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AU Heir he is, owner of dead man's land

Property Here - Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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A POTENTIAL heir to land in the Top End worth $1.8 million has been found.

Litchfield Council says it has been trying to find the owner of the land - in Darwin River - for 26 years.

But it took an ancestry expert just two days to track down Edward Booth - one of 28 people who could be entitled to the land.

The 5sq km of land was purchased by Edward Stirling in 1872 for $360.

He is the only owner listed on the title.

In 1986, Litchfield Council started charging rates. For the past 26 years, it has sent notices to the dead address.

Last month, it advertised that it intended to sell the land to recoup $91,269 in unpaid rates and interest.

Under the Local Government Act, the council must take reasonable steps to find the land's owner.

It argues it has taken these steps by sending letters and placing advertisements.

But when the NT News contacted a genealogist, it took her just two days to find a potential owner.

Beryl Schahinger of the SA Genealogy and Heraldry Society tracked down Edward Booth in Goolwa, South Australia.

Mr Booth is a direct descendent of important historical figures Edward Stirling and his son Sir Edward Charles Stirling, either of whom may have purchased the land.

E.C. Stirling travelled to the NT, was an early member of Parliament who helped frame the SA Constitution and introduced a Bill to give women the right to vote.

While it is possible another Edward Stirling purchased the land, E.C. Stirling was in the right place at the right time.

Mr Booth has set about rounding up the family to research the matter.

"I think my share would be 1/28th of the total," he said.

That would be worth about $63,000.

Mr Booth was irritated the council never contacted him as a possible heir, and said it wouldn't have been hard as the Stirling family was well-known in South Australia.

"They didn't want to find us," he said.

If his family did have a claim on the land they would have to pay the rates and interest owing before they could claim it.

But Mr Booth said the family may challenge the interest as they had no way of knowing about the debt.

Jersey residents and a historian from the Channel Islands are also on the hunt.

Mr Stirling listed St Helier, Jersey, as his address on the title.

The rightful heirs have about two weeks to claim the land before it is sold.

Litchfield Council has seized and sold land from more than 50 people in the past few years.

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