Martu people have occupied the area around the Little Sandy, Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts for over 40,000 years. Today, Martu people remain living on country in parts of the Great Sandy Desert such as Parngurr and Punmu while others have moved into remote towns and communities such as Jigalong, Wiluna, Newman and Port Hedland.
The Martu people are connected through shared country as well as through a common language, Martu Wangka (Martu talk), which is a recent amalgamation of several dialects, such as Kartujarra, Putijarra, Mandiljarra, that were spoken in discrete parts of the Martu lands.
During the early to mid 1900s, Martu took up jobs on sheep and cattle stations. Many Martu remember these times fondly as working on stations often meant staying on country. Many of the Wiluna Martu grew up on stations like Lorna Glen, Wongawol, Granite Peak, Glenayle, Earaheedy, Lake Violet and Carnegie while their parents worked as stockmen and domestic workers.
Today the population of the Wiluna township fluctuates between 200 to 300 people and within the greater Wiluna shire, the population exceeds 1000 people with a large proportion of fly in fly out mine workers.
In July and September 2013, Wiluna Traditional Owners had their exclusive and non-exclusive native title rights and interests recognized over Wiluna and Wiluna #2 by the Federal Court of Australia over an area of approximately 53,210 square kilometers (‘Wiluna Country’). See here for further details on the Wiluna and Wiluna #2 native title determinations. Tarlka Matuwa Piarku Aboriginal Corporation (RNTBC) is the entity that holds the native title for the Wiluna native title holders.
Wiluna Country is located at the confluence of two biogeographic regions – the Gascoyne and the Murchison regions. The Murchison bioregion is the dominant bioregion with low flat hills separated by alluvial plains, mulga woodlands and occluded paleodrainage channels. The Gascoyne bioregion where the ancient drainage channels follow the songline of the Pikuta (Euro) who travelled east through the area creating the creeks as he travelled.
The influence of two distinct bioregions in Wiluna Country is borne out most obviously through the change in the vegetation as one travels through the area. Jukurrpa (the dreaming) is inscribed in the land forms throughout Wiluna Country where hilly peaks (Yapu) signify dreamtime creatures and small caves in breakaways are storied places where dreamtime actors camped overnight, stored items of significance or had permanent camps.
The Tali (sand dunes) and Parada (spinifex country) is perfect for tracking ‘bush tucker’ such as bush turkey and emu and is home to burrowing animals such as the marsupial mole and the bilby. More heavily wooded areas are home for goanna (parnka) and remnant populations of malleefowl.
The area is described as ‘fringe desert’ with rainfall levels between 150 mm to 250 mm annually although rainfall is particularly unpredictable. The confluence of bioregions creates a highly biodiverse habitat with a large number of land systems, flora and fauna species concentrated in the area.
For Martu, native desert fauna are central figures in the Jukurrpa. They are part of the general creation story and at an individual level, they can be personal totems that connect people to land and ritual. Some native animals are companions and some act as guides in the landscape. Certain animals, Marlu (Red Kangaroo), Karlaya (Emu) or Partata (Bush turkey) are referred to as Kuka (bush meat) and are hunted by Martu on their lands.
Martu are taught to observe and learn about desert animals from an early age. Many can speak at length about the behavioural traits of certain animals and how to recognize the tracks and traces of animals present on their country.
The landscape within Wiluna Country has been shaped into its current form by Martu fire management over thousands of years and pastoralism in more recent years. The pre-European desert landscape was made up of patches of different ages of vegetation, which had been created through Martu fire management and specifically the continual lighting of smaller fires. The pattern of vegetation ages that results is referred to as the ‘mosaic’. The mosaic supports the overall biodiversity of the flora/fauna population through creating a variety of habitats where multiple species can thrive.
Wiluna Traditional Owner priorities for using and managing country are currently being compiled into the Wiluna Country Plan. The priorities identified to date have been grouped into six inter-related themes:
- A future for our kids
- Working together as partners
- Connection to people and country
- Keeping culture strong
- Creating jobs on our land
- Cross cultural learning
In addition, the Wiluna Traditional Owners have recently completed a Matuwa and Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) Plan for Country. The draft plan provides the strategic framework for the use and management of the former Lorna Glen and Earaheedy Stations in the context of the above priorities and the wider Wiluna landscape and economy.
There are a number of land and community projects that have or are being implemented by Wiluna Traditional Owners on Wiluna Country, some of which are framed by the Matuwa and Kurrara Kurrara IPA Plan for Country. For regular updates on these projects, please see the media below, our newsletters here and our facebook site here.
The Matuwa and Kurrara Kurrara IPA was is due to be dedicated by the Wiluna Traditional Owners in July 2015.