Aboriginal timeline: Land & land rights

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  1. Defence returns the nuclear weapons testing range in the Woomera Prohibited Area to traditional Aboriginal owners, the last parcel that hadn’t been returned.


  1. The campaign against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities continues with a second international day of action, with more than 85 rallies across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Hawaii, Hong Kong, China, UK and the USA.

  2. The area extends over the entire south-west corner of Western Australia.
    Map of the South West Native Title Settlement area. (Graphic: WA government)

    After extensive negotiations the Western Australian government signs the South West Native Title Settlement, a set of six Indigenous Land Use Agreements with the Ballardong, Gnaala Karla Booja, South West Boojarah, Wagyl Kaip & Southern Noongar, Whadjuk and Yued groups. It is the largest and most comprehensive native title agreement to settle First Nations interests over land in Australia. The agreement covers 200,000 square kilometres of land, from Jurien on the west coast to Ravensthorpe in the south, and includes the Perth metro area. The settlement applies to Aboriginal Heritage Surveys on all land in the settlement area, including private land. After a lengthy court process, the settlement formally commences on 25 February 2021.

  3. Prime Minister Tony Abbott becomes the first prime minister to visit the grave of land rights campaigner Eddie Koiki Mabo on Murray Island in the Torres Strait.

  4. The Western Australian government introduces the Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Bill 2015 to Parliament. The bill proposes to recognise the Noongar people as the traditional custodians of their lands and is the first piece of legislation in the history of the WA Parliament to include text in their language.


  1. The Kenbi land claim, Australia’s longest running land claim, settles after 37 years. The land claim stretches across the Cox Peninsula on the western side of Darwin Harbour and includes 65,000 hectares to be used by the Larrakia and the Belyuen people. The claim overcame 2 extensive hearings, 3 Federal Court reviews and 2 High Court appeals.

  2. The Western Australian government recognises the Noongar people formally through the Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Act 2016 of the WA Parliament as the traditional custodians of the south west region of Western Australia. The government "recognises the Noongar peoples' important relationship with the Noongar lands, and their significant and unique contribution to the heritage, cultural identity, community and economy of WA". The recognition is part of Australia's most comprehensive native title agreement, the South West Native Title Settlement (see June 2015) and the first statute in WA to incorporate a First Nation's language (in its Noongar Recognition Statement).


  1. The Federal Court rules that Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA) can only be registered if they are signed by all registered Native Title Claimants who are “named applicants”, replacing a previous court decision that allowed registration without all named applicants having signed the ILUA (called the McGlade decision).

  2. One of the longest-running native title cases (starting in 2003) comes to an end, with the Federal Court awarding exclusive rights over Pilbara land to the Yindjibarndi people. The land includes Fortescue Metals Group’s Solomon Hub mine.


  1. The high court delivers a landmark ruling recognising 'customary value' as a major component of compensation under the Native Title Act for the first time. It orders the Northern Territory government to pay $2.53m in compensation to a group of native title holders. It is the first time the high court has considered the monetary value of native title and associated compensation for the removal of land rights. The case is considered one of the most significant land rights cases since the Mabo ruling that could pave the way for billions of dollars in liability payouts by Australian governments.

  2. The Federal Court approves a native title claim of the Bundjalung nation for areas of land and sea around Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, almost 20 years after they lodged it. The claim covers 800 hectares stretching from Broken Head to Brunswick Heads, including Australia's most easterly point at Cape Byron. It is the first positive native title determination in an area of NSW with a dense population.

  3. A group of eight Torres Strait Islanders submits a petition against the Australian government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The petition alleges that Australia is violating the plaintiffs’ fundamental human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights due to the government’s failure to address climate change.

  4. After a 17-year campaign, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape near Portland, a 6,600-year-old Aboriginal aquaculture site in south-west Victoria, is added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Older than the pyramids, the site proves that Aboriginal people built channels and pools to harvest eels, and also permanent stone houses. The site is considered one of the largest and oldest aquaculture sites in the world and became the first Australian World Heritage site to be nominated exclusively for Aboriginal cultural values.

  5. 34 years to the day since the Anangu people received the land rights for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the board closes the Uluru climb after a unanimous decision made in 2017.


  1. Mining company Rio Tinto legally destroys two 46,000-year-old sites in the Juukan Gorge, Pilbara, WA, to extract $135 million worth of iron ore. Experts called it "one of the worst destructions of an archaeological site in recent memory". The destruction was approved by the WA government's Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 2013 under Section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act (1972), but significant archaeological discoveries were made in 2014, including the oldest example of grindstone technology in Western Australia, and oldest bone tools found in Australia.

    Rio Tinto later apologised, but stakeholder pressure forced the resignations of Rio's chief executive, Jean-Sebastian Jacques, head of corporate relations, Simone Niven, and iron ore boss, Chris Salisbury, in September. Chairman Simon Thompson announced his resignation in March the following year.

  2. The High Court upholds the Yindjibarndi people's native title rights over land in the Pilbara that includes the site of mining company Fortescue Metals Group's Solomon mine hub. The traditional custodians had first lodged a formal native title claim in 2003. The mine generates roughly $6.5 billion in revenue each year for FMG which does not pay royalties.


  1. After 40 years of fighting for recognition of their traditional ownership over the Jabiru township, on the eastern side of Kakadu National Park, NT, the Mirarr people received freehold title over the town, the first of its kind in Australia. Jabiru was built in 1978 on Crown Land without the involvement of traditional custodians to service the controversial Ranger uranium mine, majority-owned by Rio Tinto.


  1. In a landmark decision, the UN Human Rights Committee finds that the Australian government has violated its human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islander people by not acting on climate change. A group of Islanders first filed the complaint in 2019, the first legal action brought by climate-vulnerable inhabitants of low-lying islands against a nation-state.


View article sources (5)

[1] 'South West Native Title Settlement - Noongar recognition through an Act of Parliament', Western Australian government 18/4/2019
[2] The full text of the Act is available at www.legislation.wa.gov.au/legislation/statutes.nsf/main_mrtitle_13755_homepage.html
[3] 'High court native title award of $2.53m may open floodgates', The Guardian 13/3/2019
[4] 'Rio Tinto blasting of 46,000-year-old Aboriginal sites compared to Islamic State's destruction in Palmyra', ABC News 29/5/2020
[5] 'Historic legal win for Torres Strait Islanders over Australia’s inaction on climate change', SMH 26/9/2022

Cite this page

Korff, J 2024, Aboriginal timeline: Land & land rights, <https://stage.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/australian-aboriginal-history-timeline/landrights?page=5>, retrieved 22 June 2024

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