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Crown land

What is Crown land?

Crown land is land that is owned and managed by State Government. It accounts for over half of all land in New South Wales and includes:

  • Crown lands held under lease, licence or permit
  • community managed reserves
  • lands retained in public ownership for environmental purposes
  • lands within the Crown public roads network
  • other unallocated lands.

Many non-tidal waterways across the state also comprise Crown land as does most tidal waterway land.

Crown lands managed by the Department of Primary Industries - Lands should not be confused with other forms of Crown or State owned lands such as National Parks, State Forests, State Rail property etc.

For all Crown land inquiries please call 1300 886 235.

Crown land history in New South Wales

European land settlement commenced in 1788 when Governor Phillip claimed possession of the land for a penal colony on behalf of the British Government. All lands were vested in the name of the Crown, thus the name Crown lands. The Surveyor General's office was established soon after to administer these lands.

From 1791 to 1831 Governor Phillip, and later Governor Macquarie, issued free grants of land on behalf of the Crown to encourage and advance settlement of the State. Evidence of ownership of these land grants was provided by a document known as a Crown grant. Governor Macquarie also instituted leasing of land between 1809 and 1821.

Through time, the economic, social and environmental needs of land management for the State has been reflected in continuing legislative amendments. In 1825 the system of selling land was introduced, leading to the abolition of free grants for Crown land in 1831. After 1831 land was only sold at public auction and the Governor's discretionary power of refusing applications for land ownership was abolished.

The Department of Lands and Public Works was formed in 1856 to cater for the expanding functions of the Surveyor General's office. In 1859 the Department of Lands became a separate entity.

The Robertson Act 1861 (NSW) made free selection of Crown land possible for anyone. The Crown Lands Alienation Act 1861 (NSW) dealt with the sale of land and the Crown Lands Occupation Act 1861 (NSW) dealt with leasing. The Occupation Act permitted any person to select up to 320 acres of land and purchase the freehold (with the exception of urban land). Prior to this powerful squatters had managed to acquire vast amounts of the colony's prime land through initially illicit occupation. The Occupation Act opened up these squatter held lands for selection by anyone in the colony. The Alienation Act allowed the sale of town and suburban land by public auction.

The Crown Land Acts 1884 (NSW) created a new structure, introducing various new tenures not previously in existence. These tenures included grazing licences, homestead leases, conditional leases, pastoral leases and permits for wharfs and jetties. It was this Act that led to the division of land in NSW into eastern, central and western divisions. Local land boards were introduced in the three divisions in 1886, effectively decentralising Crown land administration.

In 1913 the Crown Lands Consolidation Act was introduced to consolidate all Crown lands legislation to deal with the sale, occupation and management of Crown lands. Current legislation for the administration of State lands is the 1989 Crown Lands Act. This Act was introduced in 1990 to provide a simpler, more streamlined framework for Crown land administration and management. In particular, the current Act reflected increasing community requirements for improved consultation, more appropriate principles for Crown land management, and a more streamlined tenure system.

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