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$7million facility a model for Indigenous cultural heritage and conservation management

David Prestipino -

There are high hopes a new $7 million cultural wildlife hub in the Hunter Valley will exemplify how Indigenous communities can benefit from having greater control over how their heritage is protected.

The state-of-the-art, purpose-built space unveiled by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Worimi Conservation Lands (WCL) on Friday is the first property project jointly-funded by the NSW government and an Aboriginal joint management board.

It has been almost 20 years since the NSW government returned more than 4,200 hectares of land at Stockton Bight to Worimi Traditional Owners to establish Worimi Conservation Lands, with the NPWS.

The WCL board, which co-manages WCL with NPWS and funded half the project, said developing the facility had been "a dream" since they formed in 2008.

The space would now house 40 employees in Anna Bay, 200km north of Sydney, and become a legacy hub for conservation, cultural stewardship and community engagement.

"The board has wanted to establish a purpose-built office and depot on Worimi Conservation Lands since the journey first began in 2008," board chair Jamie Tarrant said.

"We wanted to create a space the Worimi community could be proud of; where our staff can succeed and grow. In designing this space, we wanted to aspire the next generation, and make them be proud.

"We now have a place to come together and deliver our work in caring for Worimi Country."

The facility on Worimi Conservation Lands now combines office and field-based operations - which used to be separate - helping NPWS and WCL improve efficiency and flexibility of park management and enhance emergency response services, particularly during urgent incidents such as bushfires.

Assistant Minister for the Environment Trish Doyle said the facility was a remarkable collaboration with the local Aboriginal community and logistically would help preserve Indigenous cultural heritage, and foster more collaborative conservation projects between government and Traditional Owners.

"This new space is a jointly funded shared vision founded on respectful partnerships amongst those who care for country - it’s one of a kind," she said.

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington - who also was in Anna Bay for the opening - said "our world-renowned national parks" need to be protected.

"This new combined office and depot means all staff are on the one site, to work more effectively to protect and manage our precious environments so special to the Hunter Central Coast," she said.

"This project is the culmination of many years of meaningful collaboration between local NPWS staff and the Worimi Conservation Lands board.

"Everyone involved are to be congratulated for their ongoing commitment to caring for Country."

NPWS Hunter Central Coast director Kylie Yeend said the cooperative spirit between the Indigenous community and her team was evident throughout the project.

"It's wonderful to see ... and represents the forging of a close partnership," she said.

"Having all staff in one location enhances our collective ability to safeguard and preserve the cherished environments of the Hunter Central Coast."

The WCL board manages Indigenous-owned Worimi Conservation Lands park, to protect the natural and cultural values of the Stockton Bight landscape, and also provide safe and sustainable recreational and commercial use.

The 13-member WCL board is comprised of several Worimi Traditional Owners, representatives from Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, Port Stephens Council, NPWS, conservation and neighbouring landholders.


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