly - Daly River
Matthew Shields - Daly River North
John Daly - Daly River South
John Sullivan - Daly River West
Kevin Quall - Darwin
Audrey Tilmouth - Darwin
Graham Kenyon - Darwin East
Phillip Goodman - Darwin South
Paul Henwood - Darwin South West
James Sing - Darwin West
Adrian Ariuu - Palumpa
John Wilson - Peppimenarti
Elizabeth Sullivan - Pine Creek
Tobias Nganbe - Port Keats
Mark Tunmuck Smith - Port Keats North

East Arnhem (16 Members)
Jonathon Nunggumajbarr - Blue Mud Bay
Jabani Lalara - Blue Mud Bay
Johnny Burrawanga - Galiwinku
Kenny Djekurr Guyula - Galiwinku
Jason Guyula - Galiwinku
David Djalangi - Galiwinku
Bobby Wunungmurra - Gapuwiyak
Wesley Bandi Bandi - Gapuwiyak
George Milaypuma - Milingimbi
Michael Ali - Milingimbi
David Rumba Rumba - Ramingining
David Warraya - Ramingining
Djawa Yunupingu - Ski Beach
Yananymul Mununggurr - Yirrakala
Caroline Dhamarrandji - Yirrakala
Dhuwarrwarr Marika - Yirrakala

Katherine (7 Members)
Helen Lee - Barunga
Samuel Bush Blanasi - Beswick
Samantha Lindsay - Bulman
Lisa Mumbin - Katherine
Linda Fletcher - Katherine
Jocelyn James - Mataranka/Djimbra
John Dalywater - Weemol

Ngukurr (9 Members)
Keith Farrell - Hodgson Downs
Gregory Daniels - Ngukurr
Grace Daniels - Ngukurr
Walter Rogers - Ngukurr
Virginia Nundhirribala - Numbulwar
Timothy Wirramara - Numbulwar
Faye Manggurra - Numbulwar
Peter Lansen - Nutwood/Cox River
Clifford Duncan - Urapunga

Victoria River District (6 Members)
Kenovan Anthony - Amanbidji
Shadrack Retchford - Bulla
Raymond Hector - Pigeon Hole
Larry Johns - Timber Creek
George Campbell - Yarralin
George King - Yingawunari

West Arnhem (12 Members)
Ronald Lami Lami - Cobourg
Gabby Gumurdul - Gunbalanya
Wayne Wauchope - Gunbalanya
Otto Dann - Gunbalanya
John Christophersen - Kakadu
Matthew Ryan - Maningrida - Outstations
Victor Rostron - Maningrida - Outstations
Julius Clint Kernan - Maningrida
Helen Williams - Maningrida
Matthew Nagarlbin - Minjilang
Jenny Inmulugulu - Warruwi
Bunug Galaminda - Warruwi


John Finlay – Borroloola / Barkly
James Sing – Darwn Daly Wagait
Yanymul Munungurr – East Arnhem
Bunung Galaminda – West Arnhem
Virginia Nundhirribala – Ngukurr
Shadrack Retchford – Victoria River District
Lisa Mumbin – Katherine


What we do

Dancers perform at the handback of Jutpurra (Gregory) National Park

The Northern Land Council is an independent statutory authority of the Commonwealth.

It is responsible for assisting Aboriginal peoples in the Top End of the Northern Territory to acquire and manage their traditional lands and seas.

In 1976 the Parliament of Australia passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA).  Since then approximately 50 percent of the land in the NT has become Aboriginal land in addition to 85 percent of the coastline.  A large proportion of the remaining land mass is subject to Native Title interests.

Land Councils are important bodies as they give Aboriginal peoples a voice on issues affecting their lands, seas and communities.

Key constituents of the NLC are traditional owners and the residents on Aboriginal lands. Approximately 30,000 Aboriginal people live within the NLC region.  While many live in major towns there are almost 200 communities ranging in size from small family outstations to settlements of up to 3,000 people.

