Vol 34 August newsletter now out

The past three months have been very bust for Martu and KJ. Read in the latest edition about an on country camp with over 100 people including Martu, the local police, ALS lawyers, the Magistrate gathering together on country to talk about the criminal justice system. The work the rangers have been undertaking with researchers from the University of Melbourne, The Nature Conservancy and NESP TSR Hub, to co-design a monitoring program to track trends in mankarr (bilby) populations. And the women's camp where 80 women from the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women's Council, the Njamal People's Trust, the Wirlu-Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and the Murujuga Land and Sea Unit came together to have important discussions about what women used to do in the past and what they would like to do in the future. And so much more ...

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80 women gather to share knowledge and stories

Womens camp

KJ held its second wantikaja (women's) camp at Yulpu claypan.  Martu elders invited women from the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council, the Njamal People’s Trust, the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and the Murujuga Land and Sea Unit.  Over eighty women from Martu communities and townships, Warakurna, Hedland, Roebourne and Dampier arrived on Monday, some flying from Alice Springs, others driving for two days from Dampier!

During the trip, the women had important discussions about what women used to do in the past and what they would like to do in the future.  A number of important sites were visited in the vicinity of Yulpu, where the elders told stories about these places and also life during pujiman (bushman) days.  There was a lot of learning by the younger women from the elders and the camp went exceptionally well.  

Thank you to Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service for all your pre-trip help and for providing a nurse to accompany us on the trip, East Pilbara Independence Support in Newman for providing specialised equipment, MAC for providing vehicles and four MAC wanti (women) rangers, and the Njamal, Yindjibarndi and NYC for their involvement and support.   Thank you to the Department of Culture and the Arts,  the Martu Future Fund and the Newman Women's Shelter for your financial support.

Thank you also to Anne Saw who donated over 50 beanies, some of which were hand knitted, for Martu.  The beanies were handed out on the camp and were a real hit.

Anne sent in a short story of her time working with the Martu.  It is a wonderful read:

I first went to Jigalong community in 1977 when I was working for the WA government Dental program. 
One dentist, Dr David Friend, and me as dental nurse, had the extraordinary job of visiting country towns and isolated communities to provide dental work in remote areas. We travelled in a kitted out land cruiser from Perth to Kununurra and would set up in hospitals or community health centres, firstly along the coastal and then the inland route.  
David Friend was a New Zealander; capable, down to earth, well travelled and he had to wear more than his dental hat at many times, he would have made a good doctor and he was an excellent dentist. I was really just a kid on a bit of a working adventure. I quietly and happily celebrated my 21st birthday that July at Halls Creek.
I was actually in my element, I loved driving those long distances, seeing how the vegetation, landscape and colours of the earth changed as we ventured further north. Meeting different people from all walks of life, seemingly appearing out of nowhere in these remote places for treatment and to tell their personal stories really made me wonder at life and people's ability to endure harsh conditions with tenacity and humour. 
At the outback communities we were welcomed by the local First Nations People.  Amongst the many places we visited, Yandeyarra and Jigalong stood out and meant the most to both David and I. 
We stayed at Jigalong for a few weeks treating the community. 
Not long after we arrived at Jigalong we were asked to assist with the arrival of the flying doctor as someone had been injured, which involved lining the edge of the runway with tin cans containing candles, which we lit to guide the plane that was coming in after dark. Exciting stuff!
I liked the place, the colour of the earth, I especially enjoyed the little children and struck up a friendship with a couple of young girls who were about 19. (I had kept a journal which I lost when I was travelling in New Zealand the following year, so I have unfortunately forgotten many names, events and places, but I never forgot their sweet faces.) 
Everyone came and watched an outdoor movie one night, I sat with little kids in my lap. 
We were taken out on country to the east, a long way to a magnificent water hole with huge red rocks jutting out to the pure blue sky. 
While I was at Jigalong I decided that I would leave the dental van at the end of that trip. I hadn't told anyone of my plans to finish up. The elders called a meeting to which I was invited and amazingly, they asked me to come back and mind the store while the usual storekeeper went on a months break! 
How did the elders know I could or would do that?  It was their magic, wisdom and connection, I supposed. 
So of course I agreed to return to Jigalong to work in the store. I wasn't great at the job to be honest! I did ok but I'm not much of a shopkeeper type, and the best thing really was just being there, seeing and chatting with the community members coming and going each day. 
This was a very special time in my life. I felt incredibly honoured to have the opportunity to experience an outback world for a brief period of time. 
To breathe in the expanse of earth and sky and to meet so many beautiful people was a gift I have always remembered and treasured.

