On 30 September 1859 the Department of Lands and Public Works was separated to form the Department of Public Works and the Department of Lands. John Robertson was appointed as the first Secretary for Lands. (1) At the same time, control of the Immigration Agent passed from the Colonial Secretary to the Minister for Lands until 14 September 1869 (2) when it reverted to the Colonial Secretary's control. The Inspectors of Sheep and the Examiner of Coal Fields also came under the control of the Lands Department.
The Lands Department was charged with the administration of the alienation and occupation of all Crown Lands. This power flowed from two Acts, the Crown Lands Alienation Act 1861 which dealt with the sale of land, and the Crown Lands Occupation Act 1861 which allowed the leasing of Crown Land. The 1861 legislation repealed the Order in Council of 1847 and abolished the old land distinctions of the Colony - 'settled districts' (19 counties plus specified established areas), 'intermediate districts' and 'unsettled districts'. The new land differentiation involved town land, suburban land, first class settled districts and second class settled districts.
While land in the more settled districts had been sold by auction, vast areas of rich grazing lands were under the control of pastoralists. In an attempt to address this imbalance the new legislation implemented John Robertson's scheme for 'Free Selection before Survey' whereby the whole leasehold area of the Colony was open to selection and sale at any time. Selectors could choose a limited area (40 to 320 acres) in any place at £1 per acre with ownership conditional on the selector's residence, improvements to the land, and payment of moneys owed. Attempts by Selectors, whether bona fide settlers or speculators, to obtain land led them into open conflict with pastoralists.
While 'selection claims' could be lodged at local land offices the administration of the Lands Department was centralised in Sydney. Land selections were processed slowly at best with long delays occurring because of backlogs, distances, inaccurate survey maps, partial decisions, and reappraisals. The practices of 'dummying' where a person would select an area comply with the residential condition only to sell by pre-arrangement to another party and 'peacocking' taking the best part of run to block the access to water further complicated the Department's work.
To protect the public estate both the Lands Department and Survey Office could proclaim areas as reserves; however, the majority of requests for the quarantining of land came from pastoralists. Reserves were proclaimed and gazetted before they were marked out and charted with the description in the Government Gazette being the only guide for land agents and selectors. Between 1861 and 1883 three separate validating Acts were proclaimed for the relief of selectors who had unwittingly settled on reserves and other lands not open to alienation.
Until 1867, correspondence relating to the sale of Crown land had been addressed to the Surveyor General's Department, but from that date all correspondence relating to such matters was addressed to the Lands Department directly. In 1874 all matters relating to gold and other mining were transferred to the Mines Department.
"An Act to regulate the Alienation Occupation and Management of Crown Lands and for other purposes (48 Vic. No. 18 1884)" represented the first systematic Crown Land Legislation setting out a series of land tenures. All Crown Land dealings, dedications, and sales came under the ambit of the Act. (3) All future grants of land would contain a reservation of minerals and the Governor could reserve or exempt land to safeguard the public interest. (4) New South Wales was divided into three districts - the Central Division, the Eastern Division, and the Western Division. (5) The Governor, could by proclamation, establish and define the boundaries of land districts and appoint a land agent for each land district. (6) District surveyors and other "necessary staff" could also be appointed. (7) A local land board was constituted for each land district, with a right of appeal from its decisions to the Minister for Lands, who was to adjudicate as in open court. The Minister's decision in any appeal case concerning conditional purchases of leaseholds was to be "final and conclusive". If the introduction of further evidence was warranted then the Minister could return the matter to the local land board. (8) The first Appeal Court under the Act was held on 2 November 1885.
The Act defined a variety of landholding leases including -
* Conditional leaseholds - pastoral leases for a maximum term of five years in Eastern, 10 years in the Central, and fifteen in the Western division.
* Occupation licences for the occupation of land for grazing for one year.
* Homestead leases.
* Annual leases for pastoral purposes.
* Scrub land leases.
* Scrub land conversion leases.
* Wharf and jetty leases.
* Special purpose leases for dams, tanks, irrigation works, punt houses, ferries, bathing places, landing places, saw mills, brick kilns, lime kilns, slaughter houses, tanneries, wool washing establishments, quarries, fisheries, tramways, building or repairing ships or boats, obtaining guano, shells, limestone, loam, brickearth, gravel or ballast, innkeeping, running a store, smithy, bakery, or mail station.
