Register a Sacred Site
A registered sacred site is given the highest protection in the NT. As a custodian of a sacred site you can request site registration and information you provide about the site will be presented to the AAPA board for consideration.
Custodians of sacred sites may apply to have their sites registered under Part III Division 2 of the Sacred Sites Act. The Authority will then conduct research into the site to determine the location, extent and significance of the site. In accordance with the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (Sacred Sites Act) , the Authority ensures that sufficiently detailed documentation about specific sacred sites is recorded to warrant their inclusion by the Board and landowners are given an opportunity to comment.
Site registration enhances the protection of sacred sites. Registering a sacred site establishes its status with comprehensive information that is required by law and makes it easier to prosecute any offences committed in relation to that site. It establishes clear boundaries, details the features and traditions that make the site sacred and identifies the Aboriginal custodians of the site. Secret and sensitive material about the site is protected and not made available to the public.
For custodians, the site registration process offers greater protection for sacred sites. Any member of the public viewing the Register of Sacred Sites will see the location and boundary of registered sacred sites. The comprehensive level of information held by the Authority on Registered Sacred Sites results in more effective conditions within Authority Certificates.
Custodians can request that their sites be registered by downloading the Site Registration Application Form .
Registered vs recorded sacred sites
In accordance with the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act the Authority maintains Records of all sacred sites that it has identified in the Northern Territory. All sacred sites in the Northern Territory are protected by the Sacred Sites Act whether they are known about or not.
A ‘Request for Information’ is a service that makes available to the public any known Sacred Site records that may exist over an area of interest.
The sites that are listed in the Records fall into two main categories:
- Registered Sites
These are sacred sites that Aboriginal custodians have asked AAPA to protect and that have been comprehensively documented and evaluated by AAPA and have been entered into the Register of Sacred Sites by the Board of the Authority. The register makes information about the location, boundaries and custodians of a sacred site publicly available.
- Recorded Sites
These are sacred sites that have been made known to AAPA from a variety of sources. In many cases AAPA has not been able to assess the accuracy of its information regarding recorded sites, nor have these sites been fully mapped. These sites have not gone through the formal process of being registered with AAPA. These sacred sites are still protected by the Sacred Sites Act.
Reporting damage to sacred sites
The protection of sacred sites in the NT?
All sacred sites in the Northern Territory are protected by the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act. The Act defines sacred sites to mean any site of significance according to Aboriginal tradition, and can include places like art sites, significant rock formations, sacred trees, ceremony grounds, billabongs and mountains. Sacred sites can be obvious landscape features, but they can also be inconspicuous. Some sacred sites may be places where only the right Aboriginal women or men can enter, while others might be places that anyone can go and visit.
The Act has a number of protections for sites, including protecting them from unauthorised entry and damage, and gives the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) the power to prosecute people or organisations that damage a sacred site. For more information on protecting sacred sites, download the Protecting Sacred Sites in the NT Fact Sheet.
AAPA’s role in helping prevent site damage
AAPA works with custodians of sacred sites to prevent damage to them through two main procedures.
The first of these procedures is the issuing of Authority Certificates. When someone wants to undertake any kind of work on land or sea anywhere in the Territory, they should seek an Authority Certificate. Once an application is made to AAPA, a researcher is sent to consult the Aboriginal people responsible for that area about any sacred sites that require protection when the work takes place. Protective measures for sacred sites are defined in an Authority Certificate which consists of a written document and accompanying map. The Authority Certificate is provided to the applicant to guide the contract of the work and the protection of sacred sites. An Authority Certificate is a legal document and indemnifies the holder against prosecution under the Sacred Sites Act, provided the proposed work or use has been carried out in accordance with the conditions of the Authority Certificate.
The second procedure that protects sacred sites is the registration of the sites. The Aboriginal people responsible for a site can request that the site be placed on the Register of Sacred Sites, which means that some basic information about the site will be put in a public register, so that people can find out that there is a site that needs to be protected. A sign can also be erected close to the Sacred Site telling people to keep out of the site area, and other protective measures like fencing can be used when necessary.
For more information on the Register of Sacred Sites, view our Request for Information pages
Reporting damage to a sacred site
If at any time you have concerns that a sacred site has been damaged, or is under threat of being damaged, you should notify AAPA as soon as possible via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 8999 4365 or 8951 5023.
The more information you can provide to us, the better we will be able to quickly investigate the situation. Some kinds of information that will help us to investigate the site damage include:
- The name of the site
- The location of the site
- What kind of damage has occurred
- Who discovered the damage
- Who has caused the damage
- If anyone has witnessed the damage being caused
- Whether any actions were taken to try to stop the damage being caused, and by whom
- Whether the site is still under threat from further damage
AAPA will send a researcher to investigate the damage as soon as possible and will act as quickly as possible to prevent further damage from occurring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why register a sacred site?
The overall goal of the site registration process is to enhance the protection of sacred sites. Registering a Sacred Site establishes its status with the full suite of information required by law, and makes it easier to prosecute any offences committed in relation to that site. Registration of a sacred site by the Board of the Authority is considered as proof in a court of law that a place is indeed a Sacred Site.
It establishes clear boundaries for sites and details the features that make up the site, the traditions that make the site sacred and identifies the Aboriginal custodians of the site. Secret and sensitive material about the site is protected and not made available to the public. For custodians, the site registration process offers greater protection for sacred sites. Any member of the public viewing the Register of Sacred Sites will see the location and boundary of registered sacred sites, and the comprehensive level of information held by AAPA on such sites results in more effective conditions within Authority Certificates.
How can I prevent site damage?
Site damage can be prevented by obtaining an Authority Certificate prior to commencing works in an area and by registering sacred sites.
When someone wants to undertake any kind of work on land or sea anywhere in the Territory, they should seek an Authority Certificate. Once an application is made and costs are accepted by the applicant, the Authority begins consultations with the Aboriginal people responsible for that area. Through these consultations, the Authority is able to advise about any sacred sites that needs to be protected when the work takes place. The applicant receives an Authority Certificate with a map that clearly shows the location and extent of sacred sites in the area. The Certificate advises of any restrictions which may apply in order to avoid damaging the sites.
Custodians who are Aboriginal people responsible for a sacred site can request that the site is registered and placed on the Register of Sacred Sites. Registration of a Sacred Site means that it will be accepted by a court as prima facie evidence that a place is a sacred site. Other protective measures like fencing or erecting signage at the sacred site telling people to keep out of the site area can also be used when necessary.
What information will be made public and what information can only be viewed by custodians?
If the Authority Board approves the registration of a sacred site, the Authority has rules about who can read and use the custodian’s information about sacred sites.
The Authority will not tell outside people about sacred part of the sacred site story without consulting with custodians. Below is a summary of the information available to the public and information only available to custodians.
|Information available for the public||Information only available to custodians|
Register Extract and a map of the site:
The Register Extract is a geographic location and description of site features in the landscape and a short story about the sacred site which is put on the Authority’s Public Register. The names of custodians of the site are also listed on this short story.
The public can read the short story (Register Extract) and look at the map.
The registration report:
Custodians of a traditional land estate can request a list and a map of registered sacred sites and sites yet to be registered.
Custodians can also view information provided by their antecedents where permissions have been granted.
Custodians can access this by visiting the Authority’s offices in Alice Springs and Darwin.