Birriluburu Country belongs to the Birriliburu Traditional Owners. They and their predecessors lived and walked this country for thousands of years until the whitefellas started to take an interest in their country. Their connection with country that has been woven over those many thousands of years continues to this day.
When the whitefellas came, they built the Canning Stock Route (CSR) and set up stations to the west and south of Birriliburu Country. The Birriliburu Traditional Owners moved out of the desert into towns and communities such as Wiluna, Jigalong and Warburton where food and water was easier to get.
Before whitefellas came, there were approximately 12 mutually understood languages spoken across the broader Western Desert region, although the predominant ones now are Manyjilyjarra, Putijarra and Kartujarra. These days the Birriliburu Traditional Owners self-identify simply as Martu (meaning person or people).
In June 2008, the Birriliburu Traditional Owners had their exclusive native title rights and interests recognized by the Federal Court of Australia over an area of approximately 66,875 square kilometers (‘Birriliburu Country’). See here for further details on the Birriliburu native title determination. Mungarlu Ngurrarankatja Rirraunkaja Aboriginal Corporation (RNTBC) is the entity that holds the native title for the Birriliburu native title holders.
Birriliburu Country is big and it is remote. It extends from the nationally significant Carnarvon Ranges in the west, to the Gibson Desert in the east and from Constance Headland in the north to the pastoral stations in the south.
Birriliburu Country is astonishingly diverse, ranging from sand dunes and sandstone mountain ranges to salt lakes and claypans. It covers three bio-geographic regions of Australia; the Little Sandy Desert, Gibson Desert and the Gascoyne.
The area is home to a high number of nationally significant species such as the black- flanked rock wallaby, great desert skink, and marsupial mole to name just a few.
The Traditional Owners call the Carnarvon Range Katjarra in their language. Found in the south-west of Birriliburu Country, the spectacular sandstone ranges have been the subject of a nationally significant natural and cultural heritage asset survey in 2012 and 2013 which has recorded their diverse plant and animal life and cultural heritage including hundreds of ancient rock art galleries. Katjarra is so significant that the Birriliburu Traditional Owners nominated it as the site for their native title ceremony in 2008.
Constance Headland, called Mungarlu, is the largest and most dependable water source in the area and, like Katjarra, is remarkable for the quantity of rock art found in its long valleys. Many threatened species including the greater bilby are found here.
The last of the Birriliburu Traditional Owners to live completely ‘on country’ walked out of the desert in 1977. The old couple, as they are known, were found living at Karri Ngarri claypan in the east of Birriliburu Country. Their story is told in the book and film Last of the Nomads. Today this area serves Birriliburu Traditional Owners as a reminder of generations that have gone before them.
In the south-east of Birriliburu Country is the Mungilli Nature Reserve. State-listed for its mythological significance for traditional owners, the Mungilli claypan’s ephemeral wetlands are a highly valuable refuge for desert plants and animals. Adjacent to the nature reserve at Mungilli outstation, a family group of traditional owners owns and runs a sustainable sandalwood harvesting operation.
Birriliburu Traditional Owner priorities for using and managing country are grouped into five inter-related themes:
Keeping culture strong
The desire to preserve culture is linked to the Birriliburu Traditional Owners wanting to keep culture strong and to have the ‘real’ Martu history for their country told. For others, sites are linked to their families and places that their grandparents once looked after. Rock art and other cultural objects can also be impacted by the large, hot wildfires that are now more frequent due to less burning by Martu. This has resulted in fire patterns changing and an increasing number and frequency of large hot wildfires started by lightning strikes during the hot summer months.
Getting back onto country so young people learning about plants, animals and traditional ways
Of major concern to the Birriliburu Traditional Owners is the loss of knowledge as a result of the old people who are the custodians of the knowledge “finishing up” (dying). Passing on knowledge from elders to the younger generation is a high priority for Birriliburu Traditional Owners and this requires regular intergenerational trips to country to learn about looking after country and to visit special sites with the old people.
Keeping country and water sources healthy
Birriliburu Country is a relatively intact landscape. However, many of the little animals that inhabited country are now “finishing up” due to issues such as overgrazing, altered fire regimes and predation by feral cats and foxes. The increasing number of camels has meant increased grazing pressure on both bush foods and other native plants. Camels also cause significant damage to trees and bushes, and fragile soils. Lakes, waterholes and soaks are all culturally significant for the Birriliburu Traditional Owners and keeping them healthy is important. They are heavily impacted by camels and in the south by cattle that trample soaks and foul the water. Having well resourced and sustainable ‘ranger’ teams are a key strategy to keeping Birriliburu Country healthy for current and future generations.
Looking after tourists
Another high priority for Birriliburu Traditional Owners is the preservation of Martu cultural places that are often impacted by tourists and visitors going to places which have restricted access conditions set by Martu law. At the same time, they realize that tourism can make an important contribution to the regional economy and can provide an opportunity for the public to get a better appreciation for Martu culture and of the history and values of Birriliburu Country.
Jobs and an economy, for Martu people to look after country
This is the ‘glue’ that binds all of the Birriliburu priorities together. With relevant local jobs and an economy, young people are more likely to stay within the region, learn about culture and country and work at looking after tourists and keeping country healthy.
The Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) Plan for Country provides the strategic framework for the use and management of Birriliburu Country. The plan describes how Birriliburu Country will be managed to reflect the above priorities.
There are a number of land and community projects that have or are being implemented by Birriliburu Traditional Owners on Birriliburu Country, all of which are framed by the Birriliburu IPA Plan for Country. For regular updates on these projects, please see the media below, our newsletters here and our facebook site here.
The Birrliburu IPA was dedicated by the Birriliburu Traditional Owners in April 2013.