The other week I was cold in the night and I thought about those who do not have the urban comforts that I have and I thought I must do something to help someone. I thought about the Jigalong community having those cold nights and mornings and I thought providing beanies was personally doable and would hopefully bring a little warmth this season. 
Shame I haven't thought of doing this long before - but with age comes wisdom! 

I'm sure the women's camp will be a good get together; kindly send the women my love, respect and gratitude.
Yours sincerely,
Anne Saw (Unsworth)

Martu on country to talk about the Criminal Justice System

DW_group_stitch by Dave Wells.jpg

The Martu Leadership Program (MLP) participants have just returned from a four day camp on country attended by key law agencies, departments and organisations.  Over 100 people were present for this important meeting that was held deep on Martu country not far from the Parnngurr community, located in the Western Desert.

The motivations for this meeting were simple.  Martu want to reduce the number of Martu going to lock-up.  They feel it is time to form a different sort of relationship with key whitefellas working in the criminal justice system.  They feel that Martu working closely with police, lawyers, prison and the Pilbara magistrate is the way for everyone to change the story.

To help everyone on this journey the MLP organised this meeting on country to start the conversation.   They invited Pilbara Magistrate Michelle Ridley, OIC Newman Police - Mark Fleskens, Senior Sergeant Jigalong - Bob Scott, Executive Manager for Indigenous and Community Diversity - Robert Skesteris,  Aboriginal Legal Service Lawyers, Alice Barter and Melita Medcalf and Roebourne Regional Prison Senior staff- Catherine Bailey and Christina O’Brien.

KJ CEO Kate Mackie says “The PDC are connected to this story through their support of the MLP.  It’s an exciting new story emerging that seeks to follow Martu aspirations for strengthening Martu families and their communities.”

This was an unprecedented and unique opportunity for Martu to talk with such a collection of people.  The visitors knew that it was their chance to listen and Martu were keen to share their ideas.   Everyone was keen to explore new methods within the criminal justice system that would give better outcomes for Martu and the broader community.   The key programs and extension areas that were discussed included:

  • Diversion program;

  • Licensing program;

  • Teaching whitefellas about Martu and bringing them closer;

  • Teaching Martu in prison;

  • Stronger transition for Martu post prison;

  • Reducing recidivism; and

  • Learning about court.

Billy Landy, mentor for the Martu Leadership Program felt that this was a big moment in time for Martu “We haven’t been able to talk like this before.  I feel really proud for my people that we are taking this on.  The whitefellas are listening to our story and we see that as a big respect

Linking to KJ’s successful ranger and Leadership programs to take Martu out for the Criminal Justice System.  Everyone wants the same thing.  To keep the young people out of trouble. 

Snr Sergeant Mark Fleskens observed  “We may be at an early part of a big journey, but what a great start to exploring new ways of doing things.  The possibilities are considerable and now the real work begins

The MLP will now work closely with local police, ALS lawyers, the magistrate and Prison staff on a raft of initiatives.   The key is seen as everyone working together – Kujungka


Check out the film here

Expression of Interest (EOI) for Ranger Coordinator roles

Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) operates an Indigenous ranger program based out of the Martu communities in the Western Desert. The program delivers a range of environmental activities using a mixture of traditional knowledge and contemporary science. The ranger program forms a key part of KJ’s growing social, cultural and land management activities across the Martu native title determination comprising of 13.6 million hectares of desert country.  

