Full description Background

Since the first occupation of the Port Phillip District the Government of Victoria has been responsible for the management of the publicly-owned land and water of the State. As at 1988 approximately two-thirds of the States land had been alienated from the Crown. The Government also plays a role in the protection of ly-owned land and water. The management of Crown (unalienated) land and protection of ly-owned (alienated) land has had a complex history and is encompassed by a number of related functions.

In the 19th century, Crown land administration included the survey of land, regulation of the sale (alienation) of Crown land by auction and selection; settlement of disputes regarding alienation and occupation; issue of occupation licences and leases and ensuring compliance with the conditions of such licences and leases; issue of Deeds of Grant for alienated land and for reserves granted for public purposes such as schools and churches; issue of licences for pastoral occupation and determination of rents; control and management of public parks, reserves and commons, alpine resorts and prevention of the unauthorised use or occupation of crown lands.

In the 20th century the focus of land administration has been the management of the State's public land through the issue of leases and licences for unreserved land; the support, co-ordination and monitoring of committees of management responsible for over 4000 Crown reserves; the control of pests and weeds and development of conservation and management plans for public land.

In order to gain some understanding of the various ways that the States land has been managed and regulated it is useful to understand some of the ways in which land has been classified.

Overview of land classification and management

The land and waters of Victoria have, since their first occupation, been classified in various ways and have often been managed according to their classification. The primary classifications are:


Under presumption of the legal doctrine of "terra nullis" the land and waters of Australia were seized in 1770 from the indigenous population and annexed to and vested in the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. From the time of the annexation property rights could be derived only from the Crown. The administration of these rights in the Port Phillip District was initially through the Crown Colony of New South Wales. Since 1851 the land and waters of Victoria have been administered by the Crown Colony of Victoria and its successors. As land was sold to interests it became known as alienated land.


Under legislation Crown (unalienated) land and water can be reserved permanently or temporarily for a variety of purposes. The permanent reservation of land can only be revoked by Act of Parliament. Remaining Crown land is unreserved.

There are a number of special forms of reservation which have determined the way the land and/or water is managed. These include:
State Forests:The Forests Act 1907 provided for the creation of permanent or reserved forest which can be excised only by Act of Parliament, by a resolution of Parliament, for specific public purposes or by exchange for or unoccupied Crown land. The Forests Commission is vested with sole control and management of all areas of reserved forest.
National Parks: The National Parks Act 1956 (No.6023) provided for the establishment of national parks under the control of the National Parks Authority. Under the National Parks Act 1975 the types of parks and reserves managed as national parks were expanded to include wilderness parks and state parks.


Since 1987 the management of Crown lands has been separated according to whether the land is classified as public land or as government land. Public land has been identified as that land which needs to be retained permanently for the "public benefit" because of its natural resource, environmental resource or heritage attributes, and includes:
unreserved public land (including forests and plantations)
native forest reserves
public parks, gardens and recreation reserves
national and state parks and historic sites
wildlife and wilderness reserves.
Government land has been identified as land used for the provision of goods and services by public agencies, and includes:
declared roadways (used)
railway permanent way and rail reserves
sites of premises and other land use for delivery of goods and services, eg. offices, schools, laboratories, depots etc.
Unreserved lands subject to classification review are managed as public land until their classification into government or public land.

A Bill of Parliament to authorise the transfer of government land management, lease and sale functions to the Minister for Property and Services (VRG 69) was prepared but never tabled. In order to effect the intention of the Bill, sections of the Land Act 1958 (No.6284) were subsequently transferred to the Minister for Property and Services via Administrative Arrangements Order (No. 58) 1988. This transfer of functions has been described as "administratively clumsy".

The authority to manage and undertake the lease and sale of government land was transferred to the Minister of Property and Services to enable a co-ordinated assets sales program. Although the power to sell Crown land was transferred to Property and Services (VRG 69), the ability to lease designated government land (usually in the metropolitan area) had to be effected by the Department of Property and Services (VA 430) acting as an agent for the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (VA 1034). Similarly the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands exercised responsibility for the sale of Crown land (usually in rural areas) by acting as a land agent for the Department of Property and Services.

