Agricultural and Pastoral Leases

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.

A newspaper clipping showing Tom Kickett and a horse.
Photo: An Aboriginal Farmer: Tom Kickett, to wit. He owns a selection at Greenhills, valued at £1200. He is a married man with a family. Sunday Times Perth WA 25 October 1903 section 3 p 1

Historical context

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.

Legislating to encourage prospective farmers

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 ever made.

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

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:

  • within six months of approval, the farmer or their agent was required to reside upon the land and compelled to live on it for six months out of every year for the first five years of occupation;
  • within at least two years of approval the farmer was obliged to spend £30 in the construction of a house or clearing or grubbing (removing large objects), or spend the money on preparing two acres of land as an orchard or vineyard;
  • within five years the farmer was required to fence at least one quarter and clear and grub one-eighth of the whole farm area; and
  • within seven years the farmer was required to fence the entire farm area and clear and grub one quarter of the land.

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

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:

  • to reside on the property for at least six months per year without any other habitual residence;
  • to fence at least one-tenth of the land within two years and the whole of the land within five years from the date of the commencement of the lease; and
  • within 10 years, expend upon the land, in prescribed improvements, an amount equal to the purchase money.

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 Purchases for Grazing Lands

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:

  • reside on the property for at least nine months per year;
  • fence at least one-tenth of the area within two years from the date of commencement of the lease, and the whole area within five years;
  • expend upon the land, in prescribed improvements, an amount equal to the full purchase money within 15 years; and
  • only land classified as ‘second’ or ‘third’ class could be issued.

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.

Summary of land legislation in Western Australia

  • Prior to 1 January 1899, Crown land in Western Australia was disposed of pursuant to a succession of Land Regulations.
  • From 1 January 1899 to 6 March 1934 the Land Act 1898 commenced which repealed the pre-existing Land Regulations.
  • From 6 March 1934 to 30 March 1998 — the Land Act 1933 commenced and repealed the 1898 Act. 
  • From 30 March 1998 to the present — the Land Administration Act 1997 commenced replacing the Land Act 1933.
Guide to Land Regulations and Acts
Act Clause No. Section Summary
Land Regulations, 188735 Reserves Cancellation amendments and changes.
Land Regulations, 188746 Alienation Conditional purchase by deferred payment with residence, within agricultural areas.
 
Land Regulations, 188748 Alienation Conditional Purchase by deferred payment with residence, outside Agricultural areas, in South-West Division.
Land Regulations, 188749 Alienation Conditional Purchase by deferred payment, without residence, in South-West Division.
Land Regulations, 188766 Pastoral Leases Pastoral leases in the South-West Division, in blocks of not less than three thousand acres.
Land Regulations, 188792 Mineral Lands License to quarry, dig for, and carry away any rock, soil, or other material on any crown lands.
Homestead Act, 189315 Free Homestead Farms Provision in cases of owners of homestead farms seeking to reside in a village.
Land Act, 1898 74 Free Homestead Farms Applications for homestead farms of not more than one hundred and sixty acres.
Land Act, 1898 42 Reserves Land comprised in a reserve.
Land Act, 1898 55 Conditional Purchases—Agricultural Lands Conditional purchase licences for land with residence within an agricultural area.  Must reside on land within 6 months.  Max. 1000 acres – Min. 100 acres.
Land Act, 1898 56 Conditional Purchases—Agricultural Lands Conditional purchases of land without residence within an agricultural area.
Land Act, 1898 57 Conditional Purchases—Agricultural Lands Conditional purchase by direct payment of land within an agricultural area.
Land Act, 1898 60 Conditional Purchases—Agricultural Lands Conditional Purchase License of Crown lands within the South-West Division, and any Crown lands within ten miles of a city or town, for vineyards, orchards, and gardens.
Land Act, 1898 68 Conditional Purchases-Grazing Lands Conditional purchase of lands for grazing in the Eastern or Eucla Divisions. Max. 8000 acres – Min 10000 acres second class; Max. 50000 third class.  Not more than two blocks.
Land Act, 1898 88 Working Men's Blocks Certain persons entitled to leases of working men's blocks.  Must be head of family or a male over 18 years of age and not already hold a Homestead Farm.
Land Act, 189892 Pastoral Lands Pastoral Lands: Pastoral lease applications accompanied by deposit of rent.
Land Act, 1898 93 Pastoral Lands Pastoral leases in the South-West Division, in blocks of not less than three thousand acres.
Land Act, 189895 Pastoral Lands Pastoral leases in the Eucla Division.  Blocks not less than 20,000 acres.
Land Act, 1898 96 Pastoral Lands Pastoral leases in the North-West Division, in blocks of not less than twenty thousand acres.
Land Act, 189897 Pastoral Lands Pastoral leases in the Eastern Division
Land Act, 1898 98 Pastoral Lands Pastoral leases in the Kimberley Division, in blocks of not less than fifty thousand acres where no part of the boundary is on a frontage.
Land Act, 1898102 Pastoral Lands Pastoral Leases within Goldfields and Mining Districts. Max. 20000 acres – Min 2000 acres.
Land Act, 1898 109 Pastoral Lands Form of licence to occupy pastoral land in South-West Division before Agricultural areas are withdrawn from lease. 
Land Act, 1898 152 Miscellaneous Provisions Leases for special purposes. Granted by the Governor not exceeding 25 acres. Annual rent not less than 5 shillings per acre.
Map of Western Australia showing the 80 land divisions in 1909.
Photo: Map of Western Australia showing the 80 land divisions in 1909.

List of sources

  • Arcmap geospatial processing software
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Applications for Leases and Licences (Under 1898 Act)", 1898-1905, WA S2280 — cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Applications for Leases and Licences", 1872-1905, WA S2153 — cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Lease Description Books", 1885-1899, WA S1889 — cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Registers — Conditional Purchase", 1883-1899, WA S1958 — cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Registers — Leases (1898 Act)", 1898-1933, WA S2256 — cons4816, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Registers — Leases (1898 Act)", 1898-1933, WA S2256 — cons4893, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Registers — Leases (1898 Act)", 1898-1933, WA S2256 — cons5870, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Registers — Leases (Regulations)", 1887-1981, WA S1311 — cons4815, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Lands and Surveys. "Registers — Leases (Regulations)", 1887-1981, WA S1311 — cons5869, State Records Office of Western Australia
  • Department of Land Administration. "Card Index — Land Acts (Clauses)", 1898-1989, WA S2266 — cons5829, State Records Office of Western Australia.
Page reviewed 19 August 2021