There may be new opportunities for Ranger Coordinators at KJ in 2017/18. As positions become available, you may be contacted and invited to submit an application addressing the selection criteria. 

For an Expression of Interest application pack and enquiries please contact jrowell@hmsolutions.com.au

EOI submissions will close 7th August, 2017

EOI Ranger Coordinator information

EOI Application pack

Martu rangers feature on Al Jazeera's Earthrise

"I take them out and teach them so they can continue the practices of their ancestors," says elder Waka Taylor to the younger rangers. "This is how our old people lit their country in bushman days, creating burnt areas so bushfood can regrow and for hunting." 

"We leave the knowledge with you," he says to ranger Jarrod Kadibil. 

Rachael Hocking travels to the Western Desert to spend time with a group of Martu rangers on a fire programme set to stop the wildfires before they take hold.

Watch the episode here


Martu Leadership participants present to Newman Police


The KJ Martu Leadership Program (MLP) participants met up with OIC Newman Police Mark Fleskens and his team at the Newman Police Headquarters.

Here the MLP participants gave a presentation about the KJ rangers and Martu Leadership Program.  This was a really good first meeting for the two groups to come together and paves the way for further discussion.  

Both the Martu team and the Newman Police are committed to developing a partnership that has the potential to open up a different dialogue between Martu and Police.  There are already plans for Mark and some of his colleagues to join the KJ rangers on country next month, along with the Pilbara magistrate Michelle Ridley.  

Aerial incendiary burning, on ground burning, waterhole mapping and Mossman River Grass mapping - a busy week for the Punmu rangers

The Punmu rangers have been busy out and about looking after Martu country.

The week started off with two reconnaissance flights, one for the women and one for the men, to assess fuel loads for fire management work. Based on fire scar maps, the aerial assessment, prior experience of rangers and advice from KJ waru (fire) officer, a number of areas were identified for fire management.

The rangers conducted aerial incendiary flights targeting old growth and medium aged spinifex areas with the aim of increasing diversity in habitat. Rangers also undertook ground burning to protect mulyamiji (great desert skink) sites.

In addition to the fire work the rangers mapped a Mossman River Grass infestation along the Punmu Access Road towards Telfer and assisted and participated in waterhole mapping work.

Using the wall map at the Lake House (Punmu ranger station) and the knowledge of elders such as Kumpaya Girgirba and Thelma Judson important sites in the Punmu/Kunawarritji area were located. Everyone talked about how the sites could be accessed from the ground, and the idea of a joint trip with the Kunawarritji rangers was suggested.

The week ended with a community BBQ at the Lake House and was attended by a large number of people including rangers, community members, and school staff.

"I was so proud of myself at this meeting last week. This leadership program, it’s really strong"


The Martu Leadership Program (MLP) is a focused community education and development program, designed to build broad-based capacity and create opportunities in remote Western Desert Aboriginal communities. It seeks to fill a gap that was seen as precluding Martu people from developing a viable economy, from engaging effectively with government and many programs, from adequately addressing entrenched social issues and from being able to take control of their future.

The MLP has demonstrated in its first three years as a pilot program that it can meet the needs of both Martu and the mainstream – government and other stakeholders with an interest in supporting economic development and empowerment in Martu communities. It is a model for building strong governance and developing broad capacity that Martu have embraced and co-designed, that they understand, that makes sense within their own perspective, culture and history, and that can also deliver on outcomes framed by Western society (in this report, characterised in Martu terms as ‘whitefellas’).

Read the evaluation of the MLP pilot program using the Social Return on Investment (SROI) methodology

Rangers undertake aerial incendiary training

Thanks to Department of Parks and Wildlife, Western Australia for helping nine KJ staff and rangers through aerial incendiary training in Newman recently.

Training was conducted in operating safely around aircraft and in the use of the R3 aerial incendiary machine. The use of the both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters for aerial incendiary work was covered in the training which resulted in trainees gaining competency for the role of bombardier.

