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 helps you understand what their life was like.

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.

What information do you need to look for land and 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. State and local libraries also hold copies of pastoral directories.

Where do you find land and pastoral station records?

Land and property title records

State and territory government land and title agencies can help you to find information about pastoral properties. They have pastoral maps, records of land surveys and detailed records of who has bought and sold properties over time.

Pastoral station records

There is a range of other records that provide historical information about pastoral properties. These vary across place and time, so it might take some digging to find things that are relevant to your family history. Here are some suggestions for where to look.

›A search of Trove for the name of the station or property might find books, images, oral histories or newspaper articles about the property.

›Some station owners or managers kept records like diaries, wage and ration books, and registers of births, deaths and marriages. The Noel Butlin Archives Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra holds some of these records, mainly for farms and cattle properties in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

›State libraries and archives can provide help in finding land records. Have a look at these research resources:

›Local archives, historical and family history societies often have records relating to their local area, which might include copies of station records, photographs and maps.

›If the station or property still exists, the current or previous owners might still have station records. The local historical society or library might be able to put you in touch, or you can contact the Noel Butlin Archives Centre (which has lots of pastoral station records) for help tracking ownership.


Last reviewed: 27 Jan 2016