Aboriginal custom laws were developed and based on aboriginal relationships to the land and the concept that all properties and belongings were owned by the entire community. All items were collectively used and land was not owned by a particular tribe.
The laws that governed aboriginal life were based on unwritten rules and lessons garnered from the "Dreamtime", kinship ties, relationships, ritual traditions, sacred and secular laws and clan consensus. The law from an aboriginal perspective was no different from daily "life" choices. The laws covered rules, morals, religion and daily activities.
Sacred law taught what was acceptable behavior, enforced customary laws, governed the land, and oversaw the performance of rituals - this oversight was entrusted to the elders of each tribe. Secular law emphasized the responsibilities and rights of individuals in the tribe and in their respective families. It also reinforced the importance of their land for clan and individual purposes. Perhaps most importantly, secular law placed parental and tribal responsibility over children throughout their entire childhood. .
Aboriginal customary laws were considered primitive by the British. When the British arrived in Australia, they declared the land Terra Nullius. The British didn't recognize the Aboriginal ownership of the land, nor did they recognize the Aboriginal laws and living structures as civilized. This resulted in the British declaring sovereignty over Australia and taking over the Australian commonwealth of property and land. The Aboriginal belief that they were the guardians of the land "ceased to exist in the eyes of the law." (Heinemann, 2000:224).
Traditional Aboriginal customary law was effectively banned and Aboriginal people were forced to conform to the British legal system, as well as being restricted in activities such as holding meetings, carrying hunting weapons, etc. If the Aboriginal people didn't follow these rules, they were considered dangerous and either gaoled (put in jail) or shot.