PARTS of the Riverina are set to be handed back to traditional owners in one of the largest Aboriginal land claims in recent memory.
On Saturday, a ceremony will be held near Hillston for the return of more than 22,000 hectares to the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan people.
The land forms Mawonga Station, which was bought by the Indigenous Land Corporation in 2011. Once handed over, Mawonga will become the largest Indigenous Protected Area in south-eastern Australia.
The property is significant for the owners because they see it as essential for cultural revival and reconnection to the land.
The handover is also touted to boost environmental stocks, as it adjoins two nature reserves. The combined properties span more than 190,000 hectares and are home to one of the most significant reserves of mallee, a eucalypt species, in NSW.
The owners say the landscape is under-represented in Australia’s network of national parks.
And the property’s future management is set to be guided a variety of environmental and conservation groups.
Nature Conservation Trust of NSW (NCT) chairman John McCarthy said a land protection plan would be mapped out in coming months.
“The NCT is proud to partner with Winangakirri Aboriginal Corporation (WAC) and assist in developing a plan of management to protect the land,” he said.
“We have also been helping to conduct plant and animal surveys with WAC which will form the basis for future training programs.”
Mawonga boasts rock art sites, traditional camping areas and travelling paths featuring ancestral stories.
It is also home to the threatened mallee fowl.
WAC chairman Lawrence Clarke said the handover ceremony would be an important occasion.
It will be attended by former federal environment minister Peter Garrett, who signed off on the handover when in power.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.