This paper summarise the various meanings which have been applied to the notion of traditional ownership, based on a review of the published literature on the subject.
It starts with a brief summation of the various definitions which have been included in Australian State and Commonwealth legislation, before focusing on three issues which are the most relevant to broader native title settlements. These issues are:
• the extent to which interpretations of traditional ownership might accommodate a ‘ranking’ of associations to country;
• the distinction between traditional owners and ‘historical people’; and
• conflicts between groups about traditional ownership.
The objective of this paper is to highlight some (but by no means all) of the complexities which can be involved in any interpretation of traditional ownership. These observations will in turn provide some context to the negotiation of broader native title settlements across Australia, and could inform the development of any potential evidentiary thresholds based around this idea.