Transforming Customary Title to Individual Title: Revisiting the Cathedral

Samantha Hepburn


At the date of writing, the proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (NT) endorsing the transfer of customary ownership to the Northern Territory government in exchange for a re-grant of a sub-lease, had not yet been passed. This article examines the rationalisations underlying this proposed change and the broader implications for customary ownership. Individuated title cannot accurately encompass the cultural foundations of indigenous ownership because it is sourced in a different ontological perspective. It is argued that the transformation of customary ownership into individual title will destroy its unique communal foundation, dislocate indigenous ‘tenants’ from their customary identity and produce a complex network of fractionalised interests. It is argued that such a shift is ultimately a retrograde step which, as experience in the United States and New Zealand has clearly shown, cannot provide an economic solution for remote indigenous communities.

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