A new study published by The Pew Charitable Trusts has highlighted Indigenous-led conservation as being one of three key elements that will help achieve a healthy Outback and “safeguard the heart of Australia”.
Launched last week in Perth by WA's Minister for Regional Development, Alannah MacTiernan, the study found that there are fewer people managing Australia’s Outback now than at any time in the past 50,000 years.
But the Outback needs people - scientists assessing the health of the Outback’s natural landscapes found that the greatest loss of native animals and plants is occurring in areas empty of people.
The Great Western Woodlands, the world's largest remaining tract of intact temperate woodland. Photo: Kerry Trapnell
The book, My Country, Our Outback: Voices from the Land on Hope and Change in Australia’s Heartland, is the second in Pew’s The Outback Papers series.
It features twelve personal stories of land managers around Australia who are working to help shape a modern Outback that sustains both people and nature.
Three of these case studies are of Indigenous people engaged in conservation, including one in Western Australia's Esperance-Goldfields region - Ngadju Conservation, based in Norseman, which is an exemplar of successful Indigenous-led conservation in the Australian Outback.
Ngadju Conservation's Robert Graham overseeing a controlled burn in the Great Western Woodlands. Photo: Kerry Trapnell
The Ngadju native title area includes a significant portion of the Great Western Woodlands, one of the great jewels of WA’s Outback. As highlighted in My Country, Our Outback, Ngadju rangers undertake essential work managing threats such as feral animals, noxious weeds and uncontrolled fire, and caring for natural and cultural heritage.
Incredibly, just six Ngadju rangers look after an area nearly the size of Tasmania, in some of the most beautiful but also driest woodlands in Australia.
Quoted in the study, Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation Chair Les Schultz (pictured) said that he established Ngadju Conservation because he felt a deep need to help his people and the woodlands.
The Great Western Woodlands is a jewel of the Outback and a botanical hotspot, with at least 3,300 flowering plants, 49 native mammal species, 138 reptile species, 14 frog species and 215 bird species.
This diversity has been 250 million years in the making. Despite supporting unique native animals and plants, the Woodlands are incredibly dry, meaning fire is an ongoing threat.
“The worst enemy is hot wildfire, out-of control fire,” Les says. “My people, Ngadju, used fire to manage our landscapes. There is bad fire and good fire.”
“What we want is to see the Great Western Woodlands managed properly,” Les says. “And we want to be resourced to do that role. We will always be around, and it ticks all the boxes of everything good in terms of outcomes for Ngadju people, the environment and the general community.”
For Les, managing the land is not only about looking after nature, but also about caring for cultural heritage and knowledge, such as the gnamma (rock holes that collect water) and traditional water trees - both of which were essential to Ngadju survival in this dry landscape.
A traditional Ngadju water tree. Water trees are mature gum trees with deep depressions where the main branches stem. The depressions fill with water that trickles down the branches. Sometimes Ngadju would break a stem or wedge a rock into a young gum to manipulate its growth into a water tree. Ngadju are the only people known to employ this practice for catching water. Photo: Kerry Trapnell
Ngadju Conservation, as highlighted in My Country, Our Outback, is a shining example of the immense value that Indigenous-led conservation brings to our Outback - protecting natural and cultural heritage while also creating hope for Indigenous communities.
The competition to win a copy of My Country, Our Outback closed on 10 July 2017. But you can also download a PDF of the book here.
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