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Bunuba Country. Photo Richard Geddes.
Bunuba Country. Photo Richard Geddes.

Bunuba

Established:

2014

Area:

650,000 ha / 6,500 km2

Location:

The Kimberley, North of
Fitzroy Crossing, WA

Traditional Custodians:

Noongar – Minang
& Koreng people

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.

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.

Stories from Bunuba Country

BLOG 27/04/2021

Bunuba right-way winthali

On Bunuba country in the Kimberley, essential winthali (fire) work is being undertaken to prepare the land for the dry season.

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BUSHTRACKS 12/06/2020

Seeds of change

Fire can be as harmful as it is essential in the Kimberley of Western Australia. Maintaining that fine balance is at the heart of the Bunuba Rangers’ fire program, bringing right-way winthali back to country.

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BUSHTRACKS 16/12/2019

Food for thought

Bunuba muwayi (country) is home to many bush plants and foods. Now, in a book called Yarrangi Thangaṉi Luṉdu, Mayi Yani-u, the Bunuba community have shared their knowledge of muwayi and the stories of their abundant, beautiful and lifegiving part of the world.

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BUSHTRACKS 22/03/2019

Burning the right way

Using Western technologies and traditional knowledge to keep country healthy and a millenia-old tradition alive.

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BLOG 17/10/2018

Noodling with crocs in Bunuba Country

Being invited to join the Bunuba Rangers and Parks and Wildlife rangers at the annual Winjana Gorge Freshwater Crocodile survey has been an indredible introduction to my new role in Bunuba Country.

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BLOG 10/05/2018

Preparing for Barrangga

Recently I had the pleasure of being part of the annual fire management work undertaken by the Bunuba Rangers and Traditional Landowners on Leopold Downs Station (Yarrangi) in the Kimberley.

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BLOG 27/10/2016

Fire fighting green team

Bunuba Rangers attended the recent Kimberley mega wildfire, which has burnt over 1.5 million ha of remote county across the indigenous protected areas (IPAs) and pastoral properties in the western Kimberley.

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BLOG 20/07/2016

Bunuba rock art maintenance

The Kimberly is well known for its Aboriginal rock art, particularly the celebrated Wanjina paintings of the coastal areas such as found within the Bush Heritage - Wunambal Gaambera indigenous partnership area. In the western Kimberly, Bunuba rock art sets itself apart with an amazing diversity of rock art styles and ages.

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BLOG 20/06/2016

Stone axe oldest in the world

Forty nine thousand years is old by anyone's measure. The Bunuba people were proudly in the national spotlight recently when the Australian National University published its carbon dating of a Bunuba polished stone axe. The discovery pushes the development of axe technology back to between 45,000 and 49,000 years ago, coinciding with the arrival of people in Australia. The fragment is 10,000 years older than the previous oldest known axe fragments found in northern Australia in 2010.

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BLOG 14/10/2015

Croc wrangling for a healthy country

The Bunuba Rangers have just finished participating in the annual freshwater crocodile survey of Windjanna Gorge. Led by WA Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) ecologists, a spotlight survey recorded 170 crocs in the main pool, consistent with previous annual surveys.

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BLOG 05/08/2015

New partnership with Bunuba people

On invitation from community leaders in Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Bush Heritage Australia has officially launched its partnership with the Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) – this has been 18 months in development.

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