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Ngurrawaana rangers reading country

Ngurrawaana rangers ‘reading country’ on Leramugadu Lease in the Pilbara.
Article by Ostiane Massiani, Karratha-based Project Coordinator

The Ngurrawaana rangers participating in this project were: Chet Woodley, Tyson Martin, Frank Anderson, Allan Mack, Lawrence Woodley, Colin Mack, Daven Woodley, Ronan Davies, Kingsley Woodley, Isaac Guiness, Jessica Allan and Clarence Woodley.

As Project Coordinator for the Pilbara Corridors Project  (Greening Australia is a founding partner along with the Department of Parks and Wildlife and Rangelands NRM), I have had the privilege to provide theoretical and practical training to one of the local Indigenous rangers’ groups within the Pilbara, Western Australia.

The rangers’ community named ‘Ngurrawaana,’ meaning ngurra = country / home and waana = together within the language group Yindjibarndi, is located on the Leramugadu Lease (Ieramugadu is the original Indigenous Ngarluma name given to the (very sacred) settlement of what later on became ‘Roebourne’).  

Historically, the Ngurrawaana community was created by Elder and Senior Law man, Woodley King (Woodley being the family name) as a means for displaced Indigenous local people to return to country. 

Some of the community’s most sacred waterways cross this land. Kingsley Woodley, his grandson, who coordinates the ranger group, made me aware of their desire to research and learn more about their country and water (the Warlu way = the serpent, meaning the hydrology) so that they could better protect and restore the biodiversity of the lease. The groups’ enthusiasm and capability became immediately apparent when training commenced.

As part of their Conservation Land Management (CLM) II accreditation, the ranger group undertook recognised units focusing on monitoring rivers to further their skills at ‘reading country’, a well-honed skill inherited from their traditional living. This monitoring, conducted on the group’s lease, included learning how to recognise and record fish species, their abundance and size.

Additionally, the rangers effectively demonstrated how to make decisions regarding which waterholes to survey, what time to collect, where to place nets and which areas to collect in accordance with the sun’s growing intensity through the morning.

Over the years, I have witnessed and engaged rangers in numerous training sessions, always with great pleasure. Once again, and beyond any standards I have seen, the Ngurrawaana rangers excelled. Judgement calls, decisions, choices, timing and reasoning were well thought through and the group’s natural ability in reading water and weather conditions meant the surveying yielded positive results.

The survey, conducted throughout various pools, showed interesting yet consistent results with other surveys from other Pilbara rivers. Fish species included: the Spangled Perch, Leiopotherapon unicolor; Fortescue Grunter, Leiopotherapon aheneus; Western Rainbow Fish, Melanotaenia australis; Goby Flathead, Glossogobius giuris; Catfish, Cnidoglanis microcephalus and Bony Bream, Nematalosa erebi; species indicative of healthy water quality. Two fresh water fish taxa, the Robe River Tandan (Neosilurus sp.) restricted to fresh water in Pilbara bioregion (Orr and Milward, 1984; Morgan and Gill, 2004) and the Pilbara Tandan (Neosilurus hyrtlii IV) may represent distinct species and warrant closer morphological examination. The species captured demonstrated good ecosystem health in one of the community’s most sacred of pools. 

Recently, the ranger group, with the assistance of Greening Australia, was successful in gaining further funding to continue the fish monitoring surveys and scientific and cultural research for another year. Funding will be provided by a State Natural Resource Management Community Action Grant.

In 2016, I look forward to working with the Ngurrawaana rangers to undertake what will likely be interesting and revealing monitoring of the various watercourses on Yindjibarndi Country to assess the status of fish populations residing therein. This monitoring will allow the rangers to assess the health of the ecosystem and detect any upstream issues such as impacts from commercial activities, increases in pollution, and changes in water quality (eg. salinity, pH, temperature)..  

Here are some of the sentiments from the rangers and their trainer after a rewarding two weeks training session:

These quotes are by Jessica Allan, Colin Mack and Chet Woodley. 

These quotes are by Isaac Guiness, Ngurrawaana ranger and Simon Liddell, Barefoot Training Director and trainer.

The training was aided and conducted by Barefoot Training Ltd (Simon Liddell and James Taylor).

Photos: Ostiane Massiani, Jessica Allan, Ngurrawaana’s only female ranger and Daven Woodley, Ngurrawaana ranger.