Community living areas

…at the edge of the pastoral property


A community living area (CLA) is a small Aboriginal living area carved out from a pastoral lease. There are about 100 in the Territory. Here’s how they came to exist.

A land rights door opens

When the Australian Government passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976, it gave many Aboriginal Territorians a way to reclaim their traditional lands, or lands to which they have a historical connection.

It doesn’t open wide

But if the land had been leased for a pastoral property (or for a mine or other purpose), it was impossible to claim it back.

Aboriginal people try to squeeze in

Small parts of pastoral leases are ‘crown land’ – stock routes and reserves. So in the 1980s, many Aboriginal people lodged a claim on one of those areas.

Pastoralists try to shut them out

Station lease-holders protested.

Governments compromise, CLAs emerge

Without consulting Aboriginal people, in 1989 the Australian and Territory governments agreed to:

  • return some areas to traditional custodians
  • amend the Land Rights Act so that it would no longer be possible to claim land used for stock routes or reserves
  • make laws (in the Territory parliament) to enable Aboriginal people to apply for small CLAs to be carved out of pastoral leases

Is a CLA a good deal for Aboriginal people?

For people who have been dispossessed of their traditional lands, CLAs are a small concession that they might be able to win (through a long and difficult process).

For some, it’s better than what they had

For some communities, a CLA meant stronger tenure, because by the late 1980s they had no formal lease.

For others, it’s 50:50

Many CLAs evolved from Aboriginal pastoral communities that formed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when they negotiated a sub-lease or special-purpose lease from the main lease-holder. In order to transform that arrangement into a CLA, the residents were often forced to move further away from the station homestead.

At least the title is forever

Each CLA title is held by a community corporation or association. It cannot be resumed by the government, or sold, and it enables Aboriginal people to prevent some mining and exploration.

The image on this page is an aerial photo of Alpurrurulam CLA, via its Bushtel profile and Google maps. Text on this page draws heavily on the Central Land Council page about CLAs.

This is Aboriginal land

We work with deep respect for country and its rightful owners, ancestors and elders, past and present.
Please be aware that our site includes names and images of people who have passed.

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