AAPA oversees the protection of Aboriginal sacred sites on land and sea across the whole of Australia’s Northern Territory.

Aboriginal sacred sites are vital to the cultural heritage of the Northern Territory. They are an intrinsic part of a continuing body of practices and beliefs emanating from Aboriginal laws and traditions, and their preservation is important to all Australians.

Led by an Aboriginal Board, the AAPA is a small and dedicated team working with Aboriginal custodians to ensure sacred sites are protected whilst providing developers with certainty and confidence when carrying out works.

While its form has changed over time, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has existed for more than 40 years.

The Authority is established under the NT Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act and is an independent statutory authority with a number of very specific functions set out by the Act that include:

  • Responding to requests for sacred site protection from Aboriginal custodians, including the recording and documenting of sacred site information, registration of sacred sites, the provision of related protection measures and the keeping of confidential sacred site records.
  • Making available for public inspection the Register of Sacred Sites, the Authority Certificate register and other sacred sites records.
  • Responding to applications for Authority Certificates, carrying out research and surveys, and consulting with Aboriginal custodians to determine the constraints, if any, imposed on proposed works on or use of land by the protection of sacred sites
  • Enforcing the Sacred Sites Act, including prosecuting offences against the Sacred Sites Act. 
Paperbark forest with the sun shining through

Our Board

To ensure the independence of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, the operations of the Authority are overseen by a 12-member board.

In accordance with traditional law, it would be culturally inappropriate for men to make decisions about women’s sites, as it would be for women to consider men’s sites, and so the Board comprises five male and five female Aboriginal custodians nominated by Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Councils, together with two Government appointees.

The Board meets at least four times each year in Darwin, Alice Springs and in regional parts of the Northern Territory.

A small rapids flowing into a pool of water at the base of cliff

Our History

The history of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority is entwined with the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 which gives the Northern Territory the power to pass laws for the protection of sacred sites.

When the Northern Territory achieved self-government in 1978, one of the first pieces of legislation to be introduced into the new Legislative Assembly was the Aboriginal Sacred Sites (NT) Bill 1978. This became law in November 1978 and led to the establishment of a permanent Aboriginal Sacred Sites Authority a year later, which was the precursor to today’s Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.

AAPA highlights*


589 days

spent in the field

4wd drive

201,826 kms

driven across the Territory


13,746 sacred sites

currently documented

*from the 22/23 Annual Report