The training was successful with Martu rangers engaged with the subject matter and some good discussions around prescribed burning practices taking place. The practical component of the course was a highlight as was everyone getting a flight in the Airvan!

A special thanks to Brad and Jamie for travelling up from the south west to show us the ropes.

KJ Healthy country Coordinator Gareth Catt demonstrating the incendiary machine for Alwyn Booth, and Abel Yallabah.

KJ Healthy country Coordinator Gareth Catt demonstrating the incendiary machine for Alwyn Booth, and Abel Yallabah.

is KJ rangers and staff with Allisdair Macdonald, Pilbara Regional Manager and Brad Bourke, Senior Fire Aviation Services Officer during the training.

is KJ rangers and staff with Allisdair Macdonald, Pilbara Regional Manager and Brad Bourke, Senior Fire Aviation Services Officer during the training.

Desert lakes fill with life

Footage: Alicia Whittington, Parks and Wildlife WA

Record summer rainfall across the western desert from the Eastern Pilbara across the border to the Northern Territory has changed the landscape dramatically. The usually dry salt pans in the eastern desert areas have been inundated to their highest level in 30 years and a rare natural phenomenon is taking place.

In response to summer rains, waterbirds that normally reside on the coast have headed inland to islands in these lakes to breed in their thousands, and have been documented by three member organisations of the Indigenous Desert Alliance (Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, Central Desert Native Title Services, Central Land Council) and the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife.

‘When we looked at the rainfall records and some satellite imagery, we knew this was a rare event’ said Gareth Catt, KJ Healthy Country Coordinator and spokesman for the Indigenous Desert Alliance.  ‘These desert landscapes are some of the largest intact natural areas left on the planet and so little is known about them. We wanted to gather as much information as possible to understand what is occurring in these remote lakes.’

Alicia Whittington, a Conservation Officer with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, explains “it was a unique opportunity to gather as much information as possible to understand the importance of these remote lakes.  Waterbirds that normally reside on the coast are known to head inland to breed on desert island lakes formed during above average summer rains.  This year has been exceptional and a rare chance to record the bird breeding in the desert”.

Parks and Wildlife arranged a small plane to conduct an aerial survey of vast wetlands, flooded rivers and lakes in conjunction with the Indigenous Desert Alliance.  Gareth Catt said “the water was so vast that we felt like we were flying over the ocean. We have long thought that these lakes are significant breeding grounds for several birds, but they exceeded our expectations”,

A large variety of water birds were recorded in this normally arid landscape. The most exciting discovery being large colonies of banded stilts on small islands in the middle of some lakes. On one lake, the estimate was close to 90,000 banded stilts; most breeding in the good conditions.

These birds are found nowhere else but in Australia, looking after them and the iconic lakes that make up their breeding grounds is vital in maintaining the integrity of a desert system we are only beginning to understand.

Walking the Cape to Cape, visiting Roebourne prison and gearing up for a busy field season

2017 is off to a busy start with lots of activities being undertaken on country.  The Martu Leadership Program participants have hiked on south-west coast as part of their annual bonding activity, the ranger teams are gearing up for a busy field season and KJ's new language program is set to start.

Read more in our first newsletter for 2017.

Download Vol 32 KJ Newsletter (6.9MB)

Click here to read the newsletter online

Northern Australia beset by floods but Indigenous groups warn of fire risk

The Guardian Wednesday 25 January 2017

Amid rising floodwaters across the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia, Indigenous environmental groups have issued a fire warning.

Heavy rain across the region has sparked flash floods, cutting off communities and knocking out communication lines, and even pushing tropical weather into the normally arid desert region.

A low-pressure system is expected to bring more heavy rain over the next week. Widespread falls of more than 100mm have been recorded across the Top End, including 275mm at Labelle, west of Litchfield national park. Darwin saw its wettest day in five years on Monday, with 145.6mm in 24 hours, and a number of roads around Katherine are under water.

While the immediate responses concentrate on assisting those affected including food drops to some remote communities, the Indigenous Desert Alliance has also urged the immediate start of fire mitigation planning.

