Applications by Aboriginal people in Western Australia between 1887 and 1933.
The granting of land leases by the Government of Western Australia for agricultural and pastoral pursuits has contributed greatly to Western Australia’s current international standing and economic prosperity. What is less known is the extent to which Aboriginal people have been part of this process. This publication seeks to acknowledge their hard work and achievement despite the barriers many would have faced.
The research focuses on the period between 1887 and 1933 (commencing with the introduction of Land Regulations 1887, through to the replacement of the Land Act 1933). During this time at least 440 applications for agricultural leases were made by Aboriginal
men and women.
Regrettably the majority were forced to abandon their leases through failure to meet the stringent conditions imposed by the legislation, as well as the burden of financing their land acquisitions. Never-the-less a small percentage went on to achieve
success with subsequent generations capitalising on their ancestor’s resourcefulness.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Aboriginal population had lived, nurtured and managed the land for over 60,000 years. Holding a deep knowledge of country, the Aboriginal ancestors of today knew how to harvest their food sustainably and had ways
of manipulating the land to ensure they could get what was needed. Throughout the continent, there is evidence of Aboriginal people building dams and wells, planting and harvesting seeds. Fire was used in burning off practices to help nourish the
land. When the fire would go through clearings, sweet and fresh grass would grow in its place this would lure animals in to the area making it easier to hunt.
This way of life was undermined forever with the establishment of the Swan River Colony in 1829 and the subsequent allocation of land. Little consideration was given to the needs of the Aboriginal people whose traditional land they would appropriate.
In 1842 the British Government passed the Waste Lands Act which made provision for the establishment of Reserves ‘for the use or benefit of the Aboriginal inhabitants’ throughout the colonies, however this gesture was not implemented in
Western Australia. Deprived of their hunting and foraging grounds, Aboriginal people were forced to support themselves through laborious tasks such as wood chopping and domestic work while still maintaining a link to their culture and country.
The same situation would occur with the expansion of the agricultural and pastoral industries throughout the rest of the State, impacting on a way of life that had been maintained for many thousands of years. Throughout the pastoral industry the Aboriginal
population was co-opted to work on stations in a slave-like manner through a regulated permit system. Entire families were assigned to stock work and general improvements. Working from sun-up to sundown for seven days a week, only to be allocated
meagre rations instead of wages. The freedom to move from one area to another was rigidly controlled, with “absconding natives” forcibly returned to their “owners” (employers) by the police.
Land legislation in Western Australia has evolved greatly over time since the first settlers were offered large grants of land proportional to the amount of capital they possessed. The subsequent abolition of free grants and an increase in price per acre
lead to the introduction of a more regulated system commencing with the Land Regulations, 1887. Despite being treated as second-class citizens, the Regulation contained a clause (Clause12) enabling the Governor to grant or lease any Crown land not
exceeding 200 acres to “any aboriginal native or the descendant of any aboriginal native”. Subsequent legislation also contained this same provision however there is little evidence to suggest that grants or leases of this nature were
Although it appears that there were no barriers to Aboriginal people applying for leases the chances of an applicant retaining the lease or grant for any length of time was fraught with difficulty. Loans were often only made available to applicants who
were deemed capable of meeting the repayments. Without a legal title to the land or security of tenure, Aboriginal applicants were unable to secure any type of bank loan and were given no financial assistance by either the government or the Agricultural
Bank. This lack of capital prevented many from being able to carry out the improvements required to meet their lease conditions and maintain the property. Despite this inequality, some applicants went on to successfully develop their leases and attain
Crown grants. A Crown grant was defined by the Lands Act 1898 as a deed issued in the name of Her Majesty conveying some portion of Crown Land in fee simple, otherwise known as Freehold title.
Free Homestead Farms was a government initiative intended to encourage the development agricultural areas throughout the State. More applications were made by Aboriginal people for land under this provision than any other, with around 120 submitted. Under
this provision applicants were granted 160 to 200 acres of land which could be used for farming provided several conditions related to farm improvements were met.
Applications were subject to a one-pound fee and were granted on the following provisions:
Many applications were made around Quairading and Brookton in the Wheatbelt and around Katanning and Gnowangerup in the Great Southern Region. To apply for a Homestead Farm, the applicant had to be male and over the age of 18 years or the head of a household.
Subject to complying with the conditions for seven years, the applicant could apply for a Crown grant. A significant number of Homestead Farm leases were cancelled due to non-compliance. It is assumed that many were abandoned due to the strict requirements.
Conditional Purchases for Agricultural lands with residence was another initiative commonly taken up by Aboriginal people, with at least 100 applications made between the years 1899 and 1933. Under Clause 55 of The Land Act 1898, applicants were entitled
to apply for between 100 to 1000 acres which could be used for agricultural purposes providing the following conditions were met:
The application had to be accompanied by a deposit of the rent, with the cost of the land fixed by the Governor. This amount could be no less than ten shillings per acre, payable half-yearly at the rate of one-twentieth of the total purchase money per
annum. If at the expiry of the lease, or any time after five years after the commencement of the lease, the conditions stipulated in the Act were met, the lessee was eligible to apply for a Crown grant.
Conditional Purchase for Grazing Lands was another form of lease taken up by Aboriginal people, with at least 91 applications made. Under Clause 68 of the Land Act 1898, applicants could be granted between 1000 and 3000 acres of land within the South
West Division, or in the Eastern and Eucla Divisions if ‘situated within forty miles of a railway and not within an agricultural area or goldfield’. Upon approval, the successful applicant was issued a ‘grazing lease’ for thirty
years, subject to the fulfillment of the following conditions:
The price for this type of land tenure was fixed to a minimum of six shillings and threepence per acre for second class land, and three shillings and ninepence per acre for third class land, payable half-yearly at the rate of one-thirtieth of the total
purchase money per annum.
If at the expiry of the lease, or any time after five years following the commencement of the lease, the conditions stipulated in the Act were met, the lessee was eligible to receive a Crown grant.
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