Historic land claim
More than 20 years ago, on September 10, 1989, Jawoyn traditional owners won a landmark claim for Nitmiluk Gorge, previously known as Katherine Gorge, and the surrounding area.
Previous to the successful land claim, the gorge was part of the Katherine Gorge National Park run by the Northern Territory Government.
The Jawoyn traditional owners submitted their claim to the land in 1979. The Territory Government fought a long and fierce battle to hold into what it described as the third jewel in its tourism crown, alongside Uluru and Kakadu National Park.
The decade-long fight divided the nearby town of Katherine. The town was described in national commentary as racist, and many Aboriginal people living in the area at the time tell stories of being abused and sidelined by local residents. Some claim they were witness to gun shots fired into nearby Aboriginal camps and communities.
Many of the town's residents protested over the claim, fearing the Jawoyn would stop people visiting the gorge, cutting access to important tourist dollars that bouyed the regions economy.
But this is not what happened. When the land was signed over in 1989, the Jawoyn leased it straight back to the Northern Territory Government and the two groups signed a landmark agreement to jointly manage the park, which was renamed Nitmiluk National Park.
Jawoyn lands incorporate Nitmiluk National Park and the southern part of Kakadu National Park.
Nitmiluk National Park
The 292,800 hectare national park includes some of the most spectacular gorge scenery in the Northern Territory with tumbling waterfalls, myriad wildlife and Indigenous rock paintings.
Nitmiluk Gorge winds along 12 kilometres with sheer rock faces up to 20 metres high. Made up of 13 separate gorges, Nitmiluk Gorge is a maze of waterways carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River over millenia.
Leliyn (Edith) Falls is about 60km north of Katherine, situated in the north-west corner of the park.
Tourist attractions to the area include gorge cruises, kayaking, swimming, bushwalking, camping, cultural tours and helicopter flights.
Nitmiluk National Park has been jointly managed by the Jawoyn people and the Northern Territory Government since 1989, when the Jawoyn people won their land claim for the area.
The park management is heralded as a model for joint management between Aboriginal people and governments across Australia. It is managed in accordance with the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park Act, 2000 and the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (2005).
The Nitmiluk National Park management board is comprised of 13 members, appointed by the appropriate Territory Minister. Of the 13 members, eight are Aboriginal traditional owners of the park, nominated by the Jawoyn Association. The position of chair is held by a Jawoyn traditional owner. Nitmiluk National Park also employs a number of Jawoyn people as rangers.
Park Board Chair - Ryan Baruwei (Jawoyn)
Kakadu National Park
Covering nearly 20,000 square kilometres of exceptional natural beauty and unique biodiversity, Kakadu National Park is one of very few places World Heritage listed for both its cultural and its natural values. Kakadu National Park is managed jointly by its Aboriginal traditional owners and the Federal Government's National Parks.
Kakadu National Park was declared under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 (NPWC Act) in three stages between 1979 and 1991.
In 1987, a land claim was lodged for the land in the former Goodparla and Gimbat pastoral area to be included in Stage Three of Kakadu. The other area to be included in Stage Three – the area known as the Gimbat Resumption and the Waterfall Creek Reserve were later added to this land claim.
The progressive declaration was due to the debate over whether mining should be allowed at Guratba (Coronation Hill) which is located in the middle of the area referred to as Sickness Country, because of its connection to the creation being Bula. The traditional owners’ wishes were ultimately respected and the Federal Government decided to prevent mining at Guratba.
In 1991, the Jawoyn people were officially recognised as the traditional owners of the southern part of Kakadu National Park, the Gunlom Land Trust, as part of the third stage.
In 1996, the land in Stage Three, apart from the former Goodparla pastoral leases, was granted to the Gunlom Aboriginal Land Trust and leased to the Director of National Parks to continue being managed as part of Kakadu.
Three Jawoyn representatives are nominated to the Kakadu Board of Management.
The areas are managed according to a number of acts, including the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), the Australian Heritage Act (2003) and the Environmental Protection (Alligators Rivers region) Act (1978). In addition, Kakadu is also world heritage listed, meaning there are international treaty obligations under the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage’ (UNESCO 1972).
- Nitmiluk Tours
- Northern Territory Government - Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park
- Australian Government - Kakadu National Park