Historic return of land to Indigenous owners in biggest protected area in South Australia

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There's been an historic handover to traditional landowners in New South Wales.

The 22,000 hectare Mawonga Station is now the biggest piece of Indigenous protected land in Southern Australia.

It's located in central New South Wales, about 550 kilometres west of Sydney, and is the home of the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan people.

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But for hundreds of years it hasn't been in their control.

Winangakirri Aboriginal Corporation’s Russell Taylor was at the station yesterday when the land was handed back.

"The Ngiyampaa Wangaaupuwan people have long fought for access and rights to look after the country and to continue the role of their ancestors," he said.

The handover happened thanks to a partnership between the federal government, the Indigenous Land Corporation, and the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW.

Nature Conservation Trust Board Member Russell Taylor said it will protect, preserve and maintain the natural and cultural heritage of country.

The land repatriation isn't a native title claim.

Former Labor environment minister Peter Garrett signed off on its purchase by the Indigenous Land Council in 2011.

"It was one of the great pleasures in my life as environment minister when i could start this process as a government and i think the tax payers got pretty good value from it to tell you the truth," he said.

The former owner recognised sacred rock art sites on the property and pushed for its sale to an Aboriginal group, then to return it to its rightful owners.

It's become the largest Indigenous Protection Area in southeast Australia.

"To give people an opportunity to understand in other parts of Australia how important land is to aboriginal people whose land it was," Mr Garrett said.

Winangakirri Aboriginal Corporation chairman Lawrence Clarke said it was an emotional day.

"It's not only aboriginal Ngiyampaa people it’s all aboriginal people and all people in the community non aboriginal as well," he said.

Combined with nearby nature reserves, the area forms one of the most significant patches of mallee scrub in the state.

It's also home to threatened flora and mallee fowl whose nests are trampled by goats and pigs.

The sites will eventually be opened up to tours.

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