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'Long journey' culminates in land hand-back for NSW Traditional Owners

Giovanni Torre -

Traditional Owners in New South Wales have taken back almost 600 hectares of their land in a freehold hand-back title under the State's Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

On April 30 the Mount Yarrowyck was renamed Bulagaranda Aboriginal Area and returned to the Anaiwan and Armidale Local Aboriginal land councils at a ceremony.

Photos: NSW Aboriginal Land Council.

The two councils will co-manage the area with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who will lease the land from the Aboriginal owners for the next 30 years.

Anaiwan Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Gregory Livermore said the handover was decades in the making.

"It has been a time line as long as your arm, basically in the making since it was declared a nature reserve in February 1983," he said.

"We had genealogists from the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act involved, putting a lot of time and resources into identifying the Aboriginal Owners.

"We had community meetings in a number of our communities up here. Over that period of time, from 2007 to 2012 a lot of Aboriginal owners were identified, the Elders and their descendants."

Mr Livermore said the hand-back had taken more than two decades to transpire.

"The feeling of relief, that's been the feeling I had the most, like a heavy load has been taken off our shoulders," he said.

"The two nights after the handover were the best night's sleep I have had for a long while.

"We are not there yet, but we are nearly there. All we have to do now is appoint a board of management."

Bulagaranda Aboriginal Area is a 586 hectare site located about 30 kilometres west of Armidale, featuring important rock art.

The name Bulagaranda is derived from words in the Anaiwan language referring to the Turkey Dreaming that is associated with the landscape in and surrounding the park.

Mr Livermore said people would still be able to use and enjoy the land as they had before as it would be managed as a nature reserve with the input and guidance of Aboriginal owners.

"Hopefully people will learn more about the sites out there and what they mean to Aboriginal people," he said.

New South Wales Environment and Heritage Minister James Griffin said the Anaiwan and Armidale people had been waiting a long time for the return of the land.

"It's with great pride that we are able to finalise the process," he said.

"Handing it back means Traditional Owners have control of local decision-making, and ensures they can continue to have a physical and spiritual connection to their country."

New South Wales Aboriginal Affairs Ben Franklin Minister said it was a historic agreement.

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