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.