Land Tenure

Public land belongs to the Crown and includes land which is reserved, owned for public purposes, or vacant. It typically includes reserves for nature conservation, forestry, marine conservation, water conservation, mining and defence as well as vacant and other Crown land.

Aerial view of Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area farming blocks.

Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area
farming blocks.

The first park managed by the colonial administration to be dedicated for public use in Australia was Kings Park in Perth in 1872. However, other areas such as recreation grounds managed by a board of trustees were set aside for public use prior to the declaration of Kings Park. Among these was the dedication in 1855 of 640 acres for a public recreation ground in Nowra, New South Wales and for the Prince Alfred (1865) and Macquarie Place (1866) parks in Sydney. The oldest national park in Australia, Royal National Park, at Port Hacking in New South Wales, was established in 1879. It was not until the 1950s that conservation reserves began to be systematically dedicated in Australia.

Private land makes up the largest part of Australia and can be freehold land or Crown leasehold land, the latter normally being held on long term lease or licence.

Aboriginal land may be freehold, leasehold or Crown reserve, and made up of areas available for the use, benefit and residence by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Of all the states and territories, South Australia has the most land dedicated to nature conservation reserves, with more than 203 700km2, or more than 20 per cent of the State.

Land Tenure Categories

A nationally consistent, broadly based classification of land tenure has been used by Geoscience Australia. It incorporates land tenure types currently in use by the relevant state/territory and Commonwealth land administration agencies in the following classifications:

Forestry Reserve

Public lands managed and controlled by state/territory forestry services in accordance with forestry acts and regulations.

Aboriginal Freehold - National Park

National parks under the control of Aboriginal groups.

Marine Reserve

Crown marine environments managed by state/territory or Commonwealth governments, reserved for the preservation of flora and fauna.

Nature Conservation Reserve

Includes national parks, nature reserves, state/territory recreation areas, conservation parks and environmental parks. These are Crown lands reserved for specific environmental conservation purposes such as protection of wildlife, protection of a type of habitat or preservation of an area with natural features of scientific or recreational value. National parks are generally large areas of scenic or other natural significance to the general public.

Water Reserve

Crown lands reserved to protect a water supply catchment or accommodate works associated with water supplies. Includes controlled catchments where privately or publicly owned land is used primarily for other purposes but is subject to land use or access restrictions.

Defence Land

Land reserved for use by the armed forces for training, research and military installations.

Aboriginal Reserve

Crown lands reserved for Aborigines but under the control of state/territory Government Aboriginal affairs authorities.

Other Crown Land

Institutional lands reserved for purposes other than those in the other classifications, or being held in reserve pending dedication for some specific purpose.

Mining Reserve

Crown lands held in reserves for mining.

Vacant Crown Land

Crown land not reserved for any purpose.

Freehold Land

satellite image showing a patchwork of farms in eastern Victoria.

A patchwork of farms in
eastern Victoria.

Represents privately owned land. In certain circumstances, freehold title can be held by a government body, such as a State forestry commission when land is purchased to establish forestry plantations.

Crown Leasehold (mainly pastoral)

These lands are also regarded as privately owned. Many of the leases are perpetual and are mainly leased to pastoralists.

Aboriginal Freehold and Leasehold

Aboriginal freehold and leasehold land is land held by designated Aboriginal communities, with special conditions attached to the titles. Does not include land held privately by individual Aboriginal landowners.

Mixed Lands

A mix of adjoining small areas less than 50km2 with different public land categories.

TOTAL LANDS CATEGORY
(1993 data)
(thousand square kilometres)
QLD NSW VIC SA WA NT TAS ACT TOTAL % of Australia
Public 118.0 85.7 72.3 217.6 1095.0 137.2 40.6 1.5 1767.9 23.0
Private 1567.0 714.4 155.3 576.8 1105.0 673.0 27.2 0.9 4819.6 62.75
Aboriginal & TSI 42.2 1.5 - 189.6 325.5 536.0 - - 1094.8 14.25
Total 1727.2 801.6 227.6 984.0 2525.5 1346.2 67.8 2.4 7682.3 100
PUBLIC LAND CATEGORY
(2002 data)
(thousand square kilometres)
QLD NSW VIC SA WA NT TAS TOTAL % of Australia
Nature conservation reserve 67.2 54.4 34.3 213.0 170.2 49.2 17.8 606.1 7.89
Vacant crown land 0.0 0.0 1.1 2.5 122.8 0.0 6.3 132.7 1.72
Other crown land 0.0 0.8 4.8 4.6 697.0 0.0 0.8 708.0 9.21
Forestry reserve 42.2 32.1 35.9 1.3 18.6 0.0 14.6 144.7 1.89
Water reserve 0.0 2.2 0.8 0.5 9.0 0.0 1.0 13.5 0.17
Defence land 7.1 0.4 0.4 3.8 6.3 12.4 0.2 153 1.99
Mining reserve 3.5 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.4 0.0 0.0 4 0.05
Mixed category lands 0.0 0.4 0.5 0.7 0.0 0.1 0.1 1.8 0.02

* In the ACT, Namadgi National Park is the only reserve of any significances, covering 106 095 hectares, or 46% of the total area of the ACT.

PRIVATE LAND CATEGORY
(1993 data)
(thousand square kilometres)
QLD NSW VIC SA WA NT TAS ACT TOTAL % of Australia
Freehold 627.2 405.5 155.2 158.4 205.1 6.4 27.2 - 1585.0 20.6
Crown leasehold 939.8 308.9 0.1 418.4 899.9 666.6 - 0.9 3234.6 42.1
 
Total 1567.0 714.4 155.3 576.8 1105.0 673.0 27.2 0.9 4819.6 62.7

All freehold land in the Australia Capital Territory has been resumed and vested in the Crown. This allows the Commonwealth to retain an interest over the leasehold estate, preventing its sale or disposal as freehold land.

ABORIGINAL AND
TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER
LAND CATEGORY
(1993 data)
(thousand square kilometres)
QLD NSW VIC SA WA NT TAS ACT TOTAL % of Australia
Freehold 20.5 0.4 - 189.0 - 516.8 - - 726.7 9.5
Leasehold 18.9 1.1 - 0.6 126.1 19.2 - - 165.9 2.1
Reserve 2.8 - - - 199.4 - - - 202.2 2.6
Total 42.2 1.5 - 189.6 325.5 536.0 - - 1094.8 14.25
MARINE RESERVES
(1993 data)
(thousand square kilometres)
OTHER1 QLD NSW VIC SA WA NT TAS ACT TOTAL
Total 361.6 3.4 0.8 0.5 - 11.4 2.5 - - 380.2

1 Marine reserves in Commonwealth waters (1993 data)
Source: Geoscience Australia Land Tenure 1993