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650,000 ha / 6,500 km2
The Kimberley, North of Fitzroy Crossing, WA

Bunuba country is in the central-west Kimberley. The town of Fitzroy Crossing, where most Bunuba people live, sits in the south-east corner, 400km inland from Broome.

From there the lands run north along Bandaral Ngarri (the Fitzroy River) to Jijidu (Dimond Gorge), then westward along Miluwindi (formerly known as the King Leopold Ranges) as far as the Gibb River Road, south and west to Malaraba (the Erskine Range), and back to Dawadiya (Trig Hill) near Fitzroy Crossing.

It’s a rich and beautiful country. To the north the land is dominated by rugged sandstone, including the Wunaamin-Miliwundi (formerly King Leopold Ranges). Running through the centre are the limestone Napier Ranges in the western half and Oscar Ranges in the eastern half.

This band of limestone was once a coral reef when the ocean was high and marine fossils can still be seen in caves, tunnels, cliffs and gorges.

Hidden within are remnant rainforest patches with rare plants and animals, while vast grasslands and plains provide extensive hunting and gathering areas.

The Fitzroy River winds through Bunuba Country. Photo BDAC.

The life-giving waters of the mighty Fitzroy River, along with other smaller rivers and waterholes, run through providing habitat for the gayi (Freshwater Crocodile), nyanyani (Sawfish) and jawiyiwiy or ngangu (Bull Shark).

The Bunuba people’s Native Title rights were recognised after a 13-year process in 2012 – they hold exclusive rights to 3,500km2.

On invitation from community leaders, we launched a partnership with the Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) to help develop and implement their Jalangurru Muwayi (Healthy Country) Plan.

Freshwater Crocodiles and Swordfish are some of the many freshwater species on Bunuba Country. Photo BDAC.

What Bunuba Country protects

Muwayi is a Bunuba word meaning ‘land’, or country. Bunuba Muwayi features:

Winamu and Balili (sandstone and limestone ranges): Contain rock art, ceremonial places and species such as Rock Wallabies and Cypress Pine. Pockets of isolated vine thickets contain endemic species.

Garuwa places (springs, rivers and waterholes): Rivers flow and flood seasonally, providing billabongs and waterholes for Freshwater Crocs, Water Monitors and species such as the endangered Purple-crowned Fairy-wren.

Galanganyja — blacksoil plains: Lowlands are dominated by fertile black soils – key hunting areas for gurudunggu (wallaby), gananganyja (Emu), galamuda (bush turkey) and baniy (goanna). Right-way fire is critical for protecting.

Plants and bush medicines: Ngirridu (spinifex wax) is harvested for colds while mala wanjali (freshwater mangrove leaves) are chewed for toothache. Recording such traditional knowledge is a priority.

Garuwa (freshwater) animals: includes gayi (freshwater crocodile), waywurru (longnecked turtle), nyanyani (sawfish), jawiywiy (bull shark), ngawalhay (black mussels), wabada (water monitor) and fish such as balga (barramundi).

The Healthy Country Project

(Jalangurru Muwayi)

Healthy Country planning followed an internationally recognised process, based on the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. Between 2014 and 2017, a number of planning workshops were held on country allowing all Bunuba people to have a say.

Key elements discussed included a shared vision for the future, choosing conservation targets, defining success, developing strategies and identifying potential threats.

The result is the Jalangurru Muwayi Healthy Country Plan, which provides an overview of how the Bunuba community sees its country as a whole, living, interconnected system, and spells out how it should be cared for.

Healthy Country Planning. Photo BDAC.

Many partners

The Bunuba people have always been on the front foot in initiating relationships with others to help protect their country and culture.

In addition to working with Bush Heritage and other environment groups (such as Environs Kimberley) they’ve worked for many years with Parks and Wildlife Service (PaWS) to manage the Geike Gorge and Windjana Gorge National Parks and worked closely with scientists researching archaeology, animals, plants and rock art.

They’ve also created a unique educational partnership with Melbourne’s Wesley College – the Yiramalay Studio School on Yarranggi, providing education and cross cultural exchanges for both Kimberley and Wesley kids.

Bunuba Rangers. Photo BDAC.

The Bunuba Rangers

The Bunuba Rangers, based in Fitzroy Crossing, are an independent group established by the Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC). The Department of Parks and Wildlife funds the rangers to help manage significant central west Kimberley conservation reserves established on Bunuba country.

Bunuba Rangers are the main force carrying out the Jalangurru Muwayi Plan, with support from BDAC, partners and the wider Bunuba community.

Bunuba Rangers. Photo BDAC.
Bunuba Rangers. Photo BDAC.

Guided walks in Bunuba country

The many tourists visiting parks in Bunuba country present opportuntities as well as challenges. One way to experience the wonders of the Kimberley and see the impact Aboriginal ranger programs are having in this part of Australia is through the program of Kimberley Country Guided Walks.

“We understand and we see how we can make a difference, working with people we help them and we help ourselves while taking care of country.”
– Clive Aiken, Founding Bunuba Ranger Coordinator.

Culture and traditional knowledge

The Bunuba people have extended families, or clans, called Dawangarri. In the days before European settlement there were 18 Dawangarri, each with its own territory. Together they made up the Bunuba nation – separate groups of river, ranges, plains and fringing-desert people.

They would hunt and gather according to traditional seasons, for which animals and plants were important indications.

Bunuba Seasonal Calendar. Image BDAC.

Bunuba people are also custodians of the nationally significant Jandamarra story.

Protecting their cultural history and recording and preserving language and traditions is a priority in the Healthy Country Plan.

Archaeological work at Jumburrurru (Carpenter’s Gap) has shown Bunuba people have been on this land for at least 46,000 years.

Through practising law and culture, as has been done here for around 2,000 generations, Bunuba people are keeping this country, with its animals, plants and spirits, alive and healthy, just as it keeps the Bunuba people alive and healthy.

Bunuba bush medicine. Photo BDAC.