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Land and pastoral station records

Aboriginal stock workers and domestic staff worked for generations on pastoral stations, particularly in northern Australia. If someone in your family was born, passed away or worked on a pastoral property it’s a good idea to find out if any records were kept on that station and whether they still exist.

Station owners and managers might have kept records about the people they employed or about Aboriginal people who lived on the station. Even if you don’t find direct information about your ancestor, finding out about where they lived or worked can help you understand what their life was like.

Unfortunately because most pastoral properties were privately owned, survival of station records is dependent on the foresight of owners and the amount of value they placed on their records. For this reason some have been deposited in official repositories, some are kept privately, many have been lost or destroyed. It is also possible that many records are still in private family hands but not sorted or listed anywhere.

What are land and pastoral station records?

Land and pastoral station records include materials about:

  • the ownership and management of land – mostly created by government agencies
  • the management of rural properties – mostly created by station owners and managers.

The records might include pastoral maps, land surveys, documents of land ownership, diaries, wage and ration books, registers of birth and registers of employees.

Finding land and pastoral station records

To start researching you need to know:

  • the name of the person who lived or worked on the property
  • the name of the property or, at very least, the property’s general location.

If you don’t know the name of the property, pastoral directories might be helpful. These were published listings of pastoral properties, their names, owners and locations.

The most comprehensive directory was the Australian Pastoral Directory, but it did not include properties in Western Australia. There were many other short-lived directories.

Pastoral directories and maps that might help you to identify a property are held at the Noel Butlin Archives in Canberra. You can also search the Australian Pastoral Directories (1913-1954) in Find My Past. This is a subscription family history site but you can visit your state or territory library or even a local library to search this site for free. State and local libraries also hold printed copies of pastoral directories.

Land and property title records

State and territory government land and title agencies can help you to find information about pastoral properties. They hold pastoral maps, land survey information and detailed records of who bought and sold properties over time. If you can’t find accessible information from government land agency websites, remember most archives and libraries have good fact sheets about searching land records including pastoral lands.