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park ranger’s perspective on Mutawintji National Park

NSW Department of Education and Training Sites and Scenes 1999

Visitor Introduction at Mutawintji Cultural Centre

Hi. Welcome to Mutawintji National Park, and thank you for taking the time to visit our Cultural Centre. My name is Lorna. I am a senior ranger at Mutawintji National Park and am also a member of the Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council. I am here to answer your questions during your stay and tell you what to expect from Mutawintji National Park. Today I would like to explain the more recent history of this place.

In 1983, Mutawintji National Park attained notoriety, reaching national headlines, because we, the Aboriginal people from far western New South Wales, got together and closed the park to visitors. We took this action because we were not happy with the way the park was being run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Amongst other things, we wanted to have more involvement with how the park was being interpreted to visitors. Speaking in 1984, John A. Quayle summed up our feelings about the Blockade:

"The Mutawintji Blockade in September 1983 was an action to demand a sudden change from the insults of the past. The blockade may have been a suprise and inconvenience to some white people, but it very clearly showed that Aboriginal people regard this place as of special significance. It is sacred. We cannot compromise on this. But controlled tourism can be agreed on as long as Aboriginal people are involved in settling the conditions and explaining Aboriginal culture to visitors. This is the task we are working on." (From Allen Fox and Associates, Supplement to Draft Plan of Management, Mootwingee National Park, Mootwingee Historic Site and Coturaundee Nature Reserve Plan of Management, National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW, Western Division, Broken Hill, 1986. p 284.)

After the 1983 blockade, Aboriginal owners and descendants became increasingly involved with the running of Mutawintji National Park and the way it was being interpreted to visitors. At this time, accommodation was built for the new, predominantly Aboriginal staff, many of whom were descended from the original owners. Aboriginal people were employed in various capacities; as guides, rangers and maintenance workers. In 1997, a controversial decision by the State Government meant that prisoners from nearby Broken Hill Prison undertook general maintenance work at Mutawintji. Although there was some criticism of this program, particularly from unions, it was an important step in fostering a sense of pride and cultural understanding in these people, many of whom were from an Aboriginal background. Many of the people involved in this scheme attended the hand-back ceremony in September 1998.

In 1998, Mutawintji National Park was officially handed back to its original owners. Subsequently the park was leased back to the State Government and managed by a board made up of members from Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council, Broken Hill Council, local landowners and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Aboriginal people continue to have strong ties to Mutawintji National Park; we have control over the running of the park and of how it is interpreted to visitors. Importantly we decide where visitors can go, and which areas are sacred sites. There are some places that are off-limits to visitors, such as the Snake Cave. Places that are open and accessible to visitors include: art sites at Homestead Gorge and the Amphitheatre; hills and creek flats surrounding Homestead Gorge; the Western Ridges; and the Two Mile Tank area.

Mutawintji Historic Site has considerable spiritual significance for local Aboriginal people. Tourists can visit Mutawintji Historic Site only as part of a guided tour. Tours follow already established walking trails, including Galleries Track and Wilyakali Track. These tracks have recently been upgraded to stop erosion and also have improved signposting. Keep to these clearly marked paths, and do not leave your tour groups. Leaving your group will not only have an impact on the surrounding environment, but can be dangerous. Many people have been stranded in this desert country in the past, without food or water.

On your tour to this sacred place, you will get to explore the unique and rugged landscape of outback New South Wales. If you are lucky, you may see rare arid-zone vegetation or else admire beautiful animals and birds. You will have the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of the wondrous rockholes. If the weather is cool enough, we will encourage you to carefully explore the rockart, some of which is hidden deep within the ‘galleries’.

I hope you have a great time at Mutawintji National Park. Please do not hesitate to visit the Cultural Centre throughout your stay. We welcome your inquiries.

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