The Mutawintji lands’ “contact history” or written past commenced in 1845 when the explorer Charles Sturt passed close by, to the north, along Nuntherungie Creek. In October 1860 the Burke and Wills Expedition passed through the Byngnano Range. It is probable however that pastoralists from the south (such as William Wright from Kinchega Station) had earlier visited the range in the late 1850s. Wright returned in 1861, leading a supply party for the Burke and Wills Expedition. Ernest Giles, while working on Kinchega Station, visited Mutawintji in search of grazing lands in 1861 and again in 1863 (when he carved a horses head and list of dates in rocks near the main engraving site).
Henry Raines took up the first pastoral lease, Mootwingee, on the Lands in the 1870s and grazing of the area (by introduced stock) commenced in 1874. Raines built stone walls across the area’s rockholes to supply his homestead with water, delivering this via ceramic pipes. The stone Mootwingee Homestead building, the ruined walls and remains of which are still there today, was constructed in the early 1900s.
Opal mining at White Cliffs circa 1889 saw a mail route and supply road established from Broken Hill to these new fields. This route passed through the Lands, along the alignment now known as the Old Coach Road, which prompted construction of the original Rockholes Hotel in 1905 by the Raven family from the adjacent Ravendale Station. The second Rockholes Hotel was built in 1916 before being delicensed 2 years later. Only the foundations and sub-surface features of the hotel remain today, just north of the airstrip.
Interest in the “Aboriginal art”, rockholes and flora and fauna of the Mutawintji area dates from the early decades of the 1900s. The Barrier Field Naturalist Club, established in 1920, was instrumental in having the immediate “Mootwingee” area reserved for the Preservation of Native Flora and Fauna, Caves and Aboriginal Carvings and Drawings in 1927. The reserve was managed by a local trust.
Pastoral land uses such as ground tanks, management trails and fencing continued across the Lands throughout the 20th Century, despite the impacts of successive dry periods. The second Mootwingee homestead building was constructed and added to from around 1910. The Shearers’ Quarters were built later.
The Lands were included in the first aerial survey of kangaroo numbers in New South Wales in 1966 and the population of Wangarru was first reported by scientists in that year. The Mootwingee Historic Site was permanently reserved in 1967, following establishment of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and an initial period of park development commenced. This culminated in the opening of the Visitor Centre, now known as the Cultural Centre, in the Historic Site in 1970.
Coturaundee Nature Reserve was established in 1979, primarily to protect the population of Wangarru in this area.
Mootwingee National Park was created in 1983, comprising the original Mootwingee Station purchased by NPWS in 1982, plus part of the adjoining expired lease of Gnalta Station. Establishment of the national park and nature reserve brought to a head the inappropriate management and lack of recognition of the Lands’ values for Wiimpatja and triggered the blockade of the Historic Site in September 1983. The blockade site itself is now an area of historic significance to both Wiimpatja and the wider community. Similarly the site of the hand back ceremony in 1998, on the low hillslope opposite the Homestead Creek Camping Area, is now also a historically significant location.
The area’s nearly 170 years of contact history has left a legacy of heritage sites and locations across the Lands. These include:
- the route of the Old Coach Road;
- remains of the Rockhole Hotel and a nearby grave;
- remains of the successive Mootwingee Homestead buildings;
- campsites, engravings and other sites associated with early explorers and pastoralists – including an 1863 survey mark on Yurntaana (Mt Wright) andnearby stone cairn and early European artwork in Homestead Gorge;
- evidence of copper mining near Yurntaana (Mt Wright) and in the CoturaundeeRange;
- remains from the early pastoral period – including the ruins of the 1880/90 MtWright well, the Amphitheatre well and tanks and adjacent stone “shepherd’s” hut known as the Amphitheatre Hut, the Mootwingee well remains beside Homestead Creek and early ground tanks; and
- examples from the later pastoral development period – including good examples of ground tank construction such as Wrights Tank, which was constructed at the turn of the century using pick and shovel. New Tank is known to be constructed in the 1950s, and Macs Tank possibly earlier. Sites and structures from the Lands’ early management as a conservation area are now also taking on heritage interest – notably the first Visitor Centre (the present Cultural Centre).The Blockade Site and site of the handback ceremony are places of historic heritage importance to both Wiimpatja and other people who supported the blockade in 1983.The Far West Region Cultural Heritage Management Strategy 2003 – 2010identified the Mootwingee Homestead ruins and wider Old Homestead Complex, as having local heritage value and warranting management.More recently the Board commissioned the preparation of the Homestead Precinct, Mutawintji National Park Conservation Management Plan (Mc Dougall and Vines 2006). This plan has been reviewed and endorsed by the Board. This plan has concluded that the main buildings – the original homestead ruins, “new” homestead buildings, the stone shed and store and shearers’ quarters – are all of the regional heritage significance