Kiwirrkurra Traditional Owners are Pintupi language speakers, with an ancient and continuing connection to their land, extending unbroken from tjukurrpa (dreaming) time through to the present day. The tjukurrpa (law) and associated cultural and ecological knowledge and practices underpin the way Kiwirrkurra Traditional Owners manage and look after their country today. Traditional land management skills such as patch burning, reading tracks, hunting,
collecting and using bush medicines and foods; and knowledge of water places, plants, animals and habitats; are all grounded in culture.
People of this remote Western Desert region were amongst the last to encounter white people. Up until the 1950s and 60s most Kiwirrkurra traditional owners were living a traditional lifestyle in the area, and had never had contact with non-Aboriginal people. The 60s and 70s saw a gradual emptying of the landscape, with many people settling in Papunya in the Northern Territory. However throughout their time of exile, Pintupi people never gave up hope of resettling on their lands. This was finally achieved through the outstation movement, with Kiwirrkurra community being established in 1982.
Currently, the majority of Traditional Owners live on country in Kiwirrkurra, with a population of about 200 people, while others live in Kintore, Balgo, Nyirripi, Tjukurla and elsewhere. Although no outstations are permanently inhabited, people regularly visit and camp at Nyinmi and Marruwa, as well as many other areas. Much of the country is difficult to access, especially in the west. Hand pumps have been installed at various points in the east, to support safe access to country.
In October 2001, Kiwirrkurra Traditional Owners had their exclusive native title rights and interests recognized by the Federal Court of Australia over an area of approximately 42,857 square kilometers (‘Kiwirrkurra Country’). See here for further details on the Kiwirrkurra native title determination. Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation (RNTBC) is the entity that holds the native title for the Kiwirrkurra native title holders.
Kiwirrkurra Country is very remote. It falls on the boundary of the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts, in the far southeast corner of Western Australia’s Pilbara region. It extends from the northern edge of Lake Mackay on the Northern Territory border south to Lake Macdonald and approximately 300km to the west, extending beyond Jupiter Well.
The nearest major town is Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, 700kms east on a mostly unse
aled road. The nearest Aboriginal communities are Kintore (about 150 kms east) and Balgo (400 kms north). Service provision to the community is complex, coming mainly from either Alice Springs or the Ngaanyatjarra region to the south.
Kiwirrkurra Country is arid, with hot summers, mild winters and highly variable rainfall with an annual average of about 220mm. Rainfall is unreliable but more likely to occur in the summer months during thunderstorms or tropical cyclones.
The landscape is dominated by spinifex covered sand plains (wirrini) and dunes (tali), generally running east-west. Two large salt lakes (pantu) occur on the eastern side: Lake Mackay (Wilkinkara) and Lake Macdonald (Karrkurutitja). These are only inundated after heavy rains such as those at the start of 2014. A chain of much smaller salt lakes occur south of Jupiter Well, and a series of freshwater claypans (maluri) occur in dune swales near Lake Mackay. Small rockholes (tjukula) and soakages (tjunu) are important sources of water for both animals and people.
Laterite plains (rirra) occur in the southwest corner with mulga over spinifex, and occasional low rocky hills (puli) are also dominated by spinifex.
Traditional ecological knowledge of Kiwirrkurra country, plants and animals is extremely strong. Kiwirrkurra Traditional Owners are amongst the last Aboriginal people to forgo their nomadic lifestyles and there are many people still alive with first-hand knowledge of animals that are now either extinct or highly endangered. Kiwirrkurra traditional owners’ knowledge of the seasonal presence of bush foods is authoritative, as is their understanding of the influence of water systems and cycles in the desert.
In contrast, western scientific knowledge of the biological resources of the region is limited. Most of the area is very poorly surveyed, especially in the west and around Lake MacDonald. Five nationally (EPBC) listed threatened species are known to occur: bilby (ninu, or Macrotis lagotis), great desert skink (tjalapa, or Egernia kintorei), brush-tailed mulgara (murrtja, or Dasycercus blythii), marsupial m
ole (kakarratulpa or Notoryctes sp.) and princess parrot (kilkintari, or Polytelis alexandrae).
Traditional fire management practices are actively undertaken around Kiwirrkurra and in other areas that are regularly visited by the traditional owners. These practices create a mosaic of burnt and unburnt country that is essential to the maintenance of habitat for animals and helps to minimise the risk of large destructive wildfires.
Kiwirrkurra Traditional Owner priorities for using and managing country are grouped into four inter-related themes:
Looking after Culture
Keeping the tjukurrpa and cultural heritage of Kiwirrkurra traditional owners and country alive and strong
Looking after Country
To maintain and improve biodiversity and environmental health across Kiwirrkurra Country, through two-way management.
Keeping our People Strong
To maintain and improve the spiritual, physical and economic wellbeing of Kiwirrkurra traditional owners and community.
To investigate and facilitate economic development that builds on the natural and cultural assets of Kiwirrkurra Country, and on the skills, knowledge and strengths of Kiwirrkurra Traditional Owner.
The Kiwirrkurra Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) Plan for Country provides the strategic framework for the use and management of Kiwirrkurra Country. The plan describes how Kiwirrkurra Country will be managed to protect biodiversity and cultural resources, based on Indigenous perspectives of connecting to and looking after country, complemented by western knowledge and management principles.
There are a number of land and community projects that have or are being implemented by Kiwirrikurra Traditional Owners on Kiwirrkurra Country, all of which are framed by the Kiwirrkurra IPA Plan for Country. For regular updates on these projects, please see media below, our newsletters here and our facebook site here.
The Kiwirrkurra IPA was dedicated by the Kiwirrkurra Traditional Owners in September 2014.