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Spinifex people plan for healthy country and culture

Older and younger generations of Spinifex people have worked together to create a long term management plan for the cultural and natural resources of Spinifex Country, a Native Title Determination Area covering 54 000 square kilometres of sandhill and Mulga country in Western Australia’s desert rangelands.

Mr Byron Brooks and Troy Hansen on the sand dune at Miramiratjara (Spinifex Country) during the third Healthy Country Planning on country trip (August 2015).The Healthy Country Planning project was supported by Conservation Management and Rangelands NRM with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

All planning was done on Spinifex Country by Spinifex people, coming together at a number of return-to-country trips, knowledge sharing workshops and training events.

The HCP outlines priorities, key actions and seasonal timings for the work to be led by the Spinifex Land Management ranger team. Management actions include buffel grass eradication, camel management, waru palya (fire management) and kapi (water hole) protection and maintenance.

The plan also includes joint management work with Parks and Wildlife to control introduced predators and conserve threatened species such as the malleefowl.

Head Ranger Troy Hansen said regular ranger patrols and return to country trips will help to continue building knowledge of the land and tjurkurpa (law) amongst Spinifex men and women.

“We can share knowledge as we monitor important sites,” he said.

The vision is for the Spinifex men and women, young and old to be on country keeping it healthy, with the stories, plants and animals all still there for the future Spinifex People. We want Spinifex people to be keeping culture strong with elders respected and younger people learning from them.

The land area is diverse, with the Nullarbor Plain to the south, spinifex and sandhill country to the north and a variety of land forms incorporating salt lakes, rocky outcrops, hills, valleys and open plains.

The region has one of the world’s richest lizard diversities and has a wide range of desert marsupials, birds, plants and insects. Many plant and animal species display unique adaptations to the demanding desert environment.

The Pila Nguru (Aboriginal Corporation) Registered Native Title Body Corporate has been nominated by the Spinifex people to hold their native title rights and interests in trust on their behalf.

Supporting the Healthy Country Plan, Pila Nguru has developed a standard Land Access and Mineral Exploration Agreement to protect areas of cultural significance.

Pila Nguru have also joined a newly formed partnership that is exploring potential investment from the Great Victorian Desert (GVD) Biodiversity Trust. The partnership, which includes the Spinifex, Pilki and Yilka People (Cosmo Newberry), aims to undertake an adaptive management planning process for the whole of the GVD in WA. It is hoped that the Ngaanyatjarra People can also be included. The process would seek to develop a shared vision for land management in the GVD and develop partnerships with other stakeholders and land managers like Rangelands NRM, WA Parks & Wildlife, APY Lands and Maralinga Tjarutja (South Australia).

Pila Nguru Coordinator Samantha Doudle and Spinifex Land Management Ranger Coordinator Shane Doudle both agree that the opportunities for collaboration are vital to the Spinifex people.

“Spinifex and Pilki mobs have natural family and country connection ties to Ngaanyatjarra Lands to the north, the APY Lands to the north-east, the Maralinga Lands to the east and the East Wongatha country to the west,” says Samantha Doudle.

“Their Healthy Country Plan outlines what Spinifex people see as important and where they need the assistance to realise their own long term management goals for their people and their Country. It is a great tool for informing future investors like the GVD Biodiversity Trust and the money invested there from Anglo Gold Ashanti’s Tropicana Joint Venture”.

Image: Mr Byron Brooks and Troy Hansen on the sand dune at Miramiratjara (Spinifex Country) during the third Healthy Country Planning on-country trip (August 2015). Photo courtesy of Pila Nguru.