Caring for Country

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Our muwayi is our country, it is who we are as a people. Since time immemorial, we have had responsibilities to country – to manage, to protect, to maintain and to connect with our muwayi. These responsibilities are to places and sites of ceremonial significance, and to the entire landscape. Bunuba is the language that we speak, and this language unites us by our thangani. We the Bunuba people come from different muwayi,or estates, areas that we individually and collectively responsible for. A muwayi is an area, and it is also those people who are responsible for it. The people and muwayi are inseparable.

Our dawangarri are the groups of Traditional Owners who identify with a particular muwayi. When we speak our name as a people, we are also talking for the muwayi from which we come. Although Bunuba is made up of many muwayi, we are all interconnected through our language and our kinship system. It is the coming together of all the dawangarri and muwayi that makes for Bunuba Country. Our connection to Country was laid down in the Laws of ngarranggani, the creation time. We each hold an obligation to Country, and for all the human and non-human beings that call our land home. We have cared for this Country since time immemorial and continue to do so today. Whilst each of us have our own obligation to Country, it is our Bunuba Ranger team who carry the responsibility for the stewardship of each and every muwayi.

The Bunuba Rangers were officially formed in 2011. Yet for many years prior to this Bunuba people had been working with Parks and Wildlife WA on various conservation projects at Danggu (Geikie Gorge), Dimalurru (Tunnel Creek), and Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) National Parks. Nigel Hale and Kendrick Chungal are two Bunuba men who had done this work with Parks for many years and wanted to formalise their role as Rangers. Instead of going off and working in the mines, they wanted to stay and look after their Country. By that time many Ranger groups were being formed across the Kimberley. To achieve their dream, Nigel and Kendo enlisted the support of another Bunuba man, Clive Aiken, who then presented their case to Parks & Wildlife WA. Parks have been longstanding allies of Bunuba, since the first National Parks were established on our Country in the early 1960s. And they continued to be so in this instance. With funding and in-kind support secured by Parks & Wildlife, the Bunuba Rangers were officially established in 2011 with Clive Aiken in the role of co-ordinator.

To achieve their dream, Nigel and Kendo enlisted the support of another Bunuba man, Clive Aiken, who then presented their case to Parks & Wildlife WA. Parks have been longstanding allies of Bunuba, since the first National Parks were established on our Country in the early 1960s. And they continued to be so in this instance. With funding and in-kind support secured by Parks & Wildlife, the Bunuba Rangers were officially established in 2011 with Clive Aiken in the role of co-ordinator.

Our team rapidly grew in size and has employed many Bunuba men and women since 2011. In those first years we were employed solely on a fee-for-service basis funded by Parks. As such all our on-country work happened on Parks estate. But after a chance meeting with Environs Kimberley (EK) in 2014, we realised that there was the potential for us to work with EK off-estate and to care for those areas of Bunuba Country not protected by Conservation or National Parks. This was the beginning of a new stage in our relationship with EK, who had first supported us in our protest against the damming of Thalalngi (Dimond Gorge) in 1996. Together we held a community meeting, to identify those areas on-country whose maintenance and conservation were of the greatest concern to us all. EK secured grants and funding, as well as providing ecologists and other specialists, so that we could start caring for these parts of Country that were so important to our community.

Around this time, communities and Ranger teams across Australia were developing their unique Healthy Country Plans. Working closely with the Traditional Owners, a Healthy Country Plan identifies those aspects of culture and Country that hold the most significance within the community. Through the development of the plan, we are able to determine ways to strengthen culture and Country, and to minimise any threats to these ambitions. Bush Heritage Australia (BHA) had been involved in the development of many Healthy Country Plans across Australia, and we began working with them in the production of Bunuba’s unique plan. Our Healthy County Plan – Jalangurru Muwayi – was a collaborative affair between ourselves, BHA, EK and Parks. We have always been fortunate to have such strong and supportive partners. Jalangurru Muwayi was our opportunity to weave our distinct partnerships into a collaborative whole. By working together, we are able to look after Country, regardless of the land tenure that overlays it. Through overlapping projects, we can ensure that the work we do with each of our partners contributes to the formation of a holistic works program that cares for all Bunuba Country. With our partners we work together on a wide range of projects that in themselves reflect the uniqueness of our Country. Some of the work we have done over the years includes biodiversity surveys for Gouldian Finches & Purple Crowned Fairy Wrens; crocodile surveys; cane toad taste aversion studies; fire management; biosecurity surveys; tourism; pest and weed eradication; fencing; and the running of our National & Conservation Parks.

In 2017 we began working with Nulungu Research Institute, University of Notre Dame, on our Cultural Caretakers Program. Involving both our Rangers and our Traditional Owners, this work involves the identification, conservation and ongoing maintenance of our rock art sites all across Bunuba country. This work continues today, and we often try to align our maintenance work with our Bunuba on-country trips. This allows both Elders and our young people to be present - not only to see these sites, but to share and pass on the knowledge and stories that are reflected in each of our paintings. In 2018 our team grew again with the establishment of the Bunuba Women’s Ranger program. Whilst Bunuba women had been part of our team since 2011, funding from the Australian Rangers Program allowed us to identify specific positions for women. This guarantees that the unique knowledge and balance that women bring to Country would remain a permanent part of our team. Our women quickly proved their capability, to the extent that within a year we were hosting the Kimberley Women’s Ranger Forum at Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge). Our Ranger team is defined by our diversity and collaboration. Working on a vast range of projects ensures that all of our muwayi are being cared for. By drawing on the unwavering support of our longstanding partners we are able to realise the obligations that Bunuba people hold to look after Country. Jalangurru Muwayi means Jalangurru Dawangarri – healthy country means healthy people. In this way our Bunuba Ranger program is more than just the conservation of our Country, it is the preservation and continual realisation of the cultural identity and responsibilities that we have upheld since the beginning of time.