The heavy rains have already led to rampant vegetation growth, which will become fire fuel in the dry season.

“We’re jumping the gun a little bit I suppose but it’s one of those conversations that has to happen every time one of these rain events go on, because everyone gets to it a little too late,” said Gareth Catt, spokesman for the alliance of land management groups across the central desert.

“If the weather continues it will be too wet to burn but previous experience is that after these big rain events you get big fire events.”

The last major fire events were in 2011 and 2012 across parts of the central deserts and Catt said he saw “the worst of both”.

“A fire burned something in the vicinity of 3m hectares in one hit,” he said. “If you drove from Perth to Margaret River you’d still be in the fire scar.”

When the large fires burn they destroy vegetation, habitat and wildlife, and the group wants to make plans now to get on to the affected country as soon as it’s dry enough to begin the low-intensity mosaic burning commonly carried out by Indigenous rangers.

However, not all Indigenous-owned land areas have ranger groups and the alliance is also continuing calls for more funding to expand the successful program that trains and employs Indigenous people to care for their country.

Some areas have the capacity to implement fire management but others cover millions of hectares with just a handful of rangers.

Burning on country requires the cooperation and knowledge of traditional owner groups, who have an understanding of the environment, both geographically and culturally.

“But the specific issue we’re talking about is fire and we need to look at the this now because experience has told us if we don’t start thinking about this early, as we get down the track we start to see big fires emerge and a huge response effort is put in,” Catt said.

“If we can get in early and burn country … we can reduce the need to respond so intensively, which is exhausting when it does happen, and produce a much better result for the country.”

Patrick O’Leary, spokesman for Pew Charitable Trusts, said the flooding event and potential fire event came in the context of uncertainty around ranger groups and the Indigenous protected areas many work on.

IPAs cover about 65m hectares of land, including about 43% of the national reserve system.

“The future of IPAs in the longterm is really critical in terms of this kind of land management,” O’Leary told Guardian Australia.

“It creates that strategic framework around which you prioritise things like fire management that you have to roll out throughout the year so you get good bang for your buck in terms of environmental outcomes, and Indigenous outcomes.”

The current federal funding cycle for IPAs ends next financial year and O’Leary said it was a “big question” for the environment and Indigenous affairs portfolio in the next federal budget.

The Guardian Wednesday 25 January 2017

Celebrating Partnerships

KJ has strong partnering relationships with a number of organisations.  These long term partnerships are based on a shared vision, respect, mutual trust and a desire to assist Martu in looking after country and culture. The knowledge and skills contributed by each partner have served to foster outcomes that would be difficult to achieve for either partner alone.

This short film celebrates how strong partnerships have resulted in significant social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits for Martu and their country.  



December newsletter is now out

Luke Frank and Muuki Taylor receiving the highly commended award at the 2016 Indigenous Governance Awards from Mick Dodson.

Luke Frank and Muuki Taylor receiving the highly commended award at the 2016 Indigenous Governance Awards from Mick Dodson.

2016 is drawing to a close and the weather is heating with most days at the 40 degree mark.

This final newsletter edition for this year includes our success in the 2016 Indigenous Governance Awards, our trip to Canberra meeting a number of ministers and their advisors, the amazing work the rangers have been doing out on country and the leadership participants participating in a mock court. Plus so much more!

Click here to download the PDF version of the newsletter (7.25MB)

Click here to read the newsletter online

The Martu people of the western deserts are working to protect one of the last strongholds of the iconic bilby.

Dr Anja Skroblin with the Punmu rangers checking out a mankarr burrow

Dr Anja Skroblin with the Punmu rangers checking out a mankarr burrow

Last week Dr Anja Skroblin from the University of Melbourne joined up with the Punmu ranger team to discuss and trial different approaches for surveying for mankarr (bilbies).  The group spent three days out on country surveying for mankarr and two days mapping their locations.