Most of the communities are in remote locations. The majority of Aboriginal people living within our region speak an Aboriginal language as their first language. Traditional Aboriginal law is practiced in many communities within our region.

Many major resource developments are taking place on Aboriginal land, land subject to Native Title rights and interests, or land and waters over which Aboriginal peoples assert interests. These developments include mining and exploration projects, the construction of railways, gas pipelines, army training areas, national parks, and pastoral activities.  The challenge for the NLC is to ensure that social, economic and cultural benefits flow to Aboriginal peoples from these developments.

Aboriginal peoples are increasingly looking to participate in planning and development activities while at the same time seeking to protect their culture and integrity.

The most important responsibility of the NLC is to consult with traditional landowners and other Aboriginal peoples with an interest in affected land. Landowners must give informed consent before any action is taken to affect their lands and seas.  Achieving informed consent also ensures affected Aboriginal communities and groups have the chance to express their views.

The Northern Land Council’s statutory obligations under ALRA include:

  • To ascertain and express the wishes of Aboriginal peoples about the management of their land and legislation about their land.
  • To protect the interests of traditional owners of, and other Aboriginal people interested in, Aboriginal land.
  • To assist Aboriginal peoples to protect sacred sites, whether or not they are on Aboriginal land.
  • To consult traditional owners and other Aboriginal peoples interested in Aboriginal land and land under claim.
  • To negotiate on behalf of traditional owners with peoples interested in using Aboriginal land or land under claim.
  • To assist Aboriginal peoples to carry out commercial activities.
  • To assist Aboriginal peoples claiming land and, in particular, arrange and pay for assistance for them.
  • To keep a register of Land Council members and members of Aboriginal Land Trusts and description s of Aboriginal land.
  • To supervise and assist Aboriginal Land Trusts.
  • Attempt to conciliate disputes between Aboriginal peoples regarding land matters.
  • Hold in trust and distribute to Aboriginal associations statutory payments from the Aboriginals Benefits Account to communities affected by mining operations and income received on behalf of landowners under negotiated agreements.
  • Process applications for permits to enter Aboriginal land.
  • Any other functions as prescribed.

The NLC is also the Native Title Representative Body for the northern region – including the Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt. This includes land that does not fall under ALRA, such as crown land or other lands in towns, national parks, and land vested in the Northern Territory Land Corporation, pastoral leases and offshore areas.

Functions prescribed under the Native Title Act 1993 include:

  • To facilitate the researching, preparation and making of applications, by individuals or groups for determinations of Native Title or for compensation for acts affecting Native Title.
  • To assist in the resolution of disagreements among such individuals or groups about the making of such applications.
  • To assist such individuals o groups by representing them, if requested to do so, in negotiations and proceeding relating to:
  1.  the doing of acts affecting Native Title
  2.  the provision of compensation in relation to such acts
  3. Indigenous Land Use Agreements or other agreements in relation to Native Title rights of access conferred under the Act or other acts
  4. any other matter relevant to the operation of the Act.
  • To certify in writing applications for determinations of Native Title and applications for registration of Indigenous Land Use Agreements relating to areas of land wholly or partly within the region of the representative body.
  • To become a party to Indigenous Land Use Agreements after consultation with the Native Title holders of the land or waters subject to the agreement.

The NLC is also authorised to perform functions under Northern Territory law, including:

  • Aboriginal Land Act
  • Cobourg Peninsular Aboriginal Land, Sanctuary and Marine Act
  • Lands and Mining Tribunal Act
  • Mining Act
  • Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park Act
  • Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act
  • Pastoral Land Act
  • Special Purpose Leases Act
  • Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act

The NLC provides services in the following areas:

  • Land, sea and natural resource management
  • Land claims and land acquisitions
  • Economic development and commercial services
  • Advocacy
  • Administration and support services
  • Native Title services

The NLC has a long-term policy of supporting regional decision making. To this end, significant resources are directed each year towards maintaining fully-staffed and resourced regional offices. The NLC has regional offices in the seven administrative regions.


