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Sylvester Mangolamara: Wunambal Warrior

Published 21 Sep 2013 

Bush Heritage marks the passing of Wunambal Gaambera elder Sylvester Mangolamara, a man who inspired his people and left a legacy for their traditional lands.

Sylvester Mangolamara.Photo by Peter Morris

During the silence of an August Kalumburu morning, a solitary brolga appeared near the mourners who had gathered to pay their affectionate respects to Sylvester. The brolga was well known to the gathering, as ‘Lanky', a bird that Sylvester had adopted as a chick years earlier. During the service Lanky approached, circled the grave, then left.

"It was a memory I think will stay with most who were there that morning," says Tom Vigilante, Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Manager, supported by Bush Heritage, who worked with Sylvester and his people.

Boab tree, Wunambal Gaambera country.Boab tree, Wunambal Gaambera country. Photo: Annette Ruzicka

Sylvester was not only a director and cultural advisor for the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), but an inspiration to many. Sylvester offered his people leadership, inspiring them to look after the culture and country that means so much to them and to join forces with Bush Heritage and its supporters.

"We called Sylvester our Wunambal Warrior - he knew a lot about his law and culture and was out there teaching it to other people. He loved what he was doing for his people and country," says Neil Waina, Uunguu Head Ranger, who works with a team of Uunguu Rangers responsible for caring for Wunambal Gaambera country.

That country is also known as uunguu - our living home - in the local language. It covers a vast 2.5 million hectares of diverse land and sea country, including islands, and encompasses spectacular scenery like Punamii‑Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls) and extensive rock art galleries in remote Far North Kimberley, Western Australia.

Wunambal Gaambera coastal islandWunambal Gaambera coastal island. Photo: Peter Morris

Since 2006 your support has helped Bush Heritage work with the Wunambal Gaambera people to look after these precious ancient lands, which are now listed in Australia's National Reserve system as the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area. Sylvester was a passionate traditional owner of these lands for many years.

In 2006, he became the first Head Ranger of the Uunguu Rangers, a new team established to monitor, manage and maintain the Wunambal Gaambera people's traditional lands as part of our Healthy Country Partnership. The rangers are an essential part of the care of these lands today.

"Sylvester knew everything there is to know about the country and he was teaching everyone about their country. He told us whose country belonged to who and who speaks for that area," continues Neil.

Wunambal Gaambera sunsetSunset over Wunambal Gaambera country. Photo: Peter Morris

"He worked hard to leave his legacy for future generations," says Bevan Stott, CEO of the WGAC. "He was a main writer of the Uunguu Plants and Animals book, which records traditional knowledge of important plant and animal species together with their names in Wunambal Gaambera languages and will be a great resource for future generations."

Bush Heritage CEO, Gerard O'Neill, remembers Sylvester's charismatic nature. "Sylvester's leadership has meant Wunambal Gaambera and Bush Heritage now have a solid partnership: a true relationship," he says. "We will miss him and know that his enduring legacy lights our way forward."

We called Sylvester our Wunambal Warrior... he loved what he was doing for his people and country.

– Neil Waina, Uunguu Head Ranger