About Native Title
Native title is a form of land title that recognises the unique ties some Aboriginal groups have to land. Australian law recognises that native title exists where Aboriginal people have maintained a traditional connection to their land and waters, since sovereignty, and where acts of government have not removed it.
Native title was first recognised by the High Court of Australia in 1992 with the Mabo decision. The Mabo decision overturned the idea of 'terra nullius', that the Australian continent did not belong to anyone at the time of Europeans' arrival. It recognised for the first time that indigenous Australians may continue to hold native title and to be uniquely connected to the land.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can apply to the courts to have their native title rights recognised under Australian law. Native title holders have the right to be compensated if governments acquire their land or waters for future developments.
Native title can co-exist with other forms of land title (such as pastoral leases) but is extinguished by others (such as freehold).
The native title of a particular group will depend on the traditional laws and customs of those people. The way native title is recognised and practised may vary from group to group, depending on what is claimed and what is negotiated between all of the people and organisations with an interest in that country.
To learn more about native title see our frequently asked questions or visit the National Native Title Tribunal’s website.