"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.



Women's leadership program, a new ranger team, guard of honour at the MCG - it's been a busy few months at KJ

Justin watson

The last five months have been very busy with many activities happening on and off country as well as two new programs starting.  The women's leadership began in May with 12 women involved in a two-day workshop in Newman.  Martu women have been eager to start their own leadership program to discuss issues that affect women and be able to build up their skills and confidence to more effectively and equally take part in community decisions and the mainstream world.

The second program that has started is the Kunawarritji ranger team.  The team have been out on a number of day trips and undertaken a successful vehicle recovery operation.  In community the rangers have worked on converting an old house into a ranger station.

The Jigalong rangers took the Jigalong School students out on country to learn about bilbies, assisted Trackcare with a well refurbishment and helped out with a medical evacuation from the Canning Stock Route.  The Parnngurr rangers have undertaken training, been involved in camel culling and both on-ground and helicopter burning.

The men's leadership team hosted eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth from the World Vision’s Young Mob youth leadership program on country and were invited to be the guard of honour for the Western Bulldogs vs Collingwood game at the MCG.

The Puntura-ya Ninti team have also been busy collecting a number of valuable oral history stories including a story about horse a called ‘Tampangalku’ and a jinker.  The team held two Kalyuku Ninti trips and a very successful helicopter mapping week locating a number of waterholes.



Martu attend the 2016 WANALA Aboriginal Languages Conference

The 2016 WANALA Aboriginal Languages Conference was hosted by the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre in Kalgoorlie, WA on the 16 – 18 June.   This year’s conference was entitled ‘Building Resilience: Identity, intellect and the role of languages.’ The theme of the conference related to the critical role language plays in building personal and community resilience.

“Language is an expression of identity and a carrier of identity. Language is a means to express intellect and a way to develop intellect. By ensuring languages are kept strong, healthy and vibrant, Aboriginal people build resilience. Conversely, resilient communities keep language strong, healthy and vibrant.” http://wangka.com.au/index.php/conference

Desmond Taylor, Clifton Girgirba, Janelle Booth, Josuah Booth, Gavin Attwood, Garry Earl Spurr and Matthew Paterson from KJ attended the conference.  The conference provided Martu an opportunity to listen how other groups are preserving their languages as well as share their own experiences of keeping Martu language alive and strong. 

The group also meet with other mobs to talk about how best to embed language into everyday activities like ranger work and within the community schools. Martu have a very strong language base and want to look after it so it survives for many more generations.

The group found the conference a very valuable experience taking away a lot of information and ideas to share with their communities back home.

Kanyilangku wangka nantirrpa - Keep your language strong

Thirteen flat tyres, 600km off road and a chance for elders to pass on their knowledge

7 sisters trip

Last week twenty-five Martu and ten people from Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, Martumili Artists, the National Museum of Australia (NMA), Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service (PAMS) went on a seven day trip out on Martu country.  

The aim of the trip was to visit sites along part of the Minyipurru (Seven Sisters) songline, located north of Punmu. During the trip oral histories of people’s pujiman (bushman) travels through the area were recorded, while Martu artists who were participating on the trip painted works focusing on the country, the Minyipurru or the trip itself.  The inclusion of younger rangers on the trip, not only provided the women rangers with a chance to run a long trip independently of the male ranger groups but also provided opportunities for the elders to pass knowledge and stories to younger Martu.

The trip covered almost 600km of remote country, most of which was completely off-road with no track whatsoever. The convoy consisted of ten vehicles, carrying all the provisions for the week including almost two tonne of water. During the trip there was thirteen flat tyres.  A slight annoyance but a good chance for the women rangers to practice their split-rim changes!

The team managed to ground-truth four named water sites on the trip, including one site that had not been visited since pujiman days.

It was a fantastic trip and a valuable opportunity for younger Martu to learn from their elders.

Plants and animals once nourished many nations of people across Australia

Forty-two Martu women came together for a four-day plant and bush medicine workshop at the beginning of August 2015.  The women, most of who work as rangers, came from three Martu communities to meet at an important place on Martu country called ‘Yulpu’, in the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia. 
The workshop was a response to a request from a number of younger Martu women.  These women had expressed their eagerness to bring together senior Martu women in a forum which would allow them an opportunity to learn and practice this important traditional knowledge. Such an opportunity to gather together has not been possible for a number of decades.
The women rangers worked hard prior to the event collecting seeds and medicine plants to share at the workshop. The camp was facilitated by Fiona Walsh from CSIRO, an ethnobotanist who has worked with Martu for over the past 20 years.
Throughout the workshop senior women shared information about a variety of plants and guided the younger women through winnowing, yandying, and grinding different types of seed.

Watch a two minute film of Martu explaining the importance of the camp here

A long time ago the old people taught them to dance...

This belongs to the ancestors, this dance. This is their law that belongs to all the Martu people.
Songs belong to places from the dreamtime.
Our grandfathers taught us how to dance in the past.
They taught us and sang the songs when we were children
We need to show the children and give it to them.
These children must be taught how to dance.
This is very important for them.
Forever it's their law.

Click here to watch the two minute movie


Looking after country


The announcement that the ALP is committing to doubling the number of rangers over the coming five years is to be congratulated.

Peter See, Chief Executive Officer of Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) said that “Recent social return on investment reports commissioned by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet reinforced that Indigenous ranger jobs created significant social, cultural and economic benefits for communities while delivering important outcomes for the environment”.

“The success of the Working on Country Program is in part because it aligns Indigenous people’s cultural aspirations to look after country with government’s commitment to manage the increasing risks to threatened species and to protect the environment” Mr See said.

“The best people to manage remote country of important natural and cultural value are the traditional owners of that country.

“Indigenous ranger jobs deliver for remote Australia in a way that other conventional employment programs have not.

“This program works for Indigenous people.  It provides real jobs, real work and benefits for all Australians.

“There is significant unmet demand in regional Australia for this program which provides real jobs and a foundation to develop alternative economies such as fee for service work for the resource industry and tourism opportunities.”

Bipartisan support for Indigenous ranger jobs would be a welcome and important message in Reconciliation Week.