Karajarri country is known as the gateway to the Kimberley.
This stunning and unspoilt part of the world nestles in the south-western corner of north-western Australia, spanning more than 3 million hectares from the Indian Ocean in the west to the Great Sandy Desert in the east.
Brilliant blue waters dotted with mangroves lap onto sandy white beaches covered with shells. This is what Karajarri people call Jurarr (coastal country). As you go eastwards this turns towards Pirra (inland country), characterised by sparse vegetation and the red desert dunes of the Great Sandy Desert.
Jurrar includes beaches, tidal creeks, bays, reefs and sea-grass beds and provides vital habitat for numerous marine species, such as the Flatback Turtles that lay their eggs on Malumpurr (Eighty Mile Beach), and the Dugongs and Snubfin Dolphins often glimpsed swimming in the warm water just off the coast.
Pirra contains wetlands high in species richness, particularly breeding birds. It’s home to beautiful species such as the Gouldian Finch and Princess Parrot as well as rare mammals such as the Greater Bilby and the mysterious Marsupial Mole.
Karajarri country is also home to two internationally significant wetlands, and provides habitat for many endangered species. Together, we’re working to protect this stunning part of the world for future generations.
In 2002 and 2004 Karajarri people secured Native Title for most of their traditional lands and the Karajarri Traditional Lands Association (KTLA) was established.
In 2014, Karajarri declared an Indigenous Protected Area over much of their country, and the Karajarri Healthy Country Plan was born.
The Karajarri Rangers
The Karajarri Ranger team is responsible for looking after country by implementing the Karajarri Healthy Country Plan 2013 – 2023.
Based out of Bidyadanga community, the Karajarri rangers are supported by the Kimberley Land Council and funded through the Australian Government’s Indigenous Rangers Program.
Their work is hugely diverse, spanning fire management, biodiversity monitoring and research, cultural site management, cultural awareness and immersion experiences, feral animal and weed management and fostering tourism on Karajarri country.
At the time of writing there were 10 full-time rangers, five in the Karajarri Men’s Ranger team (established in 2006), and five in the Karajarri Women’s Ranger team (established in 2018).
Supporting more Karajarri women, particularly young women, to work on country is the main focus of our partnership, which was officially launched in 2019.
For young women in the Karajarri community, a ranger job provides the chance to learn on country from senior women with important knowledge of bush foods, bush medicines, fishing and hunting. A trainee program between the female ranger team and the local high school in Bidyadanga community is providing a pathway to ranger work.
“The Karajarri Women’s Ranger Program is giving women an opportunity to be part of the big picture, be part of the big decisions and be part of looking after country,” says Bush Heritage National Aboriginal Engagement Manager Cissy Gore-Birch.
“Having women on country really changes that mindset and attitudes of people in communities that women are more than capable of doing ranger work.”
Culture and traditional knowledge
In Karajarri culture, all forms of life are connected to Pukarrikarrajangka (the Dreamtime). This includes the landscape, people, language and customs.
“It’s very important to keep our culture and language strong and alive, because if we lose it, we lose our identity,” said Senior Cultural Karajarri Ranger Jessica Bangu.
Karajarri people believe it’s their responsibility to look after country and ensure traditions are passed on to future generations.
This deep spiritual, physical and emotional connection to country is known as Palanapayana Tukjana Ngurra (everybody looking after country properly).
Karajarri people regularly use and maintain significant cultural sites, which include fish traps, ceremonial areas and Pulany (mythical Serpent) sites.
Other important cultural areas include freshwater spring systems such as the remote Dragon Tree Soak, historical sites such as the La Grange mission, burial sites, pearling camps and the old ration depot.
Karajarri archaeological sites contain fossils and extensive middens, burial sites and rock art.
Where to from here?
As part of our partnership, Bush Heritage is providing financial and technical in-kind support, with further investment expected in the coming years.
“It’s through partnerships that you can have the biggest impact,” said Bush Heritage CEO Heather Campbell. “The KTLA is an amazing organisation and by working together we can collectively all make a real difference.”