Page title

Intro

Table of contents

Cultural acknowledgement

The Western Australian Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Western Australia some of whom are featured in this publication. We also pay tribute to the many Elders and their families past and present who have sought to improve their wellbeing through initiative and perseverance.

Disclaimer

Aboriginal people are advised this publication contains the names and images of deceased people. The information has been sourced from a range of historical records that exist at the State Records Office of Western Australia. All reasonable care has been taken to collate the data however it is not exhaustive and further particulars including the names of other Aboriginal lease holders undoubtedly exist and will be added to the online database once they are identified. The DLGSC disclaims liability for any errors.

Researched and prepared by Aboriginal History WA, a division of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) Aboriginal History WA (AHWA) division.

A special thank you to Mark Chambers, Senior Researcher, whose dedication to truth-telling projects and tireless research has enabled this project to be completed. We would also like to acknowledge the contribution and interest of the State Records Office of Western Australia and Landgate in assisting us with this publication.

Published 2021 by the Western Australian Museum.

Copyright © Department of Local Government,
Sport and Cultural Industries. Aboriginal History WA, 2021.

Introduction

The granting of land leases by the Government of Western Australia for agricultural and pastoral pursuits during the state’s early colonial period has contributed greatly to Western Australia’s current economic climate and prosperity. What is less known is the extent to which Aboriginal people have actively taken up land leasing opportunities, with the result that the work and achievements of Aboriginal farmers during this formative period of Australia’s history are more often overlooked.

This research seeks to acknowledge the part that Aboriginal farmers and their families played in the development of the Western Australian economy and community. In Western Australia, between the years 1887 and 1933 (the historical extent of this research covering the introduction of Land Regulations 1887 through to the replacement of the Land Act 1898), at least 440 applications for land leaseholds were made by Aboriginal men and women. While the majority were forced to abandon the properties often due to the stringent conditions imposed by the legislation combined with financing restrictions, many went on to achieve success, with successive generations expanding on their ancestor’s bold enterprise.

Please note this publication is focused on identifying lease applications submitted by Aboriginal people from 1887–1933. What happened to the leases thereafter is beyond the scope of this publication. To find out more about an individual lease, please contact Landgate who hold the relevant records.

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. 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 led 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 (Clause 12) 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 obtain 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 develop agricultural areas in Western Australia. It was the most common type of land tenure taken up by Aboriginal farmers, with at least 120 applications made. Under Clause 74 of The Land Act 1898 (formally The Homestead Farms Act 1894), 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 because of non-compliance with the conditions. It is assumed that many were abandoned due to the pressure applied by the conditions.

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 in the years 1899–1933. Under Clause 55 of The Land Act 1898, applicants were entitled to apply for between 100 to 1,000 acres of land which could be used for agricultural purposes provided 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 farmers, with at least 91 applications made. Under Clause 68 of the Land Act 1898, applicants were granted between 1,000 and 3,000 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:

  • to reside on the property for at least nine months per year;
  • to 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 after 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.

1 January 1899 to 6 March 1934

The Land Act 1898 commenced which repealed the pre-existing Land Regulations.

6 March 1934 to 30 March 1998

The Land Act 1933 commenced and repealed the Land Act 1898.

30 March 1998 to the present

The Land Administration Act 1997 commenced replacing the Land Act 1933.

