Before I begin this post, I wish to pay respect to all Aboriginal peoples, past, present and future and this question is not here to infringe on their cultural rights but rather understand how to successfully balance economics and culture when expanding out a society.

Yes, I'm Australian, and yes, typing with a sausage on my koala is really tiring.

Here I posted an idea on how to expand the economic, agricultural and social capabilities of the Aussie Outback here: Ultimate Australian Canal

But here's the issue, I hand-waved A HUGE ISSUE in that idea, the potential response from Aboriginals and other Environmental and Cultural Agencies over the construction of this huge canal.

Private property such as houses and such could be bought by the government (right?) and simply reallocated but once we advance into more traditional Aboriginal areas would we start seeing trouble. The issue here is I am not sure how the Aboriginals would respond. Would environmental agencies act differently?

I am not too sure how Aboriginals decide on how to give back this land, as admittedly I do not have too much experience with these matters. My initial thoughts were that well we do have urban areas and they were once Aboriginal land and now we do occupy it (sharing it with Aboriginals if they do so wish to come here). But this canal would be rather wide I think and thus would cover a very large and long area, through a large area in Australia.

The pros in the eyes of the government would be far more usable space for not only agriculture but also more urban areas. These urban areas would also take up space from their traditional land. The whole purpose of the canal was to change the landscape from being very dry and arid to something more usable. This would not only permanently change the land around it but also change what the Aboriginals experience when traveling through various areas.

TL;DR -- How would various groups respond to large developments for the benefit of society?

  • $\begingroup$ The aborigines of Australia are a very unique group. At the end, you phrase the question about "variious[sic] groups", but the aborigines are sufficiently unique that I'm not sure how much a general overview of how indigenous people operate will meet your needs. Heck, it may be complicated even to address the aborigines as one coherent group these days, as they continue to deal with the complexities of merging their culture with the modern cultures. Should we be trying our best to focus on them, or are you really interested in a generalized viewpoint? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 6, 2017 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ i was refering to Aborigines and other environmental groups but i do see your point $\endgroup$
    – John Hon
    Jan 6, 2017 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ I have no idea about Australia specifically, but most countries have laws which allow expropriation of any property at market value in the national interest. The market value of land in central Australia is probably close to zero... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 6, 2017 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ «typing with a sausage on my koala» huh? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jan 6, 2017 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ The answer depend on the Australian laws and constitution. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jan 6, 2017 at 17:12

2 Answers 2


To be honest this really depends. If you take a look at the United States and it's indigenous tribes you will have your exact answer. I have provided a link below. If this action is quick, of course you will have an uprising, but if over several decades or a century or two you slowly take away the land, and break treaties or renegotiate terms it may not be as chaotic. After say another 100 years the aboriginals may be more willing to take a payment from the government to allocate the loss of land. It can go however you want it to. I read your canal post and it was quite intriguing. I think you could begin the canal by a proposition of "renting" the land. With promises of allowing them to plant crops and sell for profit either back to the government or other third parties. Then after time more land is taken and they are paid shares etc etc.. There are definitely a lot of options to chose from.

I should note I feel pretty shitty for referencing the plight against the Native Americans and using it in such a context, but it does fit to this situation.

An example of what happens when you slowly take it away: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/01/18/368559990/broken-promises-on-display-at-native-american-treaties-exhibit

An example of what happens when your force things too quickly: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakota_Access_Pipeline_protests


Some of the assumptions you make above are not actually correct, although they're close. Let's start with Land Rights.

In Australia, all freehold land is 'subject to the rights and liens of the Crown', meaning that YES, the government can resume that land and pay fair compensation for it to the current owners.

The problem is leasehold, and that is only a problem because of the famous Mabo case back in 1982. Ultimately, Australia was colonised by Britian under the legal concept of Terra Nullius, or Empty Land. Under that concept, the Crown owns it all, but can sell or give that land away if it wishes. In many cases, grazing and farm land was 'leased' out instead of given or sold. So, the Eddie Mabo case basically says that Terra Nullius is invalid because Aboriginal people were present in Australia; therefore, where the status of the land hasn't been explicitly been changed through granting of title or exercise of sovereignty since, the land is covered by the concept of Native Title.

In practice, that means that land which is not 'owned' by either crown or private individual is ultimately owned by the Aboriginal people. This initially created a massive issue for generational farmers on Pastoral Leases, but this is not so much a problem now; at least it's not in the news anymore so I'm assuming this is largely resolved somehow.

The point being that people on Pastoral Leases actually CAN'T have their land resumed by the Crown; the land has to be dealt with through the Aboriginal caretakers.

This is where things start to get interesting for this solution; land isn't privately owned in the Aboriginal culture. All property is essentially tribal. In point of fact, from an economic perspective this is a very communistic structure but it works very effectively because it's not about money, it's about effort. Everyone contributes to the tribe through their time and energy and they deeply feel their connection to the land as custodians of it rather than owners.

So; sure, you can build a canal through it to bring water to the desert so to speak, but the custodians of the land won't have economic considerations about this, they'll have spiritual ones. You're going to have to have a plan around route of this canal that takes into consideration many of their sacred sites and other concerns.

That said; Australia's outback is VERY big [citation needed]; so big in fact that there have been suspected nuclear detonations in our outback that people have only noticed as a couple of bright flashes here and there. Many of these places are effectively unpopulated, even by the Aboriginal communities. Why? Well, because there's nothing there to support human life. It's too hot, not enough water and food, etc.

Getting agreement to use an area to build new cities and farming communities in such areas might be easier than you think, especially if some of the (newly arable) land is dedicated back to the Aboriginal community.

As for water and canals, you might not need to go as far as you think for it. The Great Artesian Basin could supply a lot of the needed water so long as it can be extracted (say from northern South Australia) and if necessary, piped over to the NT/WA border somewhere for your new 'colony'. So long as you can get the water there and then start some agriculture in the heat, you'd probably do quite well, at least to begin with.

Ultimately you're still going to need sustainable rainfall in an area; the Artesian Basin won't last forever if you're pulling the amounts of water out of it that I think you'd need. That said, there is some precedent in doing this kind of work. A quick look at Israel tells us that it's possible; the next thing would be to find a way that works for Australian conditions.

(This part is out of scope of your original question of course, but I didn't put an answer on the previous question so I'm going to town here a little.)

Ultimately (like a lot of things in Australia) the answer to your question is ultimately one of personality. It depends on how you approach the decision makers, and what their immediate and long term needs are. If you have an unlimited bucket of money to do this, then it's very doable. As for the economics of securing the land; well again (like a lot of things in Australia) that may have a lot less to do with money and a lot more to do with respect.


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