A critical part of East Arnhem’s history is the historic bark petition sent by clan leaders to the Australian Government in response to mining operations commencing on the Gove Peninsula in the 1960s. The bark petition played a key role in the development and introduction of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Land Rights Act), which enables the recognition and granting of Aboriginal freehold land to traditional owners. Since the enactment of the Land Rights Act, all land in East Arnhem has been recognised by law as Aboriginal land.
The Northern Land Council represents the Yolŋu landowners across the region and has statutory obligations under the Land Rights Act to support traditional owners to make informed decisions about their land and seeks their consent for development on country and enter agreements over Aboriginal land. For more information, please visit nlc.org.au
As the front door for investment in the East Arnhem region, DEAL is well situated to assist and support partners to unlock creative opportunities for development on Aboriginal Land.
Nhulunbuy township and industrial estate
The Nhulunbuy township and Industrial Estate are located on Special Purpose Leases held by Rio Tinto Gove Operations. Individual lots within the Special Purpose Lease areas of the Nhulunbuy township and the Industrial Estate are managed via subleases of the Special Purpose Leases.
These subleases work in much the same way as a typical real estate market and can be bought and sold along with any improvements to the land for the term of the Special Purpose Lease.
The areas of the Gove Peninsula subject to mining leases and associated Special Purpose Leases have already been recognised as Aboriginal land, and the land will be granted to the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust to hold on behalf of traditional owners when the mining lease and associated leases terminate in approximately 2030 (based on current estimations). Accordingly, the traditional owners will be the decision makers about the future of the Gove Peninsula beyond mining.
For further information on work underway on the post-mining future of Nhulunbuy, refer to Gove Peninsula Futures Reference Group (GPFRG) section here, and for further information on accessing commercial and residential property in Nhulunbuy, see here.
East Arnhem region
(excluding Nhulunbuy township and industrial estate)
The granting of Aboriginal land is an essential recognition of the ongoing cultural connection of Yolŋu to their country. In support of this, Aboriginal land cannot be sold in order to protect the underlying ownership of the land. There are, however, various other mechanisms to support using East Arnhem’s land assets for economic development.
The Land Rights Act provides for the granting of leases, licences and other agreements of Aboriginal land, primarily through section 19 of the Land Rights Act. The Northern Land Council represents the interests of traditional owners and works with proponents of business and industry opportunities across the region to secure appropriate access to land.
The section 19 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 and seas. Once agreed, a section 19 agreement provides the holder with legal rights to occupy and use the relevant land for the agreed purpose such as business, service provision, government and community development activities.
For those looking to access Aboriginal land for investment or business development purposes, it is important to commence working with the Northern Land Council early in your planning stages. The Northern Land Council’s responsibilities include overseeing more than 700 section 19 Land Use Agreements that are in place over 3,687 parcels of land.
The Northern Land Council has an office in Nhulunbuy, with its head office located in Darwin, and its staff is available to discuss lease and access proposals, including terms and costs, with potential investors.
Further information on Northern Land Council processes and leasing of Aboriginal land is available at nlc.org.au/our-land-sea/aboriginal-land-legislation. DEAL can also discuss land tenure requirements with prospective proponents and facilitate introductions to relevant Northern Land Council staff on request.
Land Use Agreements are also 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.
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.