Government lands

Although the distinction between public and government land is relatively recent, for the purposes of functional analysis the distinction has been applied retrospectively.

This function, ie. the management of land classified as government land, has included the following broad activities:
sale and selection (alienation) of Crown land
reservation of land for Government purposes
management of reserved Government land as an asset
Government lease of ly-owned land.

Land sales by auction and selection

Following the annexation of Australia in 1770 all titles to land in the Colonies had to emanate from the Crown of the United Kingdom of England and Ireland. Sale of the land by auction first commenced in New South Wales in 1831. In the Port Phillip District the first town land was sold on 1 June 1837 and the first country land was sold on 12 September 1838. Until the Nicholson Act of 1860 the principal medium of alienation was by Crown Grant or grant in fee simple (ie.freehold).

After the gold boom of the 1850's and the resultant increase in immigration and population, the Victorian legislature made provision for the selection of small scale land holdings, a practice referred to colloquially as the "opening up" or the "unlocking" of the land. The intention was to take back the vast tracts of land the pastoralists held under licence and give the greatest possible encouragement to the genuine settler to select a block of land and establish a farm that would support a family. The year 1861 saw the introduction of the conditional purchase of Crown land, a new form of statutory tenure which enabled selectors to take up land on terms of deferred payment, leading ultimately to the grant of estate in fee simple. There were many forms of conditional purchase. Between 1860 and 1884, five successive Acts enlarged and accelerated the "selection" of land for small scale settlement.
In summary, conditional purchase of land by selection after 1869 consisted of a three-stage process: application for a licence; application for a lease; application for a Crown Grant.

Reservation of land for Government purposes

The disposal (sale, reservation or otherwise) of Crown lands in the Australian Colonies was initially regulated by Imperial legislation. An 1842 Act (5 & 6 Victoria, c. 36) provided for Her Majesty, or persons acting on her behalf, to reserve or dispose of in some other manner

such lands as may be required for public roads or other internal communications, whether by land or water, or for the use or benefit of the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, or for purposes of military defence, or as sites of places of public worship, schools or other public buildings, or as places for the interment of the dead, or places for the recreation and amusement of the inhabitants of any town or village, or as the sites of public quays or landing places on the sea coast or shores of navigable streams, or for any other purpose of public safety, convenience, health or enjoyment....

Crown lands reserved temporarily or permanently for public purposes are known as Crown Reserves. Some are surveyed allotments while others are large tracts of land whose boundaries are loosely defined. A permanent reserve can only be revoked by an Act of Parliament.

Until 1988 all Crown reserves were managed by the one department. The division of responsibility for Crown lands in 1988 introduced a distinction between Crown reserves for public purposes and Crown reserves for government purposes. Examples of Crown reserves for government purposes are: declared roadways (used); railway permanent way and rail reserves; sites of public schools, public hospitals and prisons; sites of other public buildings and ports and harbours.

Further research is required into the administration of Crown reserves between 1853 when the Colonial Secretarys Office ceased to have prime responsibility and 1857 when responsibility was assumed by the Department of Crown Lands and Survey. It is believed that the Surveyor-Generals Department (VA 2921) was primarily responsible during this time although it is not yet certain what relationship existed, and how Crown lands responsibilities were divided, between the Surveyor-Generals Department and the Department of Crown Lands (VA 2878).

Management of Government land as an asset

Although the 1987 Lands Bill intended to authorise the reclassification of Crown land into public land and government land was never tabled in Parliament, a Government Land Bureau was established in 1987-88 within the Department of Property and Services. The Bureau had responsibility for managing all Crown land classified as government land. An inter-departmental Land Classification Review Committee was established to undertake the classification of land as public or government.

The reclassification of land was introduced to support a co-ordinated Asset Management program which would encompass both the management of leased or licensed government land in the metropolitan area as well as asset sales or improvement.

Government lease of land

An Accommodation Branch was established in 1988 within the Department of Property and Services to co-ordinate advice and recommendations to an inter-departmental Accommodation Task Force which in turn was established to support a Government Accommodation Committee of Cabinet. The Accommodation Branch had a role in the leasing of ly-owned land for Government use.

Data time period: 1836 to 2013

Click to explore relationships graph

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