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Bunuba National Park creation a key step in protecting Martuwarra Fitzroy River

Giovanni Torre -

Bunuba Traditional Owners are celebrating the creation of a new national park that will protect part of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River.

The declaration made 18 August of the Bunuba National Park follows more than 70 years of proposals to dam the Martuwarra Fitzroy River at Dimond Gorge (Jijidu), which Bunuba people havetirelessly challenged.

Covering 220,000 hectares, the new national park will extend from the existing Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park along the river, north to Dimond Gorge – protecting it from dams and development forever.

Bunuba Elder Selina Middleton said it was a significant day for her people and the Martuwarra Fitzroy River.

"Today was a very special day for Bunuba people. We've got a national park now to protect the river, to protect our country, to protect the environment - everything. I'm proud. I'm a proud Bunuba woman," she said.

The national park was celebrated at a private ceremony with Traditional Owners, Environment Minister Reece Whitby and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservations and Attractions at Windjana Gorge on Friday.

Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation chairman Kevin Oscar said the national park was a historic achievement for Bunuba people and his Country.

"We came towards meeting a good opportunity for the near future. And this is something that we have spoken about for not only the last seven or eight years, but it has been in the pipeline for the last generation of people, our people and our Country… we are quite happy with what we have achieved so far," he said

"This particular conservation area will protect things like damming of the Fitzroy and also protect flora and fauna welfare, that seriously need to be managed and controlled."

Dimond Gorge. Image: Adam Monk.

The new national park was co-designed with Bunuba people and will be jointly-managed by Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservations and Attractions - safeguarding unique landscapes, wildlife and Aboriginal culture, while creating sustainable local jobs, like Aboriginal ranger positions and Indigenous tourism.

Environs Kimberley Director of Strategy Martin Pritchard said it was a historic day for Bunuba people and the fight to protect the Martuwarra Fitzroy River. Environs Kimberley was formed to support Traditional Owners to protect the river from dams in 1996.

"This is such a historic day for the Martuwarra Fitzroy River on Bunuba Country. After decades of attempts to build a dam at Dimond Gorge, we finally have a national park to protect it," he said.

"Bunuba Traditional Owners have been working to protect their culture and country from development since the early 1950s, so this announcement is very special.

"We congratulate the Bunuba People and the Cook government on protecting this part of the river which is on Bunuba Country in a national park."

Mr Pritchard said he hoped to see the entire length of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River protected in the near future.

"This is a great step towards protection, but unfortunately serious threats still remain along parts of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River that are not protected by the Bunuba National Park," he said.

"We need protection for the entire length of the river and its floodplains."

The Bunuba National Park marks the halfway milestone of the government's Plan for Our Parks initiative, with more than 2.5 million hectares added to the conservation estate so far.

This announcement is a milestone in the delivery of the WA government's 2017 election commitment to create three national parks in the Fitzroy Valley, and one step towards fulfilling their promise to protect the river.

Celebrations at Windjana Gorge. Image: supplied.

In May, Traditional Owners delivered a petition to WA Parliament signed by more than 27,000 Australians calling for the Martuwarra Fitzroy River and its floodplains to protected from large-scale development.

This followed more than 43,000 Australians sending submissions in response to the WA government's draft Fitzroy River Water Discussion Paper in 2021, calling on the government to abandon all plans to take water from the river.

Pew Charitable Trusts' deputy director Tim Nicol congratulated Traditional Owners and the WA Government on the national park announcement.

"Today is a milestone for the Martuwarra Fitzroy River and Bunuba people. The Bunuba National Park will not only protect a significant stretch of the Martuwarra and Dimond Gorge, but it will also create sustainable economic development and jobs on Country for Traditional Owners that align with culture," he said.

"We look forward to welcoming the final stage of the Fitzroy River National Park and to see the government fulfil their election commitment protect the Martuwarra Fitzroy River."

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