Australia's biggest protected area declared

Date of publication: 
11 July 2012

The southern Tanami in the Northern Territory is some of the most pristine and diverse desert country in Australia.

And at ten million hectares, it’s now been declared as the nation’s largest Indigenous Protected Area (IPA).

With $1.6 million of Federal Government money and $500,000 from The Nature Conservancy, Indigenous ranger groups from the communities of Yuendumu, Willowra and Nyrripi will now be funded over two years to manage their own country against threats such as invasive species and fire.

Member for Lingiari Minister Warren Snowdon says it’s the next stage in the land rights movement.

“With land rights came the opportunity not only to get the country back but for Aboriginal, Yapa people to take control.

“And the IPAs make them some of the biggest land managers in the nation.”

Home to threatened species such as the bilby and great desert mole, local botanist Peter Latz says it’s one of the most untouched and sensitive ecosystems in Australia.

“It’s about as clean and pristine as you can get anywhere on this planet, because it’s unaltered.

“And the rangers are keen to keep it that way.”

The plan of management for the southern Tanami took five years to develop with local Traditional Owners.

Karissa Preuss from the Central Land Council says it focused on four key areas.

“It’s about maintaining both cultural values associated with the country and biodiversity values.

“Two-way education is key so the rangers and community learning from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about looking after country.

“And the fourth is about jobs on country.”

It’s the engaging young people and growing employment opportunities out bush that senior Warlpiri ranger Madeline Napangardi Dixon says ensures Aboriginal people are moving towards healthier communities.

“All the young people are starting to realise that getting out on country is much better than town life.

“They’re starting to ask ‘what sort of work you doing out there?’

“And we say ‘we’re doing this and we’re doing that’ and they’re like ‘what! I want to get involved. Are there any positions available?’

“That’s why we need more positions.”

But even though the funding will see an increasing number of rangers, botanist Peter Latz says managing an area 30 per cent larger than Tasmania.

“There’s lots of problems ahead because you have conflicting agendas.

“For example Yapa want to hunt bustards because that’s their traditional food, but we know the bustards are struggling to survive.

“So there’s always going to be that tension between traditional ways and changing to suit the new environment.”

“But as they’ve been saying today ‘we’ve got new problems that we haven’t dealt with before and we can work together.’

“That’s the only way to go.”

But Minister Warren Snowdon says the Federal Government is confident that the southern Tanami IPA will meet international standards.

“I don’t have any concerns that it won’t be looked after properly.

“There’s always questions about the number of resources available, that’s clear.

“But the Central Land Council now have 90 rangers on their books.

“I’m sure they’ve got the capacity to do this work.

“They’ve proven themselves time and time again as being very able, very professional and very dedicated to looking after this country properly, primarily for the Traditional Owners but now as part of the national estate.”