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Indigenous Legal Research

Australian Indigenous Law

The First Peoples of Australia are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples. According to the 2016 census, Indigenous Australian comprise 2.8 % of Australia's population of nearly 25 million (about 650,000 people). 91% are of Aboriginal origin, 5% are of Torres Strait Islander origin, and 4% are of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. There are hundreds of Indigenous societies, communities and groups. 'Community' is often used to describe groups identifying by kinship, language or belonging to a particular place, 'country' or 'nation'. There is great diversity among different Indigenous communities and societies in Australia; each has its own culture, customs and languages.There are over 150 Australian Indigenous languages still in existence today.

  • See an interactive map of all the language, tribal or nation groups of the Aboriginal people of Australia on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website.
  • For information on the definitions of Aboriginal people in Australian legislation and common law, see  Halsbury's Laws of Australia on Lexis Advance (UniMelb staff & student access) - Title 5 - Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders Part I (Introduction), Chapter 3 (Legal Definitions).

Australian indigenous law includes customary law, Australian government law that specifically and only affects indigenous Australians, and also the relationship between Indigenous people / customary law and the general common and statute law of Australia.

For a succinct summary of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customary law, legal history and the place of Australian indigenous law within the contemporary Australian legal system, see see the Legal and Historical Background section in the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders title of Halsbury's Laws of Australia on Lexis Advance (UniMelb staff & student access).

See also the see the chapter on Aboriginal Law in the following encyclopaedia:

The Indigenous Law Library on AUSTLII (open access) includes several very useful databases:

  • Timeline: Legal Developments Affecting Indigenous People - this includes case law, legislation, treaties, and other legal and political documents which have affected Indigenous people's rights in Australia, from 1820 to current. This database is a work in progress and currently has no post-2008 content.
  • Indigenous Law Resources - an up to date database of significant primary legal resources relating to Indigenous legal issues, from 1768 to current. It includes parliamentary papers, government reports and policy documents, reports and submissions by civil society organisations, documents related to significant test cases and legal proceedings and Indigenous advocacy.
  • Caselaw, Legislation and Law Reform publications concerning indigenous issues.