Feature

Caring for Country

Green Lifestyle magazine

Indigenous rangers combine tradition and science to help protect the Outback.

Water pools at the Carnarvon Ranges

Water pools at the Carnarvon Ranges – water is a precious resource in the desert and is closely monitored during journeys across the land.

Credit: Central Desert Land and Community team

Rangers studying insects for a biodiversity survey

Rangers studying insects for a biodiversity survey.

Credit: Central Desert Land and Community team

Burning spinifex to reduce wildfire and promote new growth

Burning spinifex to reduce wildfire and promote new growth.

Credit: Central Desert Land and Community team

Female rangers on the Canning Stock Route, in Birriliburu country

Female rangers on the Canning Stock Route (CSR), a large part of which runs through Birriliburu country.

Credit: Central Desert Land and Community team

A Birriliburu elder watches rangers fixing erosion

A Birriliburu elder watches rangers fixing erosion.

Credit: Central Desert Land and Community team

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In the Outback, a quiet revolution is taking place. Indigenous communities are leading a hugely successful land management program and protecting the future of our shared bush heritage. The landscape of the Western Desert, which covers parts of WA, SA and the NT, is at once beautiful, fragile and harsh.

One central WA region is home to the Birriliburu people. The desert is a place that nurtures and supports their spirits, a land that they must protect by traditional law, and a home where they want their children to live, learn, and thrive.

The Birriliburu people possess a deep understanding of their desert homelands that comes from living intimately with it for millennia. They are now combining their knowledge of the landscape with science to successfully manage their traditional lands for the benefit of us all.

With some Birriliburu people experiencing first contact with non-Indigenous Australians as late as the 1960s, they had to overcome great institutional disadvantages to reclaim and manage their ancestral lands. The journey has been a long and difficult one, but in 2013, the Birriliburu people proudly announced the declaration of a massive 6.6 million-hectare Indigenous Protected Area. Supported by federal government funding, the Birriliburu people manage their country as rangers.

“It’s all about the country and opportunities of work for our young people,” says Robbie Wongawol, a ranger and Traditional Owner. The protected area also creates opportunities for tourism income. “I think it’s a good idea for other people to come in and for us to show people our country.”

“There’s no doubt the Indigenous Protected Area program has been used really positively by the Birriliburu people,” says Rob Thomas of Central Desert Native Title Services, a support organisation for the Birriliburu land managers. “In remote areas like this, it’s a catalyst that provides jobs, reduces social problems, and strengthens communities. The Indigenous Protected Area program has the potential to be like a one-stop ‘closing the gap’ shop for remote Indigenous communities in a lot of ways – real jobs, healthier people, and lots of two-way learning opportunities. The environment does pretty well out of it also.”

“The Outback really needs more people actively managing it, not fewer,” says Patrick O’Leary, an expert on conservation partnerships for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous rangers are an incredibly good value for Australia. You couldn’t get a better value investment for the federal budget.”

“We know this country,” Wongawol says. “We have to care for our home.”

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For more info, visit:
Birriliburu and the Central Desert Land and Community team on Facebook
Federal government support for Indigenous Protected Areas
The Pew Charitable Trusts