Community Living Areas

Community Living Areas are small Aboriginal living areas excised from pastoral leases.

While the Land Rights Act gave many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory their traditional lands back, those whose country was on a pastoral lease, were left out.

Unless the traditional owners had bought the pastoral lease, it couldn’t be claimed as Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act.

Of course pastoral leases are very expensive and difficult to buy so very few people got their land back in this way.

 Otherwise Aboriginal people could only claim Crown land. On pastoral leases, the only Crown lands were the stock routes, so during the 1980s, many Aboriginal people put land claims on stock routes. 

Station owners protested about the stock route claims, because despite being Crown land, many saw them as belonging to them.  As a result of the station owners’ complaints, the Commonwealth and NT Governments made a “Memorandum of Agreement” in 1989 that—

  • the Commonwealth Government would hand back some areas of stock routes and reserves (“red areas”)
  • the Commonwealth Government would amend the Land Rights Act to stop any more stock route land claims, and
  • the Territory Government would make a law for people to apply for CLAs (aka “excisions”) on station country.

The Governments didn’t consult with Aboriginal people or the land councils about the Territory’s CLA laws, they just went ahead and legislated.

 As a result, the community living areas/excisions law doesn’t provide an easy way to secure land for Aboriginal people and puts a lot of restrictions on how the land can be used. See the CLC's press release on the need for reform here

Many CLAs are long term pastoral communities which had managed to negotiate a sub-lease or special purpose lease for a living area from the pastoral lessee in the late seventies and early eighties.

In order to secure such an interest the residents were often required to relocate further from the homestead.

 However by the late eighties many of these  communities still didn’t have a secure a form of title that would give the Aboriginal residents certainty into the future.

One positive aspect of the new laws passed by the Northern Territory in 1989 was that the sub-leases and other relatively weak interests previously secured by Aboriginal people were able to be converted into ‘community living areas’ title (known as ‘enhanced NT freehold’).

Community living area title could not be taken back by the Government, it enabled the exclusion of some mining and exploration, and could not be sold.

Accordingly, a CLA  title became relatively secure for the communities.    

The new laws also allowed other Aboriginal people with historical connections to a pastoral lease to apply for a ‘community living area’.

This process has almost always been long and difficult.

Nevertheless, today there are around 65 CLAs in the Central Land Council region. Title is held by a community corporation or association and these title holding bodies can request that the CLC assist these communities with legal, administrative and technical issues.

There are still a lot of legal and planning restrictions on CLAs and a number of other important reasons why comprehensive reform is needed in order to allow the residents of CLAs to more fully control their affairs and plan for the future. See themost recent submission on this matter to the Austalian Government Community Living Area Reform Discussion Paper here