Nature conservation

Parks, reserves and protected areas

Which parks and reserves can be returned to Aboriginal ownership and leased back?

1.Schedule 14 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act

There are seven areas of land currently listed in Schedule 14 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act that can be returned to Aboriginal ownership. They are:

Most of these lands were identified as having high cultural significance through the public consultation process leading up to the introduction of the hand-back and lease-back provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act. This process involved meetings throughout the State in 1992.

Biamanga and Gulaga National Parks were added to Schedule 14 in recognition of their high cultural significance following consultation with Aboriginal communities in the Comprehensive Regional Assessment processes, which lead to the development of the Eden Forest Agreement and the Southern Forest Agreement.

2.Land claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act

Land claimed by a Local Aboriginal Land Council that is needed for the essential public purpose of nature conservation, with the Land Council's agreement, can be granted to the Land Council subject to the creation of a reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. The reserve is then leased back to the NSW Government.

There are two areas where the Local Aboriginal Land Councils and the Government have agreed to negotiate a lease. These are:

  • Lands at Warrell Creek (near Nambucca Heads) where the Unkya and Nambucca Local Aboriginal Land Councils and the Government have agreed to negotiate a lease; and
  • Lands at Stockton Bight (near Newcastle) where the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Government have agreed to negotiate a lease.

Progress so far

Mutawintji National Park, Mutawintji Historic Site and Mutawintji Nature Reserve (formerly Coturaundee Nature Reserve) were returned to the Aboriginal owners of the area in September 1998.

Mount Grenfell Historic Site was handed back to its Aboriginal owners in July 2004.

For Mungo National Park, the Aboriginal community has decided not to pursue return of ownership and full joint management at this time and has instead entered into an alternative joint management arrangement with the NPWS. The Mungo National Park Joint Management Agreement establishes a Joint Management Advisory Committee, consisting of a majority of traditional owners, that advises the NPWS on the management of the park (see more about the Mungo National Park joint management agreement).

Aboriginal communities and the NPWS are preparing for negotiations for:

  • the return of ownership and lease back of Biamanga National Park and Gulaga National Park
  • the creation of reserves in Warrell Creek and Stockton Bight and the return and lease back of those reserves (these are two areas which are lands claimed by Local Aboriginal Land Councils).

Negotiations will take significant time and resources, and the NPWS is not expecting to enter into negotiations for the return of any other areas in 2003.

Can any other parks be returned to Aboriginal ownership?

At the moment, the only parks that can be returned to Aboriginal ownership are the seven listed on Schedule 14, or lands that have been claimed under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act but have been refused because they are needed for nature conservation.

Aboriginal people can nominate parks to be added to the schedule, so that they can be returned to Aboriginal ownership. To list a new park on the schedule, the Minister for Environment needs to be satisfied that the lands are at least as culturally significant to Aboriginal people as the lands already listed. The NPW Act requires that the Director General, in assessing cultural significance, reports on a number of issues including archaeological and historical information. However the NPWS also acknowledges that Aboriginal people must be the primary source of information in this process.

The process for adding parks to the schedule takes some time, and ultimately it is up to the NSW Parliament to make the final decision. If you're an Aboriginal person with a cultural association with a park, you may want to talk to the NPWS about other arrangements for joint management in the mean time.

The NPWS has proposal forms that can be used to nominate parks. Please contact your local NPWS office if you are interested in nominating a park to be added to Schedule 14.


Page last updated: 27 February 2011