Start receiving our award-winning magazine today!


Purchase of Fish River Station in Northern Territory to Be Handed Back to Traditional Owners

It's a groundbreaking accomplishment for Australian conservation.

Explore Fish River

Learn how fire is improving lives and saving nature at Fish River Station.


A groundbreaking land acquisition in the Northern Territory by The Nature Conservancy and partners will see a former cattle ranch handed back to Traditional Owners and managed for conservation.

It is the first time that conservation non-government organisations in Australia have been involved in purchasing land that will be handed back to its Indigenous Traditional Owners, taking The Nature Conservancy to a new and exciting phase of its work in northern Australia.

The purchase of Fish River Station450,000 acres of savannah woodlands, rainforest and important flood plains for the Daly River was funded by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with the Australian Government, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) and Pew Environment Group at a cost of $13 million.

Dr. Michael Looker, director of The Nature Conservancy in Australia, said the partnership was groundbreaking.

“The acquisition is a remarkable step forward for conservation in Australia. We’re conserving crucial biodiversity, providing sustainable livelihoods to Indigenous Australians, handing land back to the Traditional Owners and catalysing further conservation,” he said.

“This is a great alliance to build long-term conservation in some of our most remote country,” Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said.

“It’s an exciting new model for Australia’s National Reserve System, our most secure way of protecting native plants and animals for future generations. It’s also a significant contribution to our conservation corridor right through central Australia, which will give native species room to adapt to a changing climate, fire and drought.

“By working with partners, we’ve achieved a big win for nature conservation and a new model for reconnecting Indigenous people with their land.”

The acquisition will see about 400 species of plants protected as well as four nationally threatened animals: the Northern Masked Owl, the Northern Quoll, the Freshwater Sawfish and the Gouldian Finch.

The Daly River lays claim to more freshwater turtle species than anywhere else in Australia. Fish River Station also contains at least 19 species of mammals, including the Northern Brown Bandicoot, Agile Wallaby, Sugar Glider and Red-cheeked Dunnart.

The ILC will initially hold Fish River Station on behalf of local communities who owned the land before Western settlement; the ILC plans to then transfer the land back to an Indigenous organisation representative of Traditional Owners.

The ILC and The Nature Conservancy have already completed interim management guidelines for the property, purchased equipment needed to undertake conservation and hired and begun training Indigenous Rangers in land management and habitat restoration.

“Employing Indigenous Rangers is a critical step to ensure traditional knowledge and the best modern science are combined for lasting results,” Dr. Looker said.

The cultural, social, economic and environmental outcomes that will flow from the purchase of Fish River Station will not only benefit local Traditional Owners; they will also be important for all of Australia.

Shirley McPherson, chairperson of the ILC, said: “Traditional Owners will be able to renew and strengthen their connection to country and Fish River can again become a teaching place for passing on cultural knowledge about land and lore to their children.”

She said that Indigenous Rangers will be able to generate income through programs such as fencing, cultural site protection, weed eradication, plant and animal surveys, feral animal eradication, soil conservation, regeneration of threatened flora and fauna species and a host of other work to protect this ecosystem ark for future generations of all Australians.

According to Dr. Looker, the protection of Fish River Station has prompted new protected area declarations in areas adjacent to the station and could result in a protected area network spanning nearly 2,000,000 acres.

The purchase also augments the burgeoning Trans-Australia Eco-Link, a governmental effort to link more than 2,175 miles of protected areas from South Australia to the Arafura Sea in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The 3M Foundation and individual donors provided vital seed money that was matched by the Pew Environment Group through its partnership with the Conservancy, as well as by the National Reserve System and the ILC.

The Nature Conservancy: The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a leading conservation organisation working around the world to protect ecologically important land and water for nature and people. TNC plays a critical conservation leadership role in Australia: convening stakeholders; enabling the capacity of key partners; providing scientific, conservation planning, policy and management expertise; and driving and leveraging successful large-scale conservation results.

National Reserve System: The National Reserve System is Australia's network of protected areas, conserving examples of our natural landscapes and native plants and animals for future generations. Based on a scientific framework, it is the nation's natural safety net against our biggest environmental challenges: climate change and declining water resources. The reserve system includes more than 9,300 protected areas covering nearly 13 per cent of the country. It is made up Commonwealth, state and territory reserves, Indigenous lands and protected areas run by non-profit conservation organisations, through to ecosystems protected by farmers on their private working properties. These protected areas are all managed for conservation according to international guidelines. In all, over 98 million hectares are protected nearly 13 per cent of the continent.

Indigenous Land Corporation: The Indigenous Land Corporation assist Indigenous people with land acquisition and land management to achieve economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits. The ILC accepts applications from Indigenous groups for Land Acquisition and Land Management projects. It also works in collaboration with other organisations and government agencies to develop new projects. The ILC is Indigenous-controlled with the Chairperson and at least four other members required to be Indigenous people. All seven members of the board are appointed by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Pew Environment Group: The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organisation that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improving public policy, informing the public, and stimulating civic life. We work with Aboriginal organizations, conservation groups, industry and government agencies across Australia to conserve the country's critical wilderness and marine habitats through long-term protection, good management practices and the elimination of threats. Our work pursues legislation that will support the establishment of new national parks and Indigenous Protected Areas, assist with conservation-focused land purchases, eliminate threats and advocate for the creation of marine sanctuaries.

3M: 3M captures the spark of new ideas and transforms them into thousands of ingenious products. Their culture of creative collaboration inspires a never-ending stream of powerful technologies that make life better. 3M is the innovation company that never stops inventing. With $27 billion in sales, 3M employs about 80,000 people worldwide and has operations in more than 65 countries.

3M Community Giving: 3M Community Giving consists of product donations and cash grants by 3M and the 3M Foundation and bolstered by employee and retiree volunteerism. In 2010, 3M and the 3M Foundation donated nearly $59 million in cash and products to U.S. educational and charitable institutions.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Contact information

Penny Underwood
+61 (03) 9818-8540

Related Links

  • Conserving Tradition in Fish River Station: An exciting new partnership is putting some of northern Australia’s most pristine grasslands in the hands of the Indigenous Australians who have traditionally managed the country for generations.

We’re Accountable

The Nature Conservancy makes careful use of your support.

More Ratings

x animal

Sign up for Nature eNews!

Sign Up for Nature e-News

Get our e-newsletter filled with eco-tips and info on the places you care about most.

Thank you for joining our online community!

We’ll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates and exciting stories.

Please leave this field empty

We respect your privacy. The Nature Conservancy will not sell, rent or exchange your e-mail address. Read our full privacy policy for more information. By submitting this form, you agree to the terms of use.