Nature conservation

Parks, reserves and protected areas

Pilliga Nature Reserve Aboriginal Consultative Committee

Memorandum of Understanding between the Pilliga Nature Reserve Aboriginal Consultative Committee and the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC)


The Pilliga Nature Reserve encompasses an area of over 80 000 hectares between Coonabarabran and Narrabri in the southern area of the Pilliga Scrub on the North West Slopes of NSW. It is a very significant area for the local Gamilaraay (also written as Gomeroi or Gamilaroi) Aboriginal people, with modified trees, grinding grooves, rock engravings, stone tools, art sites and bush tucker providing evidence of a long and continuing connection to the area.

Prior to the formation of the Pilliga Nature Reserve Consultative Committee, DECC consultation with local Aboriginal communities had generally been limited to asking them whether they had any objections to particular projects being undertaken by the department. These were projects such as hazard reduction burns or the development of new fire trails and walking tracks.

In 2001-2002 when DECC began the process of consultation regarding the proposed upgrading of Baileys Trail, it was recognised that there would be benefit in a more sustained and proactive avenue for input from local Aboriginal communities into the management of the Nature Reserve.

The formation of the Pilliga Nature Reserve Aboriginal Consultative Committee

DECC took steps to establish a more formal group through which the views of local Aboriginal people could be integrated into the ongoing management of the reserve. As a result, the Pilliga Nature Reserve Aboriginal Consultative Committee was formed comprising Elders and community representatives from Gunnedah, Coonabarabran, Narrabri and Baradine, some of whom were representing Local Aboriginal Lands Councils.

One of the first tasks of the Committee was to assist DECC in the development of a Conservation and Management Plan for the area known as Sandstone Caves. The Sandstone Caves contain etchings, artefact scatters and grinding grooves and are very significant to the local Aboriginal community. With tourists regularly visiting the area there was also pressure to promote the area more and DECC felt it was important to have Aboriginal input into the way this was managed. The resulting plan aims to balance protection of the area's important Aboriginal heritage values whilst sharing an appreciation of these values with the broader community.

Development of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

DECC and the Committee members discussed how the Committee should operate and what its functions should be. A range of informal and formal joint management options was reviewed and the committee members agreed that a Memorandum of Understanding was the most suitable arrangement given the partnership was still in its infancy. The original MOU was signed by DECC and the Committee for the first term of the Committee in March 2004 and an updated MOU for the Committee's second term was signed in August 2006.

The purposes of the (MOU) are to:

  • formally acknowledge DECC's commitment to working in partnership with the Committee as representatives of the surrounding Aboriginal communities in the management of the Pilliga Nature Reserve; and
  • outline the priority issues the Ccommittee is to deal with.

The main focus of the Committee as outlined in the MOU is to ensure the identification and protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage values in the reserve and to support the continued connection to Country of the local Gamilaraay people.

Comments from DECC Regional Manager

The Regional Manager at the time of the Committee's formation, Wayne Dornbusch, acknowledged that the signing of the Memorandum was a significant step forward.

"The MOU formally acknowledges our commitment to working in partnership with the Pilliga Nature Reserve Aboriginal Consultative Committee in the management of the nature reserve."

"This is the first MOU of its type in the Northern Plains Region."

"The signing also marked the opening of the upgrade works at the Sandstone Caves in the nature reserve - a project which heavily involved the Consultative Committee."

"It is hoped that the formalisation of our relationship through the signing of an MoU provides an avenue of sustained, proactive and meaningful input from the Consultative Committee into the management of the Pilliga Nature Reserve," Mr Dornbusch said."

What's been happening

The Committee has focused on employment, education, access to the reserve, public visitation and management planning. Some achievements include:

  • Conducting two cultural camps per year for young people. Activities conducted at the camps include: traditional tool making; bush tucker collection and cooking; telling traditional stories, language; art; and dance lessons.

    Traditional style beadwork made at cultural camp May 2007
  • The employment of Aboriginal Discovery Rangers to lead cultural tours.

    Aboriginal Discovery Ranger Paddy Chatfield with children at Sandstone Caves
  • Preparing and implementing the Sandstone Caves Conservation and Management Plan. Implementation of the plan included creation of a new car park and the upgrading of the walking track including the location of a lookout viewing area. The Consultative Committee highlighted the importance of local Aboriginal communities being involved in the work as part of caring for Country, and seven local Aboriginal people were employed to work in cooperation with local NPWS staff in 2003 and 2008 to complete this work.
Committee members, community guests and local DECC staff inspecting upgraded walking track at Sandstone CavesCommittee members Margie Leslie, Betty Niddrie, Aunty Sylvia Trindall and Aunty Maureen Sulter at the Yaminba lookout seating at Sandstone Caves.
  • The Committee also contributed to the design of interpretative signage, recommending the inclusion of the Gamilaraay language and cooperating with DECC staff in developing the content of the displays.

An interpretive sign providing information on an Aboriginal rock art site and featuring artwork and Gamilaraay language text provided by local Aboriginal people
One side of the dual language interpretative sign in Pilliga NR incorporating the Gamilaraay language
The other side of sign demonstrating Aboriginal culture, highlighting co-operative management and featuring personal stories from local Aboriginal people who are members of the current joint management committee
  • Aboriginal site survey and recording. This project was run in 2006 and 2007 and involved community members being trained in site survey and recording methods and then being employed by DECC to find and record Aboriginal sites in Pilliga Nature Reserve.

    Allan Wheeler, Mark Cain and Kerry Ashby recording a grinding grooves site during Aboriginal site survey in Pilliga NR in April-May 2006


Celebrating five years of cooperation

Merv Sutherland and Peter Peckham conducting a smoking ceremony in the Gunyah launched at the celebrationOn Thursday 26 June 2007, DECC and the Committee celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Pilliga Nature Reserve partnership.

The celebration was marked by the launch of the Gunyah, a special Aboriginal-style shelter to be used for cultural camps in the Pilliga. The day also included the unveiling of a new interpretive display at the start of the walk to the Sandstone Caves network. Over 120 people attended the celebration and enjoyed a bush tucker barbeque.


Michael Murphy, Ranger for the Pilliga Nature Reserve extended thanks to the Committee

"I would like to thank the committee members for their ongoing work protecting cultural heritage in the reserve and supporting connection to Country of local Aboriginal people."

Looking forward

The Pilliga Nature Reserve Aboriginal Consultative Committee is seen around NSW as a positive model for the involvement of local Aboriginal communities in joint management. In December 2006 two new Aboriginal Areas were gazetted adjoining Pilliga Nature Reserve: Dandry Gorge Aboriginal Area to the west and Pilliga East (Willala) Aboriginal Area to the north-east. The area of responsibility of the current committee is to expand to include these two Aboriginal Areas as well as the Nature Reserve. The new name for the committee from its next term will be the Gawambaraay Pilliga joint management Committee. Gawambaraay describes the local dialect used by the traditional owners of Pilliga Nature Reserve and surrounding areas.

Further information

NPWS Baradine Area office: telephone 68434000
Ranger for Pilliga Nature Reserve and DECC executive officer for the Committee Michael Murphy: email

Memorandum of Understanding (62KB PDF)

Page last updated: 27 February 2011