On 3 November 1978 leases were executed between the Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust and the Director of National Parks for land in stage one, Kakadu National Park.
On the same day, the Director and the Northern Land Council (NLC) signed an agreement which broadly laid down the principles and conditions under which the park would be managed. The agreement provided for protecting the rights of the traditional owners, employing traditional owners and training Aboriginal people in managing the park.
Revised lease agreements covering Aboriginal land in the park were signed on 27 March 1991 between the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and both the Kakadu and Jabiluka Aboriginal Land Trusts. The main features of these agreements included increased lease payments, a share in revenue generated by the park and more protection of Aboriginal interests in the park.
On 31 January 1996 a memorandum of lease was signed between the Gunlom Aboriginal Land Trust and the Director of National Parks and Wildlife for managing Jawoyn lands in the south of the park.
The lease agreements provide for traditional owners and relevant Aboriginals:
- the right to continue, in accordance with Aboriginal law, the traditional use of any area of the park for hunting or food gathering (otherwise than for purposes of sale);
- the right to continue the traditional use of any area of the park for ceremonial and religious purposes; and
- subject to the provisions of the Management Plan, the right to reside within the park.
The Director of National Parks also agreed to lease covenants:
- to encourage the maintenance of the Aboriginal tradition of relevant Aboriginals;
- to promote and protect the interests of relevant Aboriginals;
- to encourage Aboriginal business and commercial initiatives and enterprises within the park;
- to have regard in performing its functions in relation to the park, to priorities provided for in the Management Plan or determined from time to time by the Board;
- to encourage as many relevant Aboriginals as is practicable to provide services in and in relation to the park;
- to take all practicable steps to promote Aboriginal administration, management and control of the park;
- to take all practical steps to ensure that all persons comply with the Act, regulations under the Act, this lease and the Management Plan;
- not to transfer, assign, sublet or part with the possession of the park, or any part of the park without the consent in writing of the lessor;
- to regularly consult and liaise with the Northern Land Council and relevant Aboriginal associations in connection with the administration, management and control of the park;
- to consult with and have regard to the views of the Northern Land Council in respect of the formulation of any education and interpretive policy in relation to the park; and
- after consultation with and having regard to the views of relevant Aboriginal associations and the Northern Land Council, and subject to the Management Plan, to implement a licensing and induction scheme for the tour operators carrying on commercial activities in the park.
A further provision of the new lease arrangements, which needed much negotiation, involves the issue of detriment (things that are against the interests of traditional owners). The new arrangements provide for termination of a lease if issues of detriment to the Aboriginal traditional owners cannot be resolved.
The lease agreement with the Gunlom Aboriginal Land Trust includes special provision for managing and protecting sacred sites, particularly the Sickness Country, and a plan to rehabilitate old mine workings in the Gunlom Land Trust area. This lease also provides for cultural advisers to be employed to supervise managing the Sickness Country.