A guide to the Land Acts and clauses within each Act relevant to this research

Land Acts and clauses
ActClauseSectionDescription
Land Regulations, 1887
F 
Conditional purchase lease allocated to the West Australian Land Company.
Land Regulations, 1887
35ReservesLand within a reserve.
Land Regulations, 1887
46Alienation
Conditional purchase by deferred payment with residence, within agricultural areas, in the South West Division.
Land Regulations, 1887
48Alienation
Conditional purchase by deferred payment with residence, outside agricultural areas, in the South West Division.
Land Regulations, 1887
49Alienation
Conditional purchase by deferred payment, without residence, in the South West Division.
Homestead Act, 1893
66
Pastoral Leases
Pastoral leases in the South West Division, in blocks of not less than three thousand acres.
Land Act, 189892Mineral Lands
License to quarry, dig for, and carry away any rock, soil, or other material on any crown lands.
Land Act, 189815
Free Homestead Farms
Provision in cases of owners of homestead farms residing in a village.
Land Act, 189874Free Homestead Farms
Applications for homestead farms of not more than one hundred and sixty acres.
Land Act, 189842ReservesLand comprised in a reserve.
Land Act, 189855
Conditional Purchases — Agricultural Lands
Conditional purchase licences for land with residence within an agricultural area.
Land Act, 189856Conditional Purchases — Agricultural Lands
Conditional purchases of land without residence within an agricultural area.
Land Act, 189857Conditional Purchases — Agricultural Lands
Conditional purchase by direct payment of land within an agricultural area.
Land Act, 189860Conditional 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, 189868

Conditional Purchases — Grazing Lands
Conditional purchase of lands for grazing in the South West, Eastern or Eucla Divisions.
Land Act, 189888
Working Men’s Blocks
Certain persons entitled to leases of working men’s blocks.
Land Act, 189892Pastoral Lands
Pastoral lease applications accompanied by deposit of rent.
Land Act, 189893Pastoral Lands
Pastoral leases in the South West Division, in blocks of not less than three thousand acres.
Land Act, 189895Pastoral Lands
Pastoral leases in the Eucla Division.
Land Act, 189896Pastoral Lands
Pastoral leases in the North West Division, in blocks of not less than twenty thousand acres.
Land Act, 189897Pastoral Lands
Pastoral leases in the Eastern Division.
Land Act, 189898Pastoral Lands
Pastoral leases in the Kimberley Division, in blocks of not less than fifty thousand acres.
Land Act, 1898102Pastoral Lands
Pastoral leases within Goldfields and Mining Districts.
Land Act, 1898109Pastoral Lands
Form of licence to occupy pastoral land.
Land Act, 1898152
Miscellaneous Provisions
Leases for special purposes.

List of sources

  • Department of Land Administration
    • ‘Card Index — Land Acts (Clauses)’, 1898–1989.
      [WAS2266/cons5829, State Records Office of Western Australia]
  • Department of Lands and Surveys
    • ‘Applications for Leases and Licences (Under 1898 Act)’, 1898–1905.
      [WAS2280/cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Applications for Leases and Licences’, 1872–1905.
      [WAS2153/cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Lease Description Books’, 1885–1899.
      [WAS1889/cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Registers — Conditional Purchase’, 1883–1899.
      [WAS1958/cons5000, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Registers — Leases (1898 Act)’, 1898–1933.
      [WAS2256/cons4816, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Registers — Leases (1898 Act)’, 1898–1933.
      [WAS2256/cons4893, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Registers — Leases (1898 Act)’, 1898–1933.
      [WAS2256/cons5870, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Registers — Leases (Regulations)’, 1887–1981.
      [WAS1311/cons4815, State Records Office of Western Australia]
    • ‘Registers — Leases (Regulations)’, 1887–1981.
      [WAS1311/cons5869, State Records Office of Western Australia]
  • Landgate (2021). Townsites (LGATE-248) [vector dataset].
  • QGIS Development Team (2021). QGIS Geographic Information System.
The base for some maps featured in this publication were created under license using ArcGIS® software by Esri. https://www.esri.com

 

Historical Western Australian land divisions and districts

During 1899 the Gascoyne Division was renamed the Western Division under the Land Act 1898, before being merged with the North West Division in 1907 under the Land Act Amendment Act 1906. The Central Division was incorporated into the Eastern Division under the Land Act Amendment Act 1917.

In 1909 (pictured) there were 80 land districts across Western Australia.

  • Kimberley Division (1882–present)
  • North West Division (1887–present)
  • Gascoyne/Western Division (1887–1907)
  • Central Division (1907–1917)
  • Eastern Division (1887–present)
  • South West Division (1887–present)
  • Eucla Division (1887–present)
A map of Western Australia outlining the divisions and districts

Index of applicants

The index of applicants are available on the Agricultural and Pastoral Leases index.

Related pages

Page reviewed 16 March 2022