The Ngalurrtju Aboriginal Land Trust sprawls across 323,128 hectares on the eastern edge of the Great Sandy Desert bioregion in the Northern Territory, occupying the transition zone at the junction of three arid zone bioregions and directly adjoining AWC’s Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. Together these two properties protect almost 600,000 hectares of exceptional conservation value in Central Australia.
For 50 years Ngalurrtju operated as a cattle station, albeit with limited cattle grazing. In 1995 Ngarlatji Aboriginal Corporation purchased the pastoral lease and in 1999 the property was handed back to its Traditional Owners and the Ngalurrtju Aboriginal Trust was formed to hold the property title. The Central Land Council (CLC) represents the traditional owners and has formed a partnership with AWC – the Ngalurrtju Partnership – to jointly deliver conservation and land management to protect Ngalurrtju’s unique biodiversity. Together we are establishing a template for collaborative conservation in Central Australia.
Ngalurrtju is located on the traditional lands of the Anmatyerr, Warlpiri and Luritja Peoples and has immense cultural significance. Situated near the interface of three of Central Australia’s biogeographic regions, the property covers an area of 323,128 hectares and contains a rich assortment of land types. Each supports its own suite of arid-adapted plants and animals, making the property a hotspot for desert biodiversity. Ngalurrtju is located some 250 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, within the Great Sandy Desert bioregion. It’s a spectacular property, with shimmering salt lakes, ochre clay pans, vibrant red parallel dunes and undulating calcareous plains crossed by ancient purple-red quartzite mountains featuring dramatic scarps and deep gorges. Ngalurrtju’s highest peak, Karrinyarra (Central Mount Wedge), dominates the skyline and is visible from all corners of the property.
Ngalurrtju was once a pastoral lease, but fortunately for extant wildlife and habitats, cattle grazing was restricted to areas where groundwater could be accessed and much of the property was left untouched. Ngalurrtju is adjoined to the west by AWC’s Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary and the combined area of almost 600,000 hectares represents one of the largest non-government protected areas in the country.
In 1999, Ngalurrtju’s pastoral lease was extinguished, and the property was handed back to its Traditional Owners. Now, AWC has been invited into a collaborative partnership to manage the property, providing employment opportunities for Ngalurrtju’s Traditional Owners to work on their own Country and for other Indigenous Rangers. The objective of the partnership is to work together to protect this exceptional tract of land, sharing the values of Caring for Country, conservation of native flora and fauna, protection of sacred sites and mutual learning.
AWC is currently building an inventory of Ngalurrtju’s native wildlife. The property is likely to support a rich assemblage of plants and animals, similar to those found at neighbouring Newhaven, that are adapted to the semi-arid conditions of Central Australia. Sadly, due to predation by feral cats and foxes, the impacts of feral herbivores and changed fire regimes, it is likely that the populations of many small to medium-sized mammals have declined.
The Black-footed Rock-wallaby – now absent from Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa and declining elsewhere – survives amongst the rugged boulders and gorges of Ngalurrtju’s range country. There are also historical records of mammal species such as the Greater Bilby, Golden Bandicoot and Brushtail Possum.
Over 80 reptile species are expected to occur on Ngalurrtju (including the nationally vulnerable Great Desert Skink) along with a stunning diversity of arid zone birdlife. The piping melodies of Pied Butcherbirds and Grey Shrike-thrush echo in the gorges of Ngalurrtju’s rugged quartzite ranges, while the trill calls of the Dusky Grasswren or the Spinifexbird can be heard on the edge of the ranges and in the deep spinifex. Princess Parrots are likely to grace the extensive Desert Oak woodlands on their nomadic desert flights.
Other arid-zone specialist species expected to occur on Ngalurrtju include the Banded Whiteface, Rufus-crowned Emu-wren, Slaty-backed Thornbill, Hooded Robin and the Orange Chat. Populations of many small mammals, particularly native rodents, will ‘boom’ during the wetter years. During these wetter seasons, a network of ephemeral lakes form which become breeding sites for migratory birds as well as numerous animals like burrowing frogs that otherwise lie dormant under the sand waiting for rain.
The Ngalurrtju partnership will provide exciting opportunities for mutual learning through respectful sharing of Indigenous cultural and ecological knowledge, conservation land management practices and scientific research methods. AWC hopes to build on long-standing and productive relationships with Indigenous communities and the CLC’s Warlpiri and Anangu Luritjiku rangers from Nyirrpi, Yuendumuand Papunya and with other CLC staff.
Ngalurrtju Traditional Owners and Indigenous Rangers, CLC rangers and AWC staff will work together to build an inventory of extant plant and animal species, map threatened and culturally important species and ecosystems and identify threatening processes. This process will assist the development of targeted management and monitoring programs.
Ultimately, the aim of the Ngalurrtju Partnership is to work collaboratively to promote the conservation of Ngalurrtju and its unique ecological and cultural values.
The biodiversity of Central Australia is under threat from feral predators, altered fire regimes, feral herbivores and weeds. Since European colonisation, at least 17 mammals have gone extinct in the Northern Territory. Small to medium mammals within a critical weight range (35–5,500 grams) are particularly vulnerable to predation by feral cats and foxes. Species such as the Lesser Bilby have disappeared completely, while others such as the Golden Bandicoot and Burrowing Bettong have been driven to a restricted distribution elsewhere on the continent or survive only on offshore islands. This partnership will help to facilitate two-way learning and the exchange of knowledge, whilst also building capacity to deliver conservation programs in Central Australia.
A small nocturnal marsupial, the Brush-tailed Bettong (Woylie) is considered an important ‘ecosystem engineer’.
AWC is undertaking a reintroduction program of Red-tailed Phascogales to Mt Gibson and Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuaries.
The last wild Mala population in central Australia went extinct in the early 1990s.