Community Living Areas

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

The Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 has delivered back to many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory their traditional lands as inalienable freehold title; however, many others whose country is on a pastoral lease have been left out.

Unless a pastoral lease was owned by the traditional owners, they could not make an application under the Land Rights Act to claim the land back as Aboriginal freehold. 

This is because the act allows only claims lodged on crown land where no one has any lease or other interest, or where the lease or other interest is owned by the traditional owners.

Since pastoral leases are very expensive to purchase very few Aboriginal people got their land returned by ‘buying back the farm’.

 Within pastoral leases, the only crown lands available for claim were the stock routes and reserves; so during the 1980s many Aboriginal people lodged land claims on these areas. 

 Station lease holders protested about the stock route/reserve claims, because they saw the land as belonging to their stations even though it was vacant crown land and not part of their pastoral leases.

 As a result of the lease holders’ complaints, the Australian and NT governments made a memorandum of agreement in 1989 that:

  • the Australian Government would return to traditional owners some parts of stock routes and reserves (then coded ‘red areas’)
  • the Australian Government would amend the Land Rights Act to stop any more stock route/reserve land claims
  • the NT Government would make laws for Aboriginal people to apply for small CLAs (or ‘excisions’)

The governments didn’t consult with Aboriginal people or the land councils about the NT’s CLA laws, they just proceeded to legislate.

As a result, the CLA/excisions laws generally don’t provide an easy way to secure land for Aboriginal people and put many restrictions on their use of the land. The CLC has long advocated for reform of the CLA laws.

Many CLAs house long-standing Aboriginal 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 station homestead.

However, by the late eighties many of these communities still didn’t have a form of title to give the Aboriginal residents any security of tenure into the future.

One benefit of the new NT laws passed in 1989 was that the sub-leases and other relatively weak interests Aboriginal people had earlier gained were convertible to community living area title, known as enhanced NT freehold.

A CLA title became relatively secure for these Aboriginal communities, because it could not be resumed by the government, it enabled the exclusion of some mining and exploration, and could not be sold.

The new laws also allowed Aboriginal people with historical connections, not just traditional links, to a pastoral lease to apply for a CLA.

This process has almost always been long and difficult.

Nevertheless, today there are 78 CLAs in the CLC region.

Title is held by a community corporation or association. These bodies can request that the CLC assist the communities with legal, administrative and technical issues.