It’s the vast embodiment of outback beauty and heartbreak — a sweeping western NSW cattle station that is, by turns, arid no-man’s land and lush waterbird haven, home to ancient Indigenous artefacts, the ghostly trail of Burke and Wills and now the nation’s newest national park.
“It can be very good and then it can be vile,” said Bill O’Connor, 84, owner of Narriearra station, which has just become the largest block of private land bought for a national park in the state’s history.
With nearby Sturt National Park, Narriearra will create a conservation area of close to half a million hectares, or twice the size of the Australian Capital Territory.
The 153,415-hectare station sits in the north-west corner of the state, with the dog-proof fence of the NSW-Queensland border forming its northern boundary.
Flowing south from Queensland, the Bulloo River ends on the station in an expansive floodplain and wetlands that attract tens of thousands of water birds during inland flooding.
The property is also home to Indigenous artefacts, tools and stone arrangements.
Explorers Burke and Wills traversed it in 1860, with an engraved post marking one of the ill-fated expedition’s two camp sites.
Mr O’Connor, whose father purchased the property in 1919, said life there hadn’t always been easy and, although the landscape hosted a diverse array of flora and fauna, nature wasn’t always kind.
“There’s a strong connection to the land through all my brothers and sisters and of course my children — most of them have spent a fair bit of their time here anyway, if not all,” Mr O’Connor said.
He said he had earlier tried to sell Narriearra to the Government when it seemed impossible to make a living off the land, but this time he had been approached with an offer.
“It was still in a bad way as far as drought went — they’d have to borrow a lot of money to get back in to stock — so it just looked like the best way out of it was to sell,” he said.
Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean said the Government’s acquisition of the property would ensure about 25 threatened animal species and important wetlands were preserved.
“I set a target of 200,000 hectares of new pasture that we will add [to national parks] during my term as the Minister for Environment,” Mr Kean said.
“We’ve now beaten that target and I hope that we’ll continue to go even further.”
Bird watchers’ paradise
Dr Barry Traill, Australian director of conservation organisation, Pew Charitable Trusts, said the sale of Narriearra station was “very special” for threatened water birds, and the Grey Grasswren.
“Nearly 90 percent of its habitat in New South Wales is on Narriearra station,” Dr Traill said.
Dr Traill said the purchase would also encourage greater tourism to the outback, which was often overlooked by governments.
“Outback Australia is one of the great remaining intact natural places on Earth and we don’t often think of that in that way . . . that’s something that’s now rare and special in the world,” he said.
“There are millions of people that are very keen on bird watching in Australia and just having some species like the grey grasswren is a magnet for people to go out to the landscape and spend some local dollars and help the community through tourism,” said Dr Traill.
Land council welcomes ‘good news’
Roxann Robertson from the Tibooburra Local Aboriginal Land Council said the purchase of Narriearra station was good news for the future of conservation.
The Government invited the land council to be involved in naming the new national park.
Ms Robertson said the land council had always had a good relationship with national parks authorities and she had “no doubt” that would continue as ownership of Narriearra station shifted hands.