WHEN Warren B Clark started work as a field officer on his country at Mungo 18 years ago, only two officers were Aboriginal.
Today all 20 staff who look after the 138,000ha Mungo National Park are Aboriginal, working in partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services to take care of their traditional lands that hold the remains of Mungo Man and Mungo Woman, believed to be the world's oldest known human cremations.
The joint management of the National Park "has brought pride and self-esteem to our people; it gives them a future," Mr Clark said. He is the joint management executive officer of Mungo National Park.
"The hardest thing about it is the loss of the elders who fought so hard to see this happen and are no longer here to see it," he said.
Mr Clark was among a delegation of traditional custodians at Cape Byron yesterday for the 2013 meeting of the 25 joint management custodians working with NPWS to manage parks across NSW.
The custodians are landowners leasing their land back or recognised through an indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) or a memorandum of understanding.
This year is the first time the meeting has been hosted by the Bundjalung people of Byron Bay (Arakwal), who successfully created an ILUA in 2000 and, with the inclusion of the Arakwal National Park, now manage 400ha at Byron.
"Every national park should have an Aboriginal custodian involved," chair of the Arakwal National Park committee, Yvonne Stewart, said.
"And the custodians should be involved in a real way; not on a tokenistic level."
Today, 66% of staff managing Arakwal land are Aboriginal, she said.
Hosting the 25 custodians from around NSW was a chance to meet with elders and share knowledge, experience and support.
"It's great to share what we've achieved here. We have been a tool others can use. It's not always easy working with governments."