East MacDonnell Ranges parks and reserves handed back to traditional owners

Posted: Fri, June 12, 2009

Nine reserves and parks in the East MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs and to the south of the town will be handed back to traditional owners today.

The Central Land Council said the parks and reserves host many sites of cultural significance to traditional owners.

After being handed back to traditional owners by the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, the Northern Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson and the Territory’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Alison Anderson, the parks and reserves will be jointly managed by the Northern Territory’s Parks and Wildlife Service and traditional owners.

The joint management process started last year and is already bringing benefits to traditional owners. For example, under a flexible employment program, indigenous workers have cleared buffel grass from Ndhala Gorge to prevent wild fires damaging ancient petroglyphs.

Six of the parks and reserves involved in the hand back are schedule one Aboriginal Land Trusts or Aboriginal Freehold under the Land Rights Act and three are section two Park Land Trusts or Park Freehold under Northern Territory legislation.

All are subject to 99 year leases to the Northern Territory Government to continue to be used as national parks. Schedule One parks are to be handed back under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which is Commonwealth legislation, while Schedule Two parks are to be handed back under the Northern Territory’s Framework legislation.

This distinction was made by the Territory Government. Park Freehold title is a new system of tenure in the Territory and means Schedule Two parks can only ever be used as a national park. At the expiry of the leases over all the parks, traditional land owners and the Territory Government will need to negotiate a new lease.

The Central Land Council represented traditional land owners in negotiations with the Federal and Territory Governments for the hand backs.

“This is another great moment for traditional land owners of these parks in the decades-long struggle to win their land back,” CLC director David Ross said.

“I think many non-Aboriginal people can’t fully appreciate what it means for traditional land owners to receive ownership of the land they had lost and to have a say in its future management.

“Non-Aboriginal people who have previously enjoyed access to these parks have nothing to fear from the hand back, but can be pleased that the custodians of these places now have a greater involvement in their care and protection,” he said.

There won’t be any limiting of access or fees introduced because of the hand backs or under joint management of the parks.