Sitting down with family groups in the community the elders, many of who are pujiman (bushmen and women, who were born and grew up in the desert before having first contact with European Australians in the 1950s and 1960s) mapped out where mankarr occurred when they used to walk the country.   Martu shared stories of the animals that they used to see around waterholes that families visited.  They talked about mankarr and also the mala, golden bandicoot, brush-tailed possum and quoll.  Elder Nancy Chapman said Mankarr are the only one now”.  The elders together with the rangers also mapped our where Martu have been seeing mankarr more recently. 

Martu rangers and elders described what landscape elements make good habitat for mankarr.  How right-way waru (fire) is important for encouraging growth of mankarr food plants.  The lake edge around Punmu is particularly good for mankarr as there is plentiful food (minyarra (bush onion), lunki (witchetty grubs) and ants), and there is patchy small fire history.  The groups also spoke about how foxes as well as cats are threats to mankarr.  Elder Minyawu Chapman said “Foxes are here sometimes. Foxes dig up mankarr and do more damage than cats”. 

The maps created will be used to help direct where the ranger teams should visit to monitor the status of bilby populations.

This project is supported by the NESP Threatened Species Hub and Martu Living Deserts Project (a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, and BHP Billiton) and the Australian Government through the Working on Country program.  The project aims to bring together Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and leading-edge western science to improve the way Martu ranger teams monitor trends of bilby populations on their country over time, and assess whether current threat management practices (feral herbivore and predator removal, fire management) are helpful to conserve bilbies on Martu lands.


Martu rangers looking after wiminyji (Northern Quoll) with WA Parks and Wildlife

According to traditional knowledge the wiminyji, or Northern Quoll previously widely distributed through Karlamilyi National Park, in the heart of Martu country. A joint survey effort between the Punmu and Parnngurr rangers with Parks and Wildlife scientists has produced the first live animal known to traditional owners since they moved off their country in the early 1960’s. This significant find is the result of a strong partnership between Traditional Owners and Parks and Wildlife. KJ and Parks will continue to work together to protect this special animal across Martu country

Martu celebrate the work they do on country with partners TNC and BHP Billiton in Melbourne

Martu in Melbourne


Over 250 people gathered last night in Melbourne to celebrate the achievements of a partnership between Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ), The Nature Conservancy and BHP Billiton which has delivered outstanding economic, environmental and cultural benefits.

For thousands of years Martu people of the Western Desert have lived on and looked after their country – an area twice the size of Tasmania.

Their country, which includes parts of the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson deserts is part of a diverse ecosystem which is home to numerous threatened species including the Greater Bilby and Black-flanked Rock-wallaby.

The partnership has focused on the continued conservation of this area by combining scientific land management with traditional Indigenous cultural practices.

Over 250 Martu people have been employed in permanent and casual positions throughout the lifetime of the project and, through cultural pilgrimages, have transferred knowledge from elders to the younger Martu.

 Being able to get a ranger job helped me to make the decision to come back to the community. There are not many opportunities for young Aboriginal girls to get jobs out in their country, in remote communities,” said Alysha Taylor, Ranger, Parnngurr.

Environmental outcomes have also been realised, and include improving the health of natural water sources through visitation, cleaning out of soaks and rock holes and the removal of feral camels.

Rich Gilmore, Country Director of The Nature Conservancy, said the project continues to achieve outstanding results for conservation, and for the cultural and economic wellbeing of Martu people.

“The commitment of Martu people and the collaboration of a major corporation, an environmental non-government organisation and an indigenous organisation has proved be a successful combination,” Mr Gilmore said.

BHP Billiton Asset President Iron Ore, Edgar Basto said this commitment to work together advances opportunities for Indigenous communities in employment, training and cultural engagement, as well as managing cultural heritage.

“We have been operating in the Pilbara for more than 50 years and have developed positive relationships with Traditional Owners such as the Martu people. We are committed to the Pilbara for the long term and aim to ensure that all our partnerships, such as this one, deliver true and lasting benefits,” Mr Basto said.

The partnership is part of BHP Billiton’s West Australian iron ore business’ social investment program which has invested over A$300 million in the past five years on projects across health, education, Indigenous development and community infrastructure.