NSW national park doubled
Traditional owners in NSW have welcomed a doubling of the size of the Aboriginal-owned Mutawintji State Conservation Area.
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean has gazetted Nuntherungie Station - 56,954 hectares of land 160 kilometres north-east of Broken Hill - to the Mutawintji State Conservation Area. The total size of the conservation area is now over 120,000 hectares.
The Mutawintji Board of Management purchased the land in 2015 to expand the Mutawintji National Park, the first Aboriginal-owned national park in New South Wales.
“Our aim and the aim of our old people when they negotiated [the Mutawintji] lease was to give us a way to keep that land and protect it,” says Mutawintji park manager, Leroy Johnson.
“It means no more sheep, no more cattle, and the land can have a bit of time to heal. It's very important.”
An official visit from the minister also brought about another milestone – the biggest gathering of traditional owners (Wimpatja) on Nuntherungie since colonisation.
Sixty traditional owners gathered at an ochre pit to welcome the Minister and witness the signing of the government’s commitment to protect the area.
Barkindji woman and Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Nancy Bates says ti was an emotional time.
“Places like the ochre pit where we have painted ourselves up,” she said.
“I feel a deep sense of belonging that I've been longing for most of my life.
“I feel hope. This is a display of resilience and the strength of our people.
“We love each other and we love this country, this country loves us. I feel really connected, it's quite emotional.”
The expanded conservation area will require more rent paid by the government to the Mutawintji Board of Management, but it is not yet clear how much that will be.
Mutawintji park manager Leroy Johnson said the new money could create more jobs in the park for the local Aboriginal community.
“We see problems in the towns nowadays, but we've got a lot of space and culture out here,” he said.
“We want to get our kids, our old people, and everyone to do stuff on the land and start practising our culture.”
Nuntherungie is around 120km from the Darling River, which was originally known as ‘Barka’, but it is a central part of the river’s dreaming story, linking the need for protection of one to the other.
Local elders have suggested there is some contradiction in the NSW Government's commitment to protect one environment while allegedly ignoring the river.
There is particular frustration with Minister for Water Melinda Pavey over her criticism of the Natural Resources Commission's review of the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan, which she attacked over its modelling and conclusions.