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Introducing Pilungah Reserve

Amelia Caddy
Published 14 Oct 2021 by Amelia Caddy

In July 2021, Wangkamadla people’s rights to over 3 million hectares of their country in far western Queensland were formally recognised in a native title determination. To celebrate, the 233,000-hectare reserve formerly known as Cravens Peak will now be renamed Pilungah Reserve.

This renaming has come about because of Bush Heritage’s deepening relationship with Wangkamadla people – a relationship that has been built through over a decade of conversations and collaboration, including entering into a Cultural Heritage Management Agreement in 2014.

Most importantly though, it is a change that is meaningful to Wangkamadla people, and which reflects their long-standing connection to their country and culture.

Pilungah Reserve once lay on a trade route stretching from Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria all the way to South Australia. The local narcotic plant Pituri was traded for stone knives, seashells and even dugong-tusk daggers. Today, rock paintings and significant sites can be found scattered all across the landscape.

We spoke to Avelina Tarrago – Wangkamadla woman, Queensland Barrister and Bush Heritage Board member - to find out what the renaming means to her.

What is the significance of the name ‘Pilungah’?

Pilungah is the name of a spring near the reserve’s homestead. It’s got a very sad history because before Bush Heritage bought the land, the former manager bulldozed it, so it no longer exists. I think that’s a story that needs to be told – there’s value in passing that knowledge down because otherwise, no one would know that the spring was ever there.

Springs are life for Wangkamadla people because water is life. All our people are connected through various dreamings, but rainmaker dreaming through that particular country is especially important - the rainmakers were holding ceremonies through all those areas.

Why is it important to you that this reserve is known by that name?

Pilungah is our name and it’s been known by this name since long before anyone else came onto our country. That is the name of the place, and it should be recognised as such, and that’s why it’s so important. It’s also important to show the broader community that our language is still around and our knowledge of our places, whether they’re sacred or not, is still preserved.

Using the traditional names of places encapsulates them for perpetuity so that everyone will know what that place is called. Even if language fades away, the name will always be there and acknowledged.

What do you love most about your country?

I get a wash of heat knowing where my ancestors have walked before me, and rejuvenation. The fact that it is so remote means I can disconnect from this world I have to live in. And there’s also just that sense of belonging – that true sense of belonging. Even though I haven’t grown up there on country like my mum did, that bond is still so strong.

Aboriginal concepts of conservation are being on country and looking after country – that is our whole vision. We are so intertwined, country is so integral to our being. When country is sick, we become sick as Traditional Owners. It’s like a part of your soul.

What makes you most hopeful for your country?

The fact that we’re continuing to work with Bush Heritage in these protected areas. Because of Bush Heritage’s partnerships with research groups, we’re coming to know the western scientific value of our country and getting that two-way science. And then we can teach that to our kids and help them to understand how our cultural science, which is so important, interconnects with western science.

How have you seen the relationship between Wangkamadla people and Bush Heritage evolve over the past two decades?

We started working together around 2009. A lot has changed since then and the past five years in particular have been very fruitful. I’m hoping that our relationship will only ever get stronger.

As Wangkamadla people get more economic sustainability in the region, I’m looking forward to seeing how our partnership might evolve. Ultimately, it’s about promoting the importance of protecting this area and everything that makes it so unique.

Pilungah Reserve is home to many reptile species. Photo by Pete Wallis. Pilungah Reserve is home to many reptile species. Photo by Pete Wallis.
Pilungah Reserve, Wangkamadla country. Photo by Pete Wallis. Pilungah Reserve, Wangkamadla country. Photo by Pete Wallis.
Avelina Tarrago (third from left) with her family on Pilungah Reserve. Photo by Pete Wallis. Avelina Tarrago (third from left) with her family on Pilungah Reserve. Photo by Pete Wallis.
Avelina Tarrago speaks with Pilungah Reserve Managers Corinna Clark and Ingo Schomacker. Photo by Pete Wallis. Avelina Tarrago speaks with Pilungah Reserve Managers Corinna Clark and Ingo Schomacker. Photo by Pete Wallis.

Stories from Pilungah

Prescribed burn at Pilunga Reserve, Wangkamadla Country. By Bee Stephens

BUSHTRACKS 27/10/2023

Land, bird, smoke and man

Prescribed burns on Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves, Wangkamadla Country, prepare the landscape for bushfire season and enhance biodiversity.

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A flooded claypan at Pilungah Reserve. By Ingo Schomacker

BUSHTRACKS 13/06/2023

A dry flood

In summer vast tracts of Central West Queensland’s channel country were covered in water. Our Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves are now preparing for the other side of the ‘boom-bust’ cycle.

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BLOG 11/03/2022

My Dingo buddy

While volunteering at Pilungah Reserve, north of the Simpson Desert in far western Queensland, Paul Graham had a profound experience connecting with a young dingo.

