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Early glimpses into the Worimi Conservation Lands Board

Early glimpses into the Worimi Conservation Lands Board of Management

By Sue Olsson
Coordinator, Friends of Tomaree National Park
Vice President EcoNetwork Port Stephens

The Worimi Conservation Lands (WCL) and their operation have always been a bit of a mystery to me, even though I worked for a short time with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in Nelson Bay many years ago.  

This year I was fortunate to gain a place on the Worimi Conservation Lands Board of Management – as a deputy member for Conservation (the current representative was the previous deputy representative for several years).  Pop that in context, if a representative is not available for a Board meeting, then their deputy is pre-organised and approved, with all the required declarations in place, to attend. Not bad, quite forward thinking — probably typical of Boards but I am new to Boards!

The WCL Board has 13 members comprising 8 Worimi Aboriginal Owners, and a representative from each of the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, Port Stephens Council, neighbouring landholders, conservation and NPWS. Each of the 13 positions has a deputy member.

This year with the new Board appointed, both returning and new members and their deputies attended the first meeting of the year, February 2024, and focussed on Governance training.

Governance training — surprisingly enriching

For me the approach to Governance was quite enlightening.

First we were treated to the video Worimi Celebration on the Sands (part 1) — a poignant reminder of the journey in bringing together people toward a common goal, of protecting the Stockton Bight and its dunes, yet getting the best for everyone, Worimi and visitors. 

The vibe was reverent as everyone seemingly focussed on what this meant for them and their families – possibly more than a few moist eyes in the room that morning. 

On Saturday 10 February 2007 a major community ‘Celebration on the Sands’ was held on Stockton Beach on Worimi Country to mark a significant and historic event – the hand back of lands and signing of the Aboriginal Co-Management .

You may like to watch the entire Celebration on the Sands in 6 segments – be sure to find a quiet and comfortable spot and transport yourself into those spectacular dunes to try to capture for yourself a glimmer of what this means for Worimi.

A long and successful negotiation – a first in NSW, if not Australia 

While ‘firsts’ were not discussed as part of the Governance training, that the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) on behalf of the Worimi community, initiated the co-management proposal to the NSW Government, is apparently a first in co-management.

The Worimi LALC co-management proposal enabled the land to be included in the national park reserve system, protect the broader community’s interests and provide for recognition of Worimi Country, land title and benefits to the local Aboriginal community.

As part of the Governance training, we needed to understand the Worimi journey of co-management and the lease agreement. The preamble to the lease is interesting and informative reading.

We were reminded there were three things Worimi wanted from the co-management: 

  • Recognition and ownership of Country
  • Employment and training – real and meaningful training in caring for Country
  • Economic opportunities – working with commercial operators and creating employment opportunities for Worimi people.

Worimi wanted Country to be protected yet share access for the broader community to appreciate its cultural significance and ‘spread the word’.

Throughout the Governance training the Worimi Vision for the Lands was centre-most:

  • Protecting Country
  • Respecting Country
  • Connecting Country 

We will protect, respect and connect the Lands and our country will connect and protect us.”

Between the video, discussions, lease training and scenario building, we were immersed in the Governance of the Worimi Conservation Lands, its vision and philosophy, as well as the technical processes.

< Scenario reporting during Governance training

I feel this paragraph in the preamble to the lease expresses Worimi goodwill underpinning the co-management process and vision.

Worimi people remember the past and what happened to our ancestors on the missions and around the towns but we have learnt to work together for the future of our children and our Aboriginal community. We hope all who use the Worimi Conservation Lands remember those who came before, acknowledge the role of those who now govern and preserve the area for those who will come in the future.

Cultural immersion training

As part of the Lands lease agreement, all non-Aboriginal board members are required to attend cultural awareness training after their appointment to the Board. 

I’ve attended such training interstate in years gone by, but nothing as immersive, nor possibly as confronting as this training, but in a very safe environment.  

The leader on this workshop was excellent and very respectful, encouraging sharing and questions.

The workshop is available to groups and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate in this workshop to do so. I would happily undertake the workshop again.

Appreciating Worimi’s cultural landscape was an integral part of the cultural immersion training. An afternoon bus trip provided additional insights.

We walked behind the beach frontal dune where swales are found. We saw the important freshwater below the sand.

As we returned onto the beach through a gap in the frontal dune, we could appreciate the threat to the freshwater reserves should seawater intrude.

Trustful partnership underpins work integration, another first for Worimi

Friday 12 April 2024 celebrated another milestone in the partnership between Worimi Conservation Lands Board and NPWS, with the unveiling of the new integrated office and depot.

And it marks another first. It is the only one of its kind across NSW NPWS where an operational office and depot has been joint funded, designed and delivered in partnership between a joint management committee and NPWS. The WCL Board again lays the path and inspires others for what’s possible.

Board Chair, Jamie Tarrant conducting smoking ceremony. Photo: NPWS >

Jamie Tarrant, Chair of the Worimi Conservation Lands Board of management said: 

‘Establishing a purpose-built office and depot on Worimi Conservation Lands has been a dream for the board since the first board began the journey in 2008.

‘The board has wanted to create a space the Worimi community could be proud, where our staff can succeed and grow. In designing this space, we wanted to have the next generation aspire and be proud to work for NPWS.’

Those proud sentiments were evident throughout the morning. Speeches again recognised in person the Worimi Elders involved in the early lease negotiations, whose foresight and skills paved a more secure path for the Worimi community. There was much appreciation for the Board members and NPWS staff who invested so much time and energy in the project. 

Aunty Val Merrick cutting the ribbon with the Lands Board members and Kate Washington MP. Photo: NPWS

The talented creations of Worimi artists, now in the entry foyer and corridor, tell of the artists connection to Country Photo: NPWS …

… while the office surroundings with the wetland landscaping brings nature closer to the office and depot. 

As Jamie said … ‘We now have a place to come together and deliver our work in caring for Worimi Country.’

Understanding more of the Worimi Conservation Lands

In my short time so far with the WCL Board I have learnt so much, and I do hope one day I can make a positive contribution too. 

Finally, I encourage everyone, if you haven’t already, to explore the Worimi Conservation Lands website, to understand more of Worimi culture and this significant cultural landscape, the nature the landscape supports, and the Worimi vision and aspirations for the Land and its management.


Worimi Conservation Lands website

Strong partnership underpins new $7 million facility for national parks and Worimi Conservation Lands board in Hunter Coast ~ Media release, launch images and movie$7m-facility-for-national-parks-and-worimi-conservation-lands-board

Photos Sue Olsson unless credited to NPWS

Published: 30 Jun 2024