Thoughts on land ownership

According to the law of Australia my wife and I own 46ha of land. What does this mean - to own land?

I own a computer. I can do whatever I like with the computer, within some limits: for example, I should not burn it because it will pollute the atmosphere. But if I wanted to take a hammer to my computer and destroy it there would be no wrong in that. If I decide to ruin 'my' land by over-cropping it year after year, and allowing the soil to wash or blow away, I have committed a crime. If many land owners did that then how would future generations survive?

Surely I have a responsibility to look after 'my' land; to leave it in no worse a condition than when I took responsibility for it?

It seems that we do not own land in the same sense as we owns computers, cars, chairs and tables. The 'land owner' should more properly think of himself as the steward of 'his' land. He is holding it in trust for the future benefit of the biosphere.

My understanding is that primitive peoples generally believed that they belonged to the land, rather than the other way around. Better, don't you think?

Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
This page created 2007/05/18, last edited 2021/05/13

Mist and trees
A bit of 'my land', in the Clare Valley of South Australia

Very similar arguments apply to the entire planet. We should not think of the Earth as 'our planet'; rather we should accept the Earth as a responsibility; something to pass on to the next generation in at least as good condition as it was when we were born.

Animals and land ownership

Many animals have a territory that they defend from individuals or groups of the same species (and from other species too – wedge-tailed eagles have looked threateningly at my drone once or twice, or perhaps they were wondering if it was edible?). For example, there is from time to time a group of (Australian) magpies that live near my place. They apparently consider some area within perhaps a hundred metre radius to be 'their territory'. Is this 'land ownership' in magpie 'law', enforceable by the magpie family? If other magpies feel the same way about 'their territory' then does this 'law' have some sort of universal validity in magpie culture?

'Our' gardens

Our relationship with our gardens can tell us something about ourselves. First, there seems to be a 'natural' affinity between people, especially perhaps older people, and gardens; I suspect that this is instinctive and has held an evolutionary advantage since our ancestors changed from hunter-gathering to farming many thousands of years ago. My observation tells me that aboriginal Australians don't have this affinity; their ancestors didn't go through a farming period. (My experience has been with aborigines of the dry parts of Australia, in some other, better watered, areas some primitive and very limited form of farming might have been done.)

The need to 'own' our gardens

The couple of years after I met my wife we each had a house. We normally stayed in her house during the week (although I was often away in the bush, usually two weeks at a time) and went to my house on weekends. I found it difficult raising enthusiasm gardening in my wife's garden, because it didn't feel like 'my garden'. It didn't matter if I told myself that this was irrational and silly, the enthusiasm that I had when working in my own garden was not there when I worked in my wife's garden.


Update, May 2020

Since writing this I have become heavily involved in three projects that could be called community gardens. Gleeson Wetlands, since 2014; Bowman Park old homestead garden, since June 2018; and Crystal Brook Central Park, since June 2019.

I certainly do not own any of these, but I do have some degree of control over what is done in two of the three, and all three are being developed in ways that I feel are appropriate. If it was not so I would probably cease my involvement.

Perhaps because I feel I am getting close to the end of my life I am wanting to do something for the community in which I live?

On and off for the past ten or so years I have planted and tended trees and shrubs on the sides of public roads near our home (we sold the other two houses) at Crystal Brook in the Mid North of South Australia. We have our own garden around the house, and we have some land seventy kilometres away which is like a big garden too, so it's not that I lack land for gardening.

I have come to feel some sort of ownership for 'my' lines of trees and shrubs on roadsides; I would be upset if someone removed any of them without first consulting me, I feel personally hurt when a vandal damages one of 'my' trees or shrubs. Yet, if someone kills native trees growing wild along a roadside I feel annoyed, but not nearly to the same degree as if they were 'mine'.

Why the feeling of ownership?

Public land
In the foreground is some neglected public land; it is surrounded by very valuable privately owned land. The residents want their houses and 'their land' to look beautiful, but don't care about the nearby public land.

Elsewhere I see exquisitely manicured gardens, while on public land a short distance down the street, or perhaps even across the road, there is neglected land. The owners of the carefully tended gardens would not tolerate a stick out of place in their own garden, but are not bothered by tens of square metres of weeds within fifty metres of their front door. Why the need for ownership before caring for land and vegetation? If we could all develop a feeling of ownership of the whole Earth, then perhaps we would care more for it? Perhaps, if we didn't have near absolute ownership over 'our own' land, then we would care more for the land that we all belong to?

Perhaps my own feeling of ownership for 'my' plants on public roads is connected to a feeling of personal responsibility for the biosphere that I have developed over the past several decades? Is the lack of such a feeling in the apathetic majority a large part of the source of their apathy? Then should we be trying to instil a feeling of ownership for the Earth in our children? (I think it's too late for most of our politicians.)

I worry about the trend toward higher density of living in cities...


Brooks Valley
One of the most beautiful little valleys within the region of 'the Clare Valley' of South Australia
This view can only be seen from 'private' land

Should 'land-owners' have the right to stop people from walking on 'their' land? Should people who love walking avoid private land unless they have the express permission of the 'land-owner'?

There is no crime where there is no victim. What justice would there be in the 'owner' of the land in the photo above stopping people from walking on that land and seeing that view? Do I have any right to stop people walking on my land and seeing the view below?

Mist in the valleys
A winter morning when the mist lies in the valleys of Clare
This view can only be seen from 'private' land

Of course there are always some people who will abuse a privilege and leave a gate open or do some other harm; but is punishing all for the crimes of the few ever justified?

If the world belongs to anyone it belongs to all.