"An Act to amend the 'Crown Lands Act of 1884', and to make provision in other respects for the management and disposal of the Public lands and for other purposes" (53 Vic., No. 21 1889) commenced on 1 December 1889 and allowed for "Artesian Well Leases" in the Western Division of New South Wales. Land around a well or borehole site could be reserved for one year to enable drilling, with a lease following if sufficient water was found. (9) Also this new Act provided for the first time leases on a secure tenure for the "Snow Lands of the Colony" (being the elevated parts of the Cooma and Wagga Wagga Land Board Districts). (10)
The Western Lands Act (No.70 1901) established the Western Lands Board on 1 January 1902 to administer the Western lands of New South Wales. As a result of this legislation the Land Board and District Survey Offices at Bourke were closed. The Land Board Districts of Hay and Moree were altered markedly while the Land Board district boundaries of Goulburn, Dubbo, and Wagga Wagga were redrawn. (11)
The Crown Lands (Amendment) Act (No.30 1908) enabled conversion of leaseholds into more desirable tenures and ultimately into freehold status. (12) From 1 July 1908 the Forestry Branch of the Department of Lands was transferred to the Department of Agriculture. (13)
The Crown Lands Consolidation Act (No.7 1913) (14) was passed to consolidate the provisions of all Acts relating to Crown lands - thirty-six in number - passed since 1884. This Act, as amended, remained in force until 1989 when the Crown Lands Act (No.6, 1989) was passed.
The Returned Soldiers' Settlement Branch was established in October 1916 to assist veterans of the Great War. (15) Rental assistance to the widows or widowed mothers of those "who had made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of liberty" followed in 1918. Also the management of Travelling Stock and Camping Reserves became the responsibility of the Pastures Protection Boards with the Department of lands retaining a monitoring role. (16)
From 1923 to 1927 the Lands Department provided farms for migrants under the Imperial Migrant Agreement of 1923 (Commonwealth legislation) vetting all applications for "qualification certificates". The main area of settlement was the Ben Lomond Estate near Glen Innes. (17) Control of the migrant settler's accounts was transferred form the Colonial Treasury to the Lands Department in 1940. (18)
In response to the crisis in land settlement caused by the Great Depression the Department of Lands implemented a series of relief measures -
* preparation of Metropolitan Crown Land for building purposes - road construction, clearing, and levelling - by the unemployed from 1929 to 1931
* reduction of interest and rentals for the years 1933 to 1938
* extension of re-payment periods up to 20 years
* postponements, waivers or remission of moneys owed
* deferments of payments pending the harvest or wool clip
* the release of small land blocks for the unemployed and indigent to establish homes and mixed farming operations - 1931 to 1938
* loan scheme for rural land holders to employ the bona fide unemployed to develop their land and aid with rabbit destruction
Following the 1975 Machinery of Government Review an Administrative Unit styled the Department of Lands was formed comprising the Crown Lands Office (formerly the Lands Department), the Registrar General, the Western Lands Commission, and the Central Mapping Authority. Land registration was to be the responsibility of the Registrar General's Office with land management undertaken by the Crown Lands Office. General Administration of Lord Howe Island was transferred to the Department from the former Chief Secretary’s Department. (19) The Central Mapping Authority was removed from the Department on 19 January 1976. (20)
On November 1981, the Department of Local Government and the Department of Lands were abolished and their branches were amalgamated to form the Department of Local Government and Lands. (21)
(1) Supplement to the New South Wales Government Gazette Vol. 2, No. 199, and 30 September 1859.
(2) Assented to 1 February 1868, New South Wales Government Gazette, Vol.1, 4 February 1868, p. 337-339.
(3) "An Act to regulate the Alienation Occupation and Management of Crown Lands and for other purposes (48 Vic. No. 18 1884)" Section 5.
(4) Ibid. Sections 6 & 7.
(5) Ibid. Section 8.
(6) Ibid. Section 9.
(7) Ibid. Section 16.
(8) Ibid. Sections 18 - 20.
(9) "An Act to amend the 'Crown Lands Act of 1884', and to make provision in other respects for the management and disposal of the Public lands and for other purposes" (53 Vic., No. 21 1889) Section 45.See also the Annual Report of the Department of Lands for the year ended 31 December 1890 in the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales 1891-92 Vol. 4 page 15.
(10) Ibid. Section 36 & Ibid. page 17.
(11) Department of Lands annual report for the year ended 31 December 1902 in the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1903 Vol 6. Page 513.
(12) Department of Lands annual report for the year ended 30 June 1909 in the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1909 Vol 1. Page 125.
(13) Ibid. page
(14) Assented to 8 October 1913 New South Wales Government Gazette No. 163, 15 October 1913, page 6206.
(15) Report of the Director of Soldier Settlements October 1916 to 30 June 1917 - Annual Report of the Department of Lands for the year ended 30 June 1917 in the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1917-18 Vol 2. Page 49.
(16) Department of Lands Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1918 in the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1918 Vol 1. Page 861.
(17) Department of Lands Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1927 in the Parliamentary Papers 1927 Vol 1. Page 125.
(18) Public Service Board, Annual Report year ended 30 June 1975, in the Parliamentary Papers 1975-76, Vol.6, page 93.
(19) Department of Lands Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1940 in the Parliamentary Papers 1940-41 Vol 1. Page 50.
(20) Department of Lands Annual Report year ended 30 June 1976, Parliamentary Papers, 1976-77-78, Vol.7, p.1509
(21) New South Wales Government Gazette No. 170, 6 November 1981, page 5751.