By Xavier La Canna
SANGSTERS BORE, NT: Aboriginal people from the Tanami Desert in central Australia are celebrating after the government signed off on a conservation area the size of Portugal to be cared for by indigenous rangers.
At a ceremony in the remote outback location of Sangsters Bore, about 600km northwest of Alice Springs, dozens of traditional owners were on hand to welcome the move.
“Today is an emotional day. Today really a freedom day,” said Eddie Jampijinpa Robertson, a Warlpiri elder from Yuendumu, on Tuesday.
“When we look after the land, it is what our dreaming is,” he said.
The 101,500 sq km Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) forms part of the Trans-Australia Eco-link corridor and stretches from Arnhem Land to the Great Australian Bight, more than 3500km away.
The new conservation zone is the largest single land area ever dedicated to conservation in Australia and stretches from deserts to subtropical savannahs.
It is about the same size as Portugal, and takes in a large part of the Tanami Desert and a small part of the Great Sandy Desert.
The IPA means Aboriginal people will have more say in how the land is cared for, culturally and environmentally.
The federal government will spend $1.6 million over the next two years to fund local rangers to look after the Southern Tanami region, and philanthropic group The Nature Conservancy is spending $500,000 to help manage the area.
Federal Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon said the new conservation area would be an example to all of Australia about how the land can be properly cared for.
“What it says to the Australian community across the country is that not only are we responsible, but we know what to do to look after our country,” he said.
Traditional owner Lottie Robertson said the decision was the result of five years’ work and would ensure her people’s knowledge was passed down to the next generation.
“The Southern Tanami belongs to Warlpiri people,” she told the crowd on hand to welcome the announcement.
“We now have young rangers who learn to look after country,” Mrs Robertson said.
Chair of the Central Land Council, Phillip Wilyuka, said the IPA signalled a change from how indigenous people had been treated by Australian governments in the past.
“I guess the non-indigenous people have had to learn from Aboriginal people how to look after this country,” he said.
Karissa Preuss, an IPA development officer with the Central Land Council, said the new IPA was home to rare creatures such as the great desert skink, bilbies and princess parrots.
“It is an area that is quite rich in some of Australia’s threatened species,” Ms Preuss said.