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historian’s perspective on Mutawintji National Park

NSW Department of Education and Training Sites and Scenes 1999

Margo Ryan: Today we will be talking with Michael Bridges, an historian investigating the heritage significance of Mutawintji National Park. Welcome to the show Michael.

Michael Bridges: Thanks for having me.

Margo Ryan: Can you tell me about your work at Mutawintji?

Michael Bridges: As an historian, my role is to record the history of Mutawintji National Park, exploring both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal land use and interaction with the site. Oral history accounts and research on primary documents, undertaken at libraries and government archives, will be used. With this information, I will prepare a statement of significance, taking into account the historical, social, aesthetic and scientific significance of Mutawintji National Park.

Margo Ryan: What items or places from a heritage viewpoint are considered significant at Mutawintji.

Michael Bridges: Mutawintji Historic Site, located within the park, has considerable scientific and cultural significance. It is listed on the Register of the National Estate as well as the State Heritage Inventory. The historic site contains extremely rich archaeological deposits, including open camping sites, rock shelters, stone arrangements and rockart.

Margo Ryan: Can you tell us more about the Aboriginal significance of Mutawintji?

Michael Bridges: Mutawintji National Park is an important Aboriginal site. It is part of traditional country that has always belonged to the Pandjikali and Malyankapa people, ancestors of the present-day owners. According to William Bates, long-standing chairperson of the Mutawintji Land Council, Aboriginal people were forcibly moved off their land to nearby towns to make way for the growing pastoral industry. Although forcibly removed from their traditional country, local Aboriginal people maintain strong links with Mutawintji.

Mutawintji was also an important ceremonial centre for Wiimpatja from wide regional area, who often travelled there from vast distances away such as the Flinders Ranges. Mutawintji National Park, and the historic site in particular, continue to be used by the local Aboriginal community as well as Wiimpatja for cultural tourism purposes.

Margo Ryan: Earlier you mentioned non-Aboriginal land use?

Michael Bridges: Yes, there has been considerable European impact on the site. As already mentioned, the Mutawintji region was cleared and used for the pastoral industry from the middle of the nineteenth century. Ruins of several pastoral runs built at this time still remain. Later in the nineteenth century, mining prospectors, searching for silver, lead, gold and copper, frequented Mutawintji. Opals were also sought there, because of an opal mining "rush" at nearby White Cliffs. At this time, Mutawintji became a resting-place on the route between Broken Hill and White Cliffs from the late nineteenth century. In 1905, the Rock Holes Hotel was built close to Mutawintji historic site to accommodate this passing trade.

Margo Ryan: Can you tell me how Mutawintji became a National Park?

Michael Bridges: In 1925, rockart at Mutawintji came to the attention of the Field Naturalists Club of Broken Hill. Two years later, "Mootwingee Historic Site" was declared a crown land reserve for the protection of Aboriginal sites. Mootwingee Historic Site was permanently reserved under the control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in 1967, while Coturaundee Nature Reserve was gazetted in 1972 as a nature reserve for the protection of yellow-footed rock wallabies. 1982 saw the National Parks and Wildlife Service purchasing Gnalta and Mootwingee sheep stations, which were added to the Mootwingee historic site to create Mootwingee National Park. By late 1983, local Aboriginal people were dissatisfied with how the park was being run and were keen to have more involvement in its management. In response, the park was blockaded and prospective visitors were turned away. Exactly fifteen years after the blockade, in September 1998, Mootwingee National Park was handed back to the local Aboriginal land council. At this point, the spelling of the park reverted to its preferred spelling and pronunciation of Mutawintji National Park. Subsequently, Mutawintji National Park was leased to the State Government, to be managed by a committee made up of representatives from NPWS, Mutawintji Land Council, Broken Hill Council and local landowners.

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