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BLOG 21/02/2022

What has all this rain meant for our fire team?

The 2021/22 La Nina has brought significant rainfall to the eastern seaboard of Australia, while the west has seen below average conditions. Here are some weather highlights from the first few months.

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BUSHTRACKS 14/01/2022

Corinna Clark's happy place

When the sun sets down beyond the sand dunes at Pilungah Reserve in far western Queensland, we like to go and sit on a sand dune near the homestead dubbed Little Red.

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BLOG 14/10/2021

Introducing Pilungah Reserve

Our decision to rename Cravens Peak Reserve in far western Queensland acknowledges the enduring connection of Wangkamadla people to their country. We spoke to Wangkamadla woman Avelina Tarrago about what the change means to her.

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Gidgee on Ethabuka Reserve.

BUSHTRACKS 07/10/2021

Our disappearing desert havens

When bushfires burn through the spinifex plains on Ethabuka and Pilungah reserves, arid species find refuge in Gidgee woodlands that are as vital to their survival as they are threatened.

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BLOG 26/03/2021

A healthy desert is crucial for my culture’s survival

A new report published last week highlights 19 ecosystems on land and sea country that are unravelling due to pressures from climate change and human impacts. The Georgina Gidgee woodlands of central Australia is one of them.

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BLOG 26/03/2020

Frog highways on Cravens

With 81mm in the first half of March, the ephemeral swamps and claypans in the sandhill country of Cravens Peak have filled. Halfway Swamp, 5km west of the Homestead, is bursting with life.

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BLOG 10/02/2020

Examining owl vomit

While the idea of trawling through owl vomit might be nausea-inducing for some (picture skeletal remains, fur and feathers), for our senior ecologist Dr Alex Kutt it’s a clever way to find out more about the secrets of the land.

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BLOG 15/05/2019

A boom year at Cravens Peak

Cravens Peak Reserve has received 225 mm of rain this year in two extraordinary rain events, and the desert's plants and animals are loving it.

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BUSHTRACKS 11/12/2018

My Happy Place (Jane Blackwood)

I have lots of favourite spots on Cravens Peak and they’re all places that make me feel strong and happy, and connected to the country that I live on. One of those places is S-Bend Gorge; I never fail to feel completely embraced when I’m at S-Bend.

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BUSHTRACKS 11/12/2018

Outback extremes

A more sophisticated understanding of how climate change will impact Cravens Peak and Ethabuka reserves is focusing our conservation efforts when and where they will do the greatest good.

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BLOG 18/09/2018

Behind the scenes at Cravens Peak

An inside look into what it takes to capture a feature story about a Bush Heritage reserve. Mount Isa's low peaks are still visible behind us as we turn our 4WD south and head down the single lane highway towards Boulia. We're on our way to Cravens Peak Reserve in far western Queensland for a feature story on reserve manager Jane Blackwood to be published in the Courier Mail's Saturday magazine Qweekend.

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BLOG 27/08/2018

No 3 – is 5 star now

With many hours of planning and hard work, Number 3 Ringers' Hut on Cravens Peak Reserve has been restored to its former glory.

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BLOG 07/08/2018

Revisiting Cravens Peak after 33 years

Recently Dr John Winter and his wife, Helen Myles, who are long-term donors to Bush Heritage Australia, visited Cravens Peak as volunteers. John, Helen and their wider family make an annual Christmas donation to Ethabuka Reserve, which John first visited in August 1985 - 33 years ago! He was a member of a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services Diamantina Fauna Survey team.

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BLOG 20/07/2018

Holy owl vomit. To the Bat Cave!

With Bush Heritage ecologist Pippa Kern I travelled to a cave known as Bat Hole in the far west of Cravens Peak Reserve to collect owl pellets.

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BLOG 11/12/2017

An unforgettable volunteer experience

Back in September, Victorian-based volunteer Nathan Manders answered the call for reserve support to one of our most remote properties - Cravens Peak on the edge of the Simpson Desert. Here Nathan shares his reflections and some of his stunning images from that trip - one that he'll never forget.

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BLOG 27/11/2017

Desert butterflies

Deb Bisa, currently volunteering at Cravens Peak, has noted a few butterfly sightings during her stay since early November. One of these was a male Clearwing Swallowtail (Cressida cressida) that was 'netted' after a long period of windy days. This species has predominantly a coastal distribution where its food plants occur, and occasional vagrants reach inlands areas.

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BUSHTRACKS 11/04/2016

Happy 10th birthday Cravens Peak

In 2006, Bush Heritage purchased 233,000 hectares of remarkable desert country. In 2016, Cravens Peak celebrates its tenth birthday, and the remarkable people that have brought it this far.

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BLOG 30/11/2015

Happy birthday Cravens Peak

Ecologist Murray Haseler looks back at 10 years of conservation management on Cravens Peak and the gradual improvements in condition that have been hard fought and won.

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