Wunambal Gaambera

Last updated 27 Mar 2018 
A map showing the location of Carnarvon Reserve in Central Queensland.

Established: 2011
Area: 759,806 ha (Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area stages 1 & 2)
Location: 600km north-east of Derby

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On the far north-west coast of the Kimberley are the lands and waters of the Wunambal Gaambera people. This beautiful and remote biodiversity hotspot covers an incredible 2.5 million hectares of white sandy beaches, rocky escarpments and rugged gorges, including iconic locations such as Punami Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls).

Dugongs and Turtles swim the warm waters off the coast, while Humpback Whales nurse their calves around the offshore islands.

Punami Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls) is one of the iconic tourist destinations on Wunambal Gaambera Country.
Punami Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls) is one of the iconic tourist destinations on Wunambal Gaambera Country.
The wetlands, woodlands and savannahs provide vital habitat for vulnerable birds, animals and aquatic creatures such as Longneck Turtle (wulumara), Black Grass Wren, Scaly Tail Possum (yilangal) and Monjon – the world's smallest rock wallaby.

The Wunambal Gaambera people have lived and hunted here for thousands of years and call it Uunguu – their living home. Everything in Uunguu is looked after properly under traditional Wanjina and Wunggurr Law.

In this stunning and remarkably healthy landscape there have been no mammal extinctions. Our actions together will help ensure this legacy continues.

Indigenous Protected Area declared

The Wunambal Gaambera coast. Photo by Peter Morris
The Wunambal Gaambera coast. Photo by Peter Morris
In May 2011, after some 20 years of struggle, the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation finally secured native title over their country. At the same time they declared the first stage of the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), covering 343,700 hectares, and entered into a 10-year partnership with us.

This was the first long-term agreement in Australia between traditional landowners and a non-government conservation organisation.

It was the culmination of many years' work by the Wunambal Gaambera people, and 5 years of collaboration with us, in which traditional knowledge and western science were combined and together.

The Healthy Country Plan

Uunguu Ranger Leonie Cheinmora. Photo Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation.
Uunguu Ranger Leonie Cheinmora. Photo Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation.
The Healthy Country Plan was developed through a series of workshops and field trips facilitated by Bush Heritage and the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation. Together, participants mapped out a vision for their Uunguu that would help identify priorities for local rangers.

These included managing firecontrolling weeds and feral animals, managing visitors, conserving cultural heritage and monitoring the health of plants and animals.

Uunguu includes culturally significant Wanjina and Gwion rock art, which is a conservation target.
Uunguu includes culturally significant Wanjina and Gwion rock art, which is a conservation target.
In 2015 the second stage of the IPA was declared, bringing the total area to 759,806 hectares. It was also the midpoint for the Healthy Country Plan, triggering a comprehensive review of progress.

An expert Uunguu Monitoring and Evaluation Committee – an innovative, intercultural and interdisciplinary body – was brought together to evaluate progress. Results were positive and also provided feedback for flexible, adaptations to the plan, which has been consistently described by external parties as ‘the gold standard’ for IPA management planning (particularly the high level of community engagement).

What we've helped achieve

Healthy Country Manager Tom Vigilante works with the Uunguu Rangers.
Healthy Country Manager Tom Vigilante works with the Uunguu Rangers.
As part of the Healthy Country Plan, Wunambal Gaambera traditional landowners and Bush Heritage have:

  • appointed a Healthy Country Manager to work on the ground with traditional landowners and rangers.
  • maintained the pristine, cattle-free status of Bougainville Peninsula and its monsoon vine thickets through a cattle-proof fence.
  • controlled weeds such as Grader Grass, which help spread wildfires and compete with native grasses.
  • recorded cultural sites and monitored populations of native animals and plants.

Preventing wildfires

Uunguu Rangers creating a mosaic of 'cool' burns. Photo Peter Morris.
Uunguu Rangers creating a mosaic of 'cool' burns. Photo Peter Morris.
Every June the Healthy Country Team set off on the ‘Right Way Fire' walk. This is a traditional method of lighting cool burns by hand to prevent wildfires and protect vulnerable native flora and fauna.

For five days they live off the land, catching and eating bush tucker such as yams, freshwater crocodile and bream. As they walk they light fires with matches and ‘fire brands' – a traditional tool made of gathered grass. They also record important animals, plants and birds.

PhD student Stefania Ondei has also worked with the Wunambal Gaambera to help map more than 6,000 patches of rainforest

Pandanus Creek at Truscott. Photo Peter Martin.
Pandanus Creek at Truscott. Photo Peter Martin.
“Now that the rainforests have been mapped we can actually have their locations in front of us on a tablet when rangers are doing aerial burning in the helicopter,” said Tom Vigilante. “They can have the information right at their fingertips about where they are and how they might apply fire in that area to look after the rainforest.”

Visitor management

An Uunguu Visitor Pass has been created to help manage tourists through the area. As well as attractions such as Punami Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls), offshore islands such as Bigge Island and Jar Island are also popular tourist destinations. Visitors buying an Uunguu pass are helping the Wunambal Gaambera people to:

  • Establish managed visitor sites at key locations, with Uunguu Rangers and Traditional Owners welcoming, guiding and sharing culture.
  • Grow the Uunguu Ranger program with a tourism focus.
  • Provide cultural expertise and support for tour operators.
  • Develop their own authentic tourism ventures.
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