Over the past twenty years Aboriginal people in South Australia have acquired tenure to the land in three different ways: by the establishment of the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust; through direct negotiation and legislation; and by direct purchase with the assistance of Commonwealth funding.
The establishment of the Aboriginal Lands Trust in 1966 was the first move by an Australian government this century to grant Aborigines title to land. Titles for the nine missions and reserves still operating in South Australia in 1966 were vested in the Trust. The Trust then leased these lands back to the local Aboriginal communities for a period of ninety-nine years with repeated rights of renewal. A further thirty-two small areas of land described under various forms of individual or family title as land for Aboriginal use were also vested in the Trust.
The next legislative move towards providing Aborigines with title to land came with the declaration of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act in 1981. The land covered by this Act included the existing North-West Aboriginal Reserve as well as the adjoining pastoral leases of Ernabella, Granite Downs and Kenmore Park. Vacant Crown Land to the south of Ernabella was also transferred to the Pitjantjatjara.
Title to these lands was vested in a corporate body set up under the Act called Anangu Pitjantjatjaraku, meaning the Pitjantjatjara People. This collective was given the task of protecting the interests of the traditional owners in the land and administering the Act under the constitution approved by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
The land held by Anangu Pitjantjatjaraku cannot be sold, subdivided or resumed. Visitors must acquire a permit, as entry to the lands is restricted. Groups such as mining companies must negotiate over access and the conditions of development. If a satisfactory arrangement cannot be reached, the Aboriginal owners have the right to deny access.
Following the passing of this Act, the people who had formerly occupied land to the south of that declared under the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act sought similar title to their lands. These lands, known as Maralinga, comprise large areas in the west of the State which were resumed by the Commonwealth Government for weapons testing in the 1950s. At the time, the people were promised that their lands would be returned to them. With the passing of the Maralinga-Tjarutja Land Rights Act, 1984, they have now successfully reclaimed their country.
The third means by which Aboriginal people have begun to acquire land is through direct purchase on the open market with the assistance of Commonwealth funding. Money has been granted by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and, since 1980, the Aboriginal Development Commission.
In addition to the areas mapped as Aboriginal lands, there are many sites often on land not owned by Aborigines which are culturally significant and have been registered and given legal protection under the Aboriginal and Historic Relics Preservation Act of 1965.
The map shows the major settlements and outstations (or homelands) which have been established on those parts of traditional Pitjantjatjara land where either tenure is now secure under South Australian or Northern Territory legislation or, as is the case in Western Australia, the land has been reserved for use by Aborigines. The homelands movement, which is a return by small family units to their traditional areas from centralised mission and reserve settlements, has been a significant result of the land rights process. Title to land has enabled people to decentralise, and decentralisation has brought with it benefits such as improved food and health, declining infant mortality, and greater control by Aborigines of their own lives and families. The map of settlements and outstations in the north-west of South Australia reflects what was the probable distribution of people in this area in pre-European times, when Aborigines successfully occupied land Europeans came to regard as uninhabitable desert.