Diverging water and land property rights: Historic acquisition pathways and implications for contemporary Aboriginal water access

Mrs Lana D. Hartwig1,2, Dr Sue Jackson1, Dr Natalie Osborne2

1Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

2School of Environment & Science, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia


In Australia, territories have been returned to First Nations peoples’ ownership and/or control under a variety of settler-colonial redress and restitution regimes since the 1970s. By comparison, matters relating to Aboriginal property rights in and to water both within and beyond these regimes remain largely unexplored. Many interconnected and complicating factors likely contribute to this dearth of awareness, including the historic bundling – and more recent separation – of land and water property; very delayed recognition of Indigenous peoples’ unique water interests in Australian water policies and legislation; and the lack of water redistribution mechanisms introduced for Aboriginal peoples’ benefit. Research in 2009 compiled known Aboriginal-held water entitlements across Australia for the first time, and found most were within NSW. However, analysis or explanation about how and why these entitlements (and not others) were acquired remains undeveloped. This paper addresses this gap by identifying the major processes of Aboriginal water acquisition in NSW, drawing from archival research and interviews. In doing so, we illuminate specifically how historical injustices from Aboriginal land access are critical to understanding contemporary patterns of and constraints on Aboriginal water holdings and access. Aboriginal water holding trends over the last decade will also be briefly considered.


Lana Hartwig is a final-year PhD student at the Australian Rivers Institute and School of Environment & Science at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. Lana’s PhD research explores struggles over Aboriginal water access within contemporary neoliberal water governance in the State of New South Wales.

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