Under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), descriptions of native title holding groups have drawn heavily upon anthropological concepts of kinship and descent. However, the manner in which Aboriginal Australians can be considered to form a social group and collectively relate to and own land is complex. This thesis suggests that kinship constructs outside of descent that associate with land might involve social, biological and spiritual aspects and be part of an “ontology of being” or worldview. Therefore a social group may be understood as based upon a “shared ontology of being”, which entails a mutuality of belonging among human members and the associated landscape.
Caroline Tennant-Kelly’s ethnographic field notes from her work at Cherbourg (Queensland) in 1934, particularly those relating to kinship and totemic identity, are analysed as demonstrating a kind of social group of persons with an identity that is based in a shared ontology of being – inclusive of land. This thesis thus argues that exploring the ways in which non-descent based social groups have a connection to land may be useful in the explanation of shared laws and customs for native title claims; additionally furthering anthropological understandings of how Aboriginal people collectively relate to land.