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Nantawarrina, the first IPA in Australia


Seven Aboriginal men and women dressed in warm clothing stand next to a red sign just off a dirt road. In the background are bushes, trees and hills. The sign says Nantawarrina IPA – Australia’s first IPA – Visitors welcome – No entry without permit.
From left: Ian Johnson - Senior Ranger and Nepabunna Community Chairman and Rangers Julette Johnson, Cameron Johnson, Thomas Wilton, Joelwyn Johnson, Daniel Johnson and Bruce Wilton.
23 Aug 2018

In 1998, the small community of Nepabunna in the northern Flinders Ranges* of South Australia was part of a revolution. It was a new way of preserving Australia’s natural heritage and the culture of its first inhabitants.

The Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) would be similar to other Australian reserves or national parks but owned and controlled by the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community.

Since then, IPAs have spread throughout Australia and brought employment to those communities and funding through tourism and other activities.

As of 2017, there were 75 dedicated IPAs covering more than 67 million hectares including some of Australia’s rarest and most fragile environments. IPAs make up over 40 per cent of Australia’s National Reserve System.


In 1987 the community of Nepabunna acquired** more than 58,000 hectares of Adnyamathanha ancestral land, their land, back from a pastoralist. For 10 years they leased that land to other pastoralists for sheep and cattle grazing.

After that period, it was realised the land was not suitable for grazing.

With the support of the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust, they jumped at the chance to be part of a pilot project.

The project would take existing Indigenous owned land and turn it into an IPA, adding to the National Reserve System, but managed by the Nepabunna Community under the guidance of the International Union for Nature Conservation Categories (IUNC).

Under the new arrangement, the Government would also provide funding for land management and cultural heritage preservation. It would provide support for infrastructure, paving the way forward for economic development and training opportunities. It would employ members of the community as IPA Rangers, train them and provide other assistance.

In 1998 at a special ceremony on the newly created Nantawarrina IPA, Gurtrude Johnson, Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner, proclaimed it as the ‘First Indigenous Protected Area in South Australia, Australia and internationally’.

Community Chairperson and Senior Ranger, Ian Johnson, and his brother, Community Elder Roger Johnson, were at the ceremony on 26 August 1998 and witnessed their mother make that historic proclamation.

 ‘It was a pretty special day for Nantawarrina because it was the first Indigenous Protected Area,’ Ian said.

‘And back then we had a lot of special people here that are no longer with us,’ Roger added.

‘They shared their stories and culture with us on this area where we are standing.’


Over the past 20 years, Roger and Ian have witnessed many changes to their ancestral land.

The rangers have replanted native vegetation, helped to preserve the native animals such as the yellow-footed rocky wallaby (Andu) and removed feral animals, especially goats, from the land.

The rangers have built bores and water tanks and laid out irrigation pipe. They are restoring an old homestead called Irish Well Hut and have set up camp sites for tourists.

The fee paid by tourists plus the money received by selling the feral goats are important sources of funding for the community.

The IPA Rangers are proud of their country and will continue to improve the land for future generations.

In a few days’ time, on 26 and 27 August, Nantawarrina IPA will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a ceremony featuring community and government leaders.

This ceremony is not just a celebration of Nantawarrina IPA, but a celebration of the Adnyamathanha people of Nepabunna who were an important part of a new idea which has spread across Australia.

* Nepabunna is located just outside the south west boundary of the Gammon Ranges next to the ‘Vulkathunha – Gammon Ranges National Park’ (the name Vulkathunha was adopted in 2002 in recognition of the Adnyamathanha people).

** The South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust (SAALT) acquired the land through a 99 year lease and holds the title on behalf of the Adnyamathanha people.

Find out more

The Nepabunna Community was later recognised for their excellence in management of their lands internationally by winning the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUNC) Award.

At a ceremony in Adelaide, it was presented to Gurtrude Johnson by the Ambassador for the United Nations, the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard and Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill.

For more information, go to Australia’s Indigenous Protected Areas [PDF 1.3MB].

Read about the award for IPAs at Bronze Future Policy Award 2017: Desertification.

Keep an eye out for a series of stories about Nantawarrina IPA coming in the next few months.

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