Ngadju people are actively caring for their country and implementing a Healthy Country Plan. Ngadju Rangers look after the Ngadju bunna and undertake works on country to protect spiritual sites; manage fire, weeds and ferals, and monitor and protect wildlife.
The Ngadju people’s traditional lands cover a large portion of the Great Western Woodlands and extends down to the Great Australian Bight and along the Nullarbor Plain to the east. In 2014 the Ngadju were granted Native Title over more than 5 million ha of land – the largest native title area in Australia. 4.4 million hectares of Ngadju country was declared an Indigenous Protected Area in 2020.
Gondwana Link have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Ngadju community to give assistance in the development of a caring for country program. This work has been supported by the Pew Environmental Trust, Rangelands NRM, The Nature Conservancy and the legendary Gondwana Link Program Manager Peter Price.
At the Ngadju people’s request, Gondwana Link facilitated the development of a Ngadju Healthy Country Plan. This involved bring Ngadju Elders and community members together to plan, agree and document what is needed to care for country. As a result certain places and ecosystems, as well as Ngunnamara (malleefowl), were prioritised for restoration and protection as well as the building of Ngadju conservation knowledge and capacity.
A Ngadju Ranger program was established in 2015. Rangelands NRM were instrumental in providing the funding to underpin the on-ground works and provide the materials and resources needed. The Ngadju people set up Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation (NCAC) in 2017 and Gondwana Link were generous in handing over their resources to the NCAC.
The Ranger program commenced with certified training in Conservation Land Management. Soon after the Rangers were also trained in Fire Fighting by DFES and started the Dundas Rural Bushfire Brigade.
Very little is known about the threatened malleefowl in Ngadju country. A malleefowl survey program was instituted and surveys are undertaken periodically. Large fires across Ngadju country have, unfortunately, given rise to the opportunity to monitor the effect of fire on malleefowl distribution and nesting. The Rangers have been pleasantly surprised to find nest mounds being built in country not long after a burn.
Remote camera traps are used for monitoring and to answer questions such as: what animals use a gnamma (rock water hole) as a water source; are there feral animals in the area; is this malleefowl mound being used; and what animals live in the logs in this area. NCAC developed a database to store the data and information gained from field work.
The Rangers work to protect culturally significant places. Bollards may be installed to stop vehicles from driving over special places and educational signage helps to alert people to the cultural values and how to respect them.
Water trees are very important culturally. When the Ngadju people lived traditional lives, water trees, a tree shaped when young to have a bowl of water in the middle of surrounding trunks, was an important water source when crossing country. The rangers, particularly the women, have been mapping the occurrence of the water trees. It is very sad that recent fires have killed many of the water trees that have been used for decades, perhaps centuries.
Weed control is ongoing. An infestation of Noogurra Burr was detected and controlled for which the Department of Agriculture were very pleased to support. A local contractor taught the team cactus control methods and the team have controlled large areas of cactus on public and pastoral lands.
There has been mining exploration across Ngadju lands. One of the legacies is ghost holes – exploration core holes which animals fall into and die. The Rangers have been mapping the holes and will fill or cap the holes to stop the death of many animals.
Cultural burning regimes have been neglected for many decades and the Ngadju wish to reinstate this activity to replicate the fire regimes the land was under for thousands of years before colonialism. The CSIRO and the Ngadju people have documented the use of fire in traditional life in the Ngadju kala report. The Ngadju have the fire training and equipment to practice cultural fire and hope to reduce the large-scale bushfires that have been occurring over the last few decades.
As of 2018 the Ranger have a permanent base from which to operate and work. This includes entering their data, stories and knowledge into their custom build database.
The Ngadju Ranger program has increased the capacity of Ngadju to care for their country. But there have been other significant benefits. There are more formalised ways for younger generations to learn about their culture. There are opportunities for young people to do meaningful work. There is also significant interest in how the Ranger program has benefitted the health, particularly mental health, of the community.
The Ngadju land management is managed by the Ngadju Conservation.