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Archives In Brief 108 - Primary application packets

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A brief overview about the Primary Application Packets (NRS 17513) and the related records we hold.

Legislative background

Primary Application PacketThere are two ways of evidencing or proving freehold title to land by documents. One is by what is sometimes known as Torrens Title. In NSW this is more correctly referred to as Real Property Act title. This is the system of registered title to land administered by the Department of Lands (formerly Land Titles Office) under the provisions of the Real Property Act 1900. This system started in NSW on 1 January 1863 under the Real Property Act 1862 (the forerunner of the current Act).

The other way of evidencing title to land is what is now known as Old System Title. This is the way it was done before Robert Torrens had the main elements of his proposed system adopted in all Australian colonies. This is the system of proving title to land by producing the deeds by which successive owners of the land transferred or conveyed title until it reached its present owner. Land granted to settlers before 1863 was conveyed under this system. After 1863 land grants were made under the Real Property Act system.

Torrens devised his system of government sponsored registration of title to land to overcome difficulties in the existing system - the uncertainty, expense and delay in conveying and holding title - caused by a variety of possible problems including competing claims, missing documents, incorrect description of lands and the system's inherent complexity.

What is a Primary Application?

The Real Property Act, 1862 also established a system whereby owners could convert land granted prior to 1863 to Real Property Act title. This is done by what is called a Primary Application.

Converting Old System Title

To convert land held under Old System Title the current owner needs to lodge the completed Primary Application form together with a survey of the land and documents proving title, which includes a set of deeds, with the Department of Lands.

This documentation - including any correspondence between Lands and the owner(s) about the land - is placed in a 'packet' known as the Primary Application packet.

If the application is accepted a Certificate of Title is issued. Applications can be rejected. In this case, the Application form and some minor documentation is kept and other documents are returned to the applicant.

Why are Primary Application packets important for research?

NRS 17513 Primary Application packets are an important resource for researchers because the supporting documentation lodged with the application often remains in the packet. This can include the following:

  • the survey Plan
  • correspondence, including Lands Department working papers and memos
  • reports from the Title Examiner's and the Survey Draftsman
  • the draft Certificate of Title
  • caveats against the Application by adjoining owners or others claiming an interest in the land, and
  • deeds, possibly including mortgages, and other dealings with the land.

The packet may also contain other documents or copies of documents used as evidence to prove title. These may include some or all of the following:

  • Statutory Declarations
  • Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates
  • wills
  • valuations, and
  • subdivision plans.

The Primary Application forms are not in the Packet as they were removed for filming prior to their transfer as State archives. They are held as a separate series, see NRS 13012 below.

How to locate a Primary Application packet

If the land you are researching has been the subject of a Primary Application you will need to locate the relevant Real Property Application number. This is also the number of the Primary Application.

To find this you need to know where the land you are researching is situated, who made the application or the name of a person(s) who may have owned the land at some time.

The staff from the Department of Lands at 1 Prince Albert Road, Queens Square, Sydney will be able to assist you locating the Real Property Application number using Departmental records. These records may include Certificates of Title; maps and plans; registers of deeds and the original grant registers.

It is also possible that Parish maps and Government Gazettes held by State Records may be of assistance in locating the Application number. This could involve very time-consuming research, with no guarantee of success.

Accessing Primary Application packets

State Records is receiving progressive transfers of NRS 17513 Primary Application packets from the Department of Lands.

Steps to view Primary Application Packets

To find and view a Primary Application Packet that has been transferred to State Records follow the steps in the table below:

Step Action
1 Identify at least one of the following:
  • the location of the land
  • the name of the person who made the application and an approximate application date
  • the name of a person who may have owned the land at some time.

You can search for Primary Application packets that have been transferred to State Records with or without the PA number using Archives Investigator.

  • Search option 1: If you know the PA number conduct an Advanced Search - Record Item. Enter the primary application number (include PA making sure you include a space after PA and before the number: e.g., PA 17106) and the series number 17513.
  • Search option 2: If you do not know the Primary Application number you can still conduct an Advanced Search - Records Item. Enter the series number 17513 and in the Title Field enter the name of the individual who obtained the PA in the Item title field: e.g., James Wilson. Select All Words.

If you do not locate the Primary Application packet using Archives Investigator, visit the Department of Lands at 1 Queens Square, Sydney and consult the Departmental records to locate the Primary Application number.

4 Contact State Records for advice as to when the Primary Application packet is likely to be transferred by the Department of Lands.

You will need to visit the reading room at the Western Sydney Records Centre to access the Primary Application packet.

Complete the request form, listing the Primary Application packet(s) you require. Alternatively you can order the Primary Application packet before your visit by completing and submitting the preorder form on our website.
Tip: Remember you will need to provide the number of the Primary Application packet(s) when completing your request or preorder form.

6 View the Primary Application Packet in our reading room at the Western Sydney Records Centre.
Tip: You will need to have a readers' ticket to view original records. For information on obtaining a readers ticket see Archives in Brief 13.

Related records

Department of Lands

Documents relating to Primary Applications Nos 2 to 14157 (with gaps), c.1820-c.1950 
NRS 13011 [10/26390-27063]

This series comprises supporting documents (including deeds of grant of some interest), which were culled from packets 1-14157 by the Department of Lands and have been retained as State archives. The documents are arranged according to the Primary Application number.

Primary Applications 1862-1986
NRS 13012 [6/10035-454, 6/11432-607]

The Primary Application forms were removed from the Primary Application packets and filmed by the Registrar General's Office (the office which was responsible for these records), prior to their transfer as State archives. The forms are arranged according to the Primary Application number. Early applications give a full description of the land, valuation, or original grantee and date, any tenants or encumbrances, owners and occupiers of adjacent land, and details of the applicant's marriage. While the format has changed over time, all still give a description of the land and subsisting interests, for example, leases or mortgages.

Index to persons applying to buy land under the Real Property Act, 1868-91
NRS 13018 [9/7756-7759]

These volumes record applicant's name, primary application number (Real Property number). The location of the land concerned is not recorded.
Land title primary application registers, 1884-1902
NRS 13021 [5/3551-3552]

These volumes record Primary Application number, applicant's name, residence, location of land concerned, area, valuation of property and date of various stages of applications movement through the department. There is an index in the front of the volume covering 1884-92 [5/3551]. [5/3552] covers 1898-1902 and is unindexed.

Contacting Land and Property Information NSW

Land and Property Information NSW
GPO Box 15
Sydney NSW 2001
Phone: 1300 052 637
Website: Land & Property Information


All records relating to Primary Applications are open to public access.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
This work may be freely reproduced and distributed for most purposes, however some restrictions apply. See our copyright notice or contact us.