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Indigenous women leaders from Outback WA meet with MPs at Parliament

In the wake of International Women’s Day, six Indigenous women leaders from Outback WA travelled to Perth to attend a morning tea at Parliament House, hosted by Minister for Women’s Interests Simone McGurk.

The women shared their perspective on how connection to country can improve lives on the ground in Outback WA, and how Parliament in Perth can help support their work.

“One of the most important things to our people is to be able to manage our traditional country,” said Bianca McNeair, a Malgana woman from Shark Bay.

“Shark Bay is still one of the most beautiful, unique places in the world. To allow our people to be responsible for caring for that officially, gives us hope for the future.”

From L-R: Minister for Women's Interests Simone McGurk, Mrs Doris Eaton (Njamal Elder), Bianca McNeair (Northern Agricultural Catchments Council), Nyaparu Rose (Nyangumarta Warrarn Aboriginal Corporation), Philippa Jones (Meeangu Wajarri Aboriginal Corporation), Heidi Parker (Marditja Banjima Ranger), Jennylyn Hamlett (Meeangu Wajarri Aboriginal Corporation), Rebekah Revesz (Ranger Coordinator, Banjima Country Management).

Ms McNeair is a keen supporter of the community-driven Create Ranger Parks proposal, which aims to protect five million hectares of former pastoral stations and for these areas to be managed by Indigenous ranger teams.

“If we don’t connect to country we are walking around with half of our insides missing – that’s why, when our young people are in city areas and not connected to country, they fill that void with other things and can end up going down wrong track. But if we take them out of those situations and take them to country, it’s a beautiful thing to watch their spirit fill.”

“The Create Ranger Parks proposal offers that sort of change to our people. It also offers us an opportunity to manage country that’s not being managed, and we are happy to do that,” Ms McNeair said.

Rebekah Revesz (Ranger Coordinator, Banjima Country Management), Minister for Women's Interests Simone McGurk and Marditja Banjima Ranger Heidi Parker at Parliament House.

Nyaparu Rose is a Nyangumarta Elder who works closely with the Nyangumarta Ranger group, based in Bidyadanga. She is also CEO of Nyangumarta Warrarn Aboriginal Corporation and has seen with her own eyes the importance of connection to country for young Aboriginal people and the many benefits that ranger programs bring.

“Connection to country is important to us as Aboriginal people because that’s where our connection is – with country,” Ms Rose said. “If you look after country, country looks after you and provides for you.”

Mrs Doris Eaton, Njamal Elder and 2009 NAIDOC female Elder of the Year, runs school holiday programs taking young people from Port Hedland to spend time on country, learning from elders. She spoke of the importance of connection to country for grounding young people and helping them understand where they belong.

“If we work towards employment for young people, get them out of poverty and give them a job, then they’ll feel proud because they’ll know they are looking after their own country and learning from it,” Mrs Eaton said.

The morning tea was held on Thursday 15 March, and the six Indigenous women attendees were: Mrs Doris Eaton (Njamal Elder), Jennylyn Hamlett and Philippa Jones (Meeangu Wajarri Aboriginal Corporation), Heidi Parker (Marditja Banjima Ranger), Bianca McNeair (Northern Agricultural Catchments Council and Malgana woman), Nyaparu Rose (Nyangumarta Warrarn Aboriginal Corporation).

Mrs Doris Eaton, Bianca McNeair and Nyaparu Rose outside Parliament House.

The women’s visit was organised by Linda Goncalves, spokesperson for Create Ranger Parks. The proposed Ranger Parks are former pastoral lease properties that were purchased by government more than 20 years ago for conservation, but the job of protecting these areas was never completed.

“Through our work on Create Ranger Parks with Traditional Owners in the Mid West, Pilbara and Gascoyne, it’s become apparent that there are pressing issues facing many remote communities,” Ms Goncalves said. “The morning tea hosted by Minister McGurk provided an opportunity for MPs to hear the perspective of Indigenous women leaders who are closely connected to their communities.”

“Creating Ranger Parks would provide the opportunity for the creation of new national parks which would in turn create more Indigenous ranger jobs in many communities,” Ms Goncalves said.

“The community and conservation challenges in WA’s Outback are some of the most pressing social and environmental issues facing our state today. Equally they present some of the greatest opportunities to improve the lives and livelihoods of people in remote and regional areas.

“Expanding the area protected for conservation while also employing Aboriginal people from remote communities for on-ground management is a no-brainer for addressing these challenges,” Ms Goncalves said.