Our Region

The Northern Land Council is broken down into seven regions

The Northern Land Council takes in a variety of landscapes; from desert country to vast wet land systems, tropical savannah and coastal regions. In the Top End today, there are about 200 scattered communities ranging in size from small family groups on outstations to settlements of up to 3,000 people.

A substantial number of Aboriginal people also live in the four major, predominantly non-Aboriginal, centres of Darwin, Nhulunbuy, Katherine and Jabiru.
But despite significant increases in the Top End's population over the past two decades and the outstation movement, large areas remain sparsely populated.

Seven Regions

The NLC's region is broken down into seven regions

  • Darwin / Daly / Wagait,
  • West Arnhem,
  • East Arnhem,
  • Katherine,
  • Victoria River District (VRD),
  • Ngukurr, and
  • Borroloola / Barkly.

Each region is represented by a regional council (with male and female members) and a regional Chairperson who sits on the NLC's Executive Council. Each region has a local NLC regional headquarters, with offices located in Darwin, Katherine, Jabiru, Nhulunbuy, Timber Creek, Tennant Creek and Ngukurr.


The Top End coastline is backed by landscapes of generally low relief, seldom reaching elevations exceeding 30 metres.

Further from the coast, plains rise slowly in height towards the south. The most significant departures from this general pattern involve areas of rugged sandstone plateau, the most significant extending from Kakadu National Park south-eastwards through Arnhem Land.

Top End wetlands are concentrated in the areas of low relief near the northern coast. They are some of the most extensive and remote wetlands in Australia and compared to those in southern Australia are generally in good condition.

Closer to the coast there are large mangrove swamps, salt marshes and seagrass beds, while major river systems have freshwater floodplains, covering thousands of square kilometres. These have permanent or seasonal swamps and can be dry or under several metres of water, depending on the season. They are home to large numbers of waterbirds, fish, mammals and reptiles, and are still widely used by Aboriginal people.

The Australian land mass has been subject to dramatic and dynamic changes over the past 20,000 years. About 18,000 years ago, the wetlands of Kakadu National Park were at the northern edge of the desert zone and sandstone outcrops like Ubirr and Nourlangie, which now overlook Kakadu's wetlands, were drier inland sites.

Today, standing on the rim of the escarpment around the Arafura Swamp in Central Arnhem Land, you look out over the largest paperbark swamp in northern Australia. There is nothing in the visible landscape to suggest that much of this vast freshwater wetland used to be a large saltwater estuary associated with tidal creeks fringed by mangrove.


The Top End is situated in the wet-dry tropics of Australia.

In the wet season, from November to April, 93% of the annual rainfall occurs; most rain is brought by the South-East Asian Monsoon when monsoonal troughs lie over the Top End coast for extended periods. Humidity is very high during the wet season and cloudy conditions keep maximum daily temperatures near the coast to 33-34 degrees Celsius.

The dry season, May to October, is marked by steady east to south-east winds and dry conditions with lower humidity and slightly lower temperatures than the wet season.
Rainfall in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, is approximately 1,600mm per annum and decreases inland towards the south. For example at Katherine, approximately 300km inland, the annual rainfall is about 960mm.

Maximum temperatures increase and minimum temperatures decrease inland.

Useful Links

Anindilyakwa Land Council

The Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC) officially commenced in 1991 replacing the previous role of the Northern Land Council. It assumes responsibility for activities within the Groote Eylandt archipelago.

Central Land Council

The Central Land Council (CLC) is a Council of 90 Aboriginal people elected from communities in the southern half of the Northern Territory. The CLC region is divided into nine regions based around these language groups.

Tiwi Land Council

Establishment of the Tiwi Land Council (TLC) followed representation by the Tiwi for recognition of their distinct geographic and cultural identity. These representations were a consequence of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 which came into operation on 26 January 1977.

North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance

The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA) takes a whole of north, connected and strategic approach to the management of lands and seas in northern Australia.