An historic Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) has given Baiyungu and Thalanyji Traditional Owners the right to care for approximately 388,000 hectares of the Ningaloo coast.

The agreement creates the Nyinggulu Coastal Reserves—around 78,000 hectares of new coastal conservation area from the former Ningaloo pastoral lease to Red Bluff.

The new Coastal Reserves, the existing Ningaloo Marine Park, and the Cape Range National Park are to be jointly managed by Nganhurra Thanardi Garrbu Aboriginal Corporation (NTGAC) and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

Signed by WA Minister for Environment Stephen Dawson on Tuesday, the Ningaloo ILUA is the culmination of 30 years of work begun by a group of Elders at Cardabia Station.

The ILUA comes only nine months after Baiyungu and Thalanyji Traditional Owners received their Native Title determination in December 2019.

The journey to joint management has spanned generations: NTGAC Chair Rachael Cooyou’s mother was a key member of the Traditional Owner group at Cardabia Station 30 years ago.

Cooyou said the ILUA formalises what people have already been doing on Country.

“Now after all this time, we have not just the recognition, but also the resources and support to have our own people on the ground,” she said.

“Our people’s self-respect and self-worth is able to grow as we are able to give back to something that is so important to us.”

“We are also able to share with others something that is part of our being and identity. Something we are so proud of, our Country,” she said.

Joint Management Body Chair and Baiyungu man Paul Baron said the agreement had been carefully crafted to respect his people’s unique culture.

“We’ve spent many long hours around the table with the State working through how joint management will operate, and to get the backing needed to recognise the importance of our storytelling,” Baron said.

“Our culture and heritage [are] vitally important. It is central to our recognition as Traditional Owners, and our ownership of the role we will play.”

Though the formal creation of the Nyinggulu Coastal Reserves and release of the final joint management plan is expected in coming weeks, the Parks and Wildlife Service’s draft plan says tourism will not change much.

“[The plan] proposes that affordable low-key camping and caravanning along the coast will be maintained at current levels, with a key focus on continuing the current experience and the sense of remoteness and high level of self-sufficiency prized by visitors,” it reads.

According to the draft plan, in the short term, priority will be given to rehabilitating tracks and degraded areas around camping grounds.

Cultural sites will be protected and monitored, with Aboriginal place names, language translations, and heritage protocols available to visitors to ensure visitors are culturally sensitive.

Traditional Owners will be supported to “maintain their connection to and responsibilities for Country by facilitating customary activities, and Native Title rights and interests”. They will also be involved in the trainee ranger program as well as other employment and business opportunities.

Baiyungu and Thalanyji Traditional Owners were supported in negotiations by Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC).

YMAC CEO Simon Hawkins said the agreement showcases the positive outcomes of Indigenous consultation.

“This is a great example of the benefits that can be gained for so many people through partnerships and agreements that value and recognise the contributions Traditional Owners provide.”

WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt said the agreement aims to improve outcomes for Aboriginal communities.

“We are working with Traditional Owners to manage Country and ‘close the gap’ by providing social, cultural and economic development opportunities for communities through the negotiation of Native Title agreements and initiatives such as the Aboriginal Ranger Program,” he said.

By Sarah Smit