Mixing Culture And Commerce, Science And Tradition In The Kimberley

Traditional owners of the area around the popular tourist town of Broome in northern Western Australia are drawing on their traditional knowledge and culture to create ongoing economic and environmental opportunities on their country.

Yawuru Country Managers took delegates at the June 2018 National Native Title Conference on a tour of some of the 53,000sq km area held by the Yawuru Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) and staff from Aboriginal Way were lucky enough to go along.

Yawuru Country

Johani Mamid is Lead Ranger with the Yawuru Country Managers and he explained some of the features of Yawuru country to visitors.

“So we’ve got the Spectacled Hare-wallaby and the Bilby which are threatened species and we’re always working to survey and monitor those and doing what we can with our fire management and other matters to protect those.

“Weeds are our main issue, a big issue in Australia everywhere I think” he said

Cattle are an important feature of the country, generating income but also creating a threat to the environment.

“We’ve also got a cattle station overlaying the Indigenous protected areas, so we’ve got a sustainable grazing protocol or technique in place there”

“That helps to protect country you know from cattle or cattle damage but also still maintaining a healthy cattle industry” Mr Mamid said.

Yawuru Seasons

Mr Mamid explained to visitors how the traditional owners see the seasons on Yawuru country and how that has guided their life on the land.

“So we’ve got the six Yawuru seasons, because of the way that we live and have always lived for a long time” he said.

“Man-gala season is the wet season and then we go into Marrul, which is where the season starts to change into the drier season, and the next one is the Wirlburu (warming up) season.,

“And then we flow into the Barrgana season which is the cold and the dry season. And then from there it goes into Wirlburu and then Laja and that’s where it starts to get warm before it goes back into the wet season again.

“So as we start to get into the cold season, the Barranga season you feel it starting to get dry but you also start to get, as the seasons change you start to notice different activities in the flora, some things might flower, some things might start to fruit and a lot of things change with the animals as well which are a big food source.

“In the Barranga season we’ve got the high salmon and you know we’ve got the wattle flowers and yes so these are all indicators to tell us that the season is changing but I guess it’s important to know the season’s changing so that you can, you know what you can and can’t do on country.

“So the best time to hunt animals is when they are in high abundance or when there are plenty and that’s why it’s important to understand the seasons.Yes, it’s always been a way of life for Yawuru people” Mr Mamid explained.

Rangers & Country Managers

The Yawuru area includes four conservation estates – Birrangun Buru Conservation Park, Guniyan Binba Conservation Park, Minyirr Buru Conservation Park and Yawuru Nagulagun Marine Park, all of which are managed by the Yawuru in partnership with other organisations.

There is a team of five Yawuru Country Managers and several state employed Rangers who work across Yawuru country.

“They manage those areas through joint management between Yawuru, the state government or Department for Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions and the Broome Shire and that’s done pretty well and we’re happy to be a part of that” said Mr Mamid.

Ranges and Managers work on projects like photo point monitoring, groundwater monitoring and support and access for any external conservation or environmental organisations want to come into their country for research

“There’s a research protocol in place for people to approach Yawuru and from there we’ll discuss you know their project and how it’s going to be rolled out” Mr Maid said.

“Just to make sure that they’re going into areas that they’re okay to go into not just for their safety but also for the safety of country.But also we’ll get the Country Managers to tag along on those projects to learn about those projects and also be a part of it” he said.

That opportunity to work in partnership with researchers is one of the ways that Rangers and Country Managers develop their skills and knowledge about their country, including scientific and traditional knowledge.

“When the Yawuru Country Managers start off they actually have very low conservation land management understanding, there’s no base education requirements to start as a Yawuru Country Manager, you just need to be a Yawuru person.

“The learnings of the conservation land management is on the job.This group of Yawuru Country Managers started off with no ticket but now they’re all on their Certificate III, Conservation Land Management and probably rolling into the Certificate IV soon.

“On the job you’re spending a lot of time with Yawuru elders and other people that know about the country and traditions and the idea of that is so that, is to ensure that we’re moulding both the two worlds of the western science and the Aboriginal traditions because you know we’ve learned that this is the best way to work on country but also to ensure that what’s important to us is protected in the right way as well” Mr Mamid said.

Nyamba Buru Yawuru

Nyamba Buru Yawuru is the commercial arm of the Yawuru community, established to manage the economic opportunities provided by their country.Johani Mamid explains that it has many functions.

“One of our most important arms at Nyamba Buru Yawuru is the community development unit.They run several different projects out of that unit you know from housing, social housing programs.You know we actually sell some property as well” he said.

“We built a subdivision where we’re selling house and land packages especially for Yawuru people but open to anyone.But we’re using those, that program or those programs to tackle our housing issues especially for young Yawuru people.

The Yawuru people see revitalising their language as central to future prosperity says Mr Mamid.

“We’ve got a language department where we’re revitalising and promoting the Yawuru language because as you know and through history we’ve lost a lot of culture and language and we’re using our programs to try and bring back what we can and save what we have.

“We’ve got some language programs where we’re teaching Yawuru language throughout the schools in Broome, primary schools and the secondary schools.

“We’ve trained up about 12 Yawuru people to learn the Yawuru language and then to become teachers to teach others in the community and through our programs” he said.

It is the Land and Sea Department of Nyamba Buru Yawuru who manage the economic opportunities from Yawuru country

“You know land and sea is the core of who we are, you know as we work through our Yawuru seasons, the Yawuru six seasons.At the Land and sea Team we’ve got the Indigenous Protected areas

“The Land and Sea Department also has an arm for a fee for service program so we can try and bring back some money into Yawauru.

Nyamba Buru Yawuru is a non-profit organisation so any money that is made goes back to help service the community.

Roebuck Plains Station

The Yawuru gained native title recognition over their country in 2006, with the Federal Court determining that the Yawuru held exclusive native title over Roebuck Plains Station.

In 2014, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), which had purchased the land for the traditional owners in 1999, officially handed title of the land to the Yawuru.

The Yawuru now lease the viable cattle enterprise back to the ILC, who continue to manage it on a commercial basis.The arrangement means that Yawuru have access to their country as well as economic benefit says Mr Mamid.

“Now that we’ve got ownership over the property we’re leasing it out to them which is great and we also make a small profit of the sales that they make with the cattle as well” explained Mr Mamid.

“You know with our relationship between us and the pastoral company have always been very goodand you know they’re happy with us working on country, they’re happy for us to block off, you know fence off significant areas to protect what’s important to us.

“You know there are sometimes issues on country where you want to lock the gates but we have said and they have agreed that it’s okay to leave the gates unlocked because we want Yawuru people to have access to their country so that they can practice their traditions wherever that may be and whatever that may be whether it’s hunting or other things”.

By Lucy Kingston

Listen to the interview with Johani Mamid here: