Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

The Hon. Warren Snowdon MP

Minister for Indigenous Health
Member for Lingiari

Fish River - Conservation helps close the gap

Media release
6 October 2011

The groundbreaking purchase of a stunning property along the Northern Territory's Daly River is providing an exciting new model for nature conservation and Indigenous employment.

Environment Minister Tony Burke today announced the landmark conservation project with the Indigenous Land Corporation, Traditional Owners and conservation organisations on Fish River Station, 150 kilometres south of Darwin.

"The Fish River conservation project is about driving long-term conservation outcomes in some of our most remote country - it's an exciting new model for Australia's National Reserve System," Mr Burke said.

"For the first time the Gillard Government has helped buy high value conservation land with the intention of handing it over to its Traditional Owners to manage its spectacular environment forever.

"This Top End property protects long stretches of the mighty Daly, and its wetlands, escarpment and savanna woodlands are habitat for nationally threatened animals and more freshwater turtle species than anywhere else in the country.

"Indigenous Rangers will play an important role in looking after country - from controlling weeds and feral animals, caring for threatened species and managing fire."

The Indigenous Land Corporation will initially hold Fish River Station on behalf of local communities working with them to manage weeds and feral animals, to care for threatened species and mange fire. Ownership of the property will eventually be transferred to its traditional owners.

Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, said the purchase and hand over of Fish River Station is vitally important not just for its conservation value, but it is a powerful recognition of the connection the Traditional Owners have with the land itself.

"Providing jobs, and helping conserve the stunning natural environment around Fish River is a positive step, but for the Aboriginal people of this area, taking custodianship of this land is an act I celebrate along with them," Mr Snowdon said.

The $13 million property was purchased with $8.6 million from the Gillard Government's Caring for our Country program, $1.4 million from the Indigenous Land Corporation and $3 million from international conservation non-profits, The Nature Conservancy and Pew Environment Group.

Fish River Station's 178,000 hectares showcase billabongs surrounded by savannah woodland and pockets of rainforest rising to spectacular ranges.

Its wetlands are home to the pig-nosed turtle, another seven freshwater turtle species and a huge diversity of fish, from barramundi to the threatened freshwater sawfish and the critically endangered spear-toothed shark. It is home to another three nationally threatened animals: the northern masked owl, the northern quoll, and the Gouldian finch.

"Fish River also makes a great contribution to the Trans-Australia Ecolink, our conservation corridor through central Australia from Port Augusta to the Top End, which will give native species room to adapt to a changing climate, fire and drought," Mr Burke said.

ILC Chairperson Shirley McPherson said the organisation's first purchase of a property for conservation was already helping to close the gap of Indigenous disadvantage.

" Already seven Indigenous rangers have jobs on the station and an Indigenous business is removing feral animals. They're sending buffalo to the Indigenous-run Gunbalunya abattoir to process for human consumption by local communities, the Sydney market and restaurants at the ILC's Ayers Rock Resort," Ms McPherson said.

"There will be more jobs to come in fencing, cultural site protection, plant and animal surveys, soil conservation, regeneration of threatened flora and fauna and a host of other work to protect this ecosystem for future generations of all Australians.

"The Northern Land Council is representing the interests of the Wagiman, Labarganyan, Malak Malak and Kamu clans and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority is also working with them to identify sacred sites on the property.

"For traditional owners, Fish River offers the opportunity to renew their connection to country, to pass on cultural knowledge to their children and eventually to own and manage the land."

Director of The Nature Conservancy in Australia, Dr Michael Looker, said the partnership was taking The Nature Conservancy to a new and exciting phase of its work in northern Australia.

"The acquisition is a remarkable step forward for conservation in Australia. We're conserving crucial biodiversity, providing sustainable livelihoods to Indigenous Australians, handing land back to the traditional owners - and we hope it's just the first of further innovative conservation projects," Dr Looker said.

"We see the purchase of Fish River as a real win for conservation and a practical way of providing opportunities for local Indigenous people to be genuine partners in its protection," Australian Director of the Pew Environment Group," Dr Barry Traill said.