Warlpiri elders and expert trackers are leading a program in northern Australia to teach younger generations how to read Country.

In June 2022, some of the most respected elders of the Warlpiri nation gathered for a workshop in Lajamanu, a remote town in the northern Tanami Desert, south of Kalkarindji. It was one of the largest such gatherings in recent years and, were it not for the flies, it could have been the Roman senate: here were the elders of the nation, gathered to discuss the great issues of the day. One minute they were talking about complex matters of law and ceremony and custom. The next they debated the intricacies of Warlpiri language and stories of the past.

Any resemblance to the ancient Romans was truly ended by the fact of women being at the heart of this gathering; they wore beanies and cast-off clothes. There was much laughter, mobile phones rang often, and arguments erupted over such topics as which species of snake had left behind tracks across the red sand nearby. This was especially significant, for the elders in attendance were also the Warlpiri’s kuyu pungu, or master trackers.

Many, perhaps even most, of those present grew up in the desert or out bush. There, they learnt to read the tracks of the animals: which animal left the tracks, where it was travelling, and how long ago it passed by. The kuyu pungu at the Lajamanu workshop were from a long line of Warlpiri people who grew up learning how to read the country. Over time, they entered into an intimacy with the land that went to every aspect of their lives – kinship, ceremony, survival. The current kuyu pungu, those gathered at Lajamanu, were the last in that long line.

By the time that most of the workshop’s participants had reached adolescence, their desert lives were if not lost then much curtailed. Travelling between missions, cattle stations and cities, they worked as drovers and domestic help, if at all, returning to country whenever they could. Aside from rare exceptions, their children and grandchildren had little opportunity to learn the old ways. Torn between the lure of the cities and the obligations of the past, the young Warlpiri returned to country at weekends, if they were lucky, where they picked up fragments.

This is why the Warlpiri elders gathered in Lajamanu. Part of an ongoing project known as Yitaki Mani (“Reading the Country”), the aim of the workshop was to find a way to bridge that gap between generations, to address the possibility that some knowledge may soon be lost forever, and to find new ways to teach a people who no longer grow up on country. Run by the Central Land Council, the program and the workshop – and other workshops like it across Warlpiri country – faced the most daunting of tasks: to distil thousands of years of lived knowledge into teaching materials and techniques that could work in a classroom.

Witnessing the sessions – which ran under the guidance of Warlpiri elders, pastor Jerry Jangala and Myra Herbert Nungarrayi and others, assisted by linguists and anthropologists – was like watching an encyclopaedia unfold in real time. Flow charts emerged, the frequent use of photos maintained the visual essence of the experience, and field trips – to Emu Rockhole or the track to Tennant Creek – kept things practical. There were times when momentum seemed to unravel. On one of the excursions, a goanna had the misfortune to appear close by. Consequently, much of the day was “lost” as everyone shared a goanna feast around an impromptu fire. But like other seeming distractions – a sudden recitation of a Dreaming story, or an unplanned detour down a side track to honour a cultural obligation – these moments deepened the stories and the ability of these kuyu pungu to tell them.

“We have to make sure we all have all the knowledge, that knowledge of how to read the country. And that knowledge comes in many ways,” says Jangala. “We need this knowledge if we are to get back the old Warlpiri ways.”

The establishment of the Yitaki Mani program reflects changes in Australia regarding First Nations peoples, and builds on those defining points in the process of reconciliation. Recognition of citizenship in 1967, the development of land rights in the 1970s and the outstation movement in the 1980s all represented the move away from the nation’s integrationist impulse.

Yitaki Mani builds on this process, drawing from another nation-shifting development: Indigenous ranger programs. Running for more than 15 years, the establishment of these initiatives has expanded across the country, and there are now around 130 federally funded ranger programs, with additional state-funded groups. Most of them operate on Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs).

So successful have ranger programs become that their funding became a campaign issue during the 2022 federal election. The Morrison government promised to double the funding for Indigenous rangers, to $686 million over eight years. Labor matched this commitment and added $10 million per year to expand the programs.

From a conservation perspective, every now and then work undertaken through the ranger program makes headlines, and is credited with significant successes. Indigenous ranger groups have, for example, been central to the discovery of new night parrot populations across Western Australia.

Stephen van Leeuwen, the Indigenous chair of biodiversity and environmental science at Curtin University in Perth, says ranger programs have enabled conservation activities to operate on a much broader scale than would be possible through scientific programs working alone. “You can’t have an IPA without a ranger program. And you can’t have an IPA ranger program without a healthy country plan. You’ve got a workforce and people who want to be there.”

Van Leeuwen recognises the importance of elder knowledge in the process of engaging the younger rangers. “Yes, you want to empower [First Nations peoples] by giving them meaningful work. But the elders in the communities want to manage the country, and that commitment quickly flows on to the younger people in the community. They want to look after their country … Lots of the threatened species that are still extant are on the Indigenous conservation estate in the deserts and in northern Australia, so there must be something good happening there.”

The ranger program is also driving a wider re-evaluation of traditional forms of knowledge and storytelling. Successes like that of the night parrot “demonstrate the power of proper two-way science”, says Steve Murphy, an ecologist who has worked extensively with traditional owners. “Indigenous people were highly attuned and acutely aware of all aspects of the environment that they were living in over millennia. So the observational-based science that they built up was incredibly detailed. In many cases, people aren’t living 24/7 on country and aren’t needing to get their whole subsistence from these landscapes. It’s pedalled back a little – it’s more a knowledge about place and landscape. But it’s still there, and it’s better than any [geographic information system] and remote-sensing analyst can give us.”

Much has also been lost, Murphy acknowledges. “Historically, a lot of that ecological knowledge would have been held by people, but it’s gone. We have to acknowledge that it has gone from so many places. And that is another very important and often overlooked role of two-way science – rekindling and rebuilding that knowledge.”

It is with this backdrop of loss and renewal that the Yitaki Mani project carries such potential. If it is successful, its organisers hope benefits won’t be restricted to the Warlpiri. The conceptual frameworks and teaching materials will become available to other communities, enabling them to tap into their own deep wells of knowledge.

It is, as ever, a race against time, something of which the elders at the Lajamanu workshop are keenly aware. “Some of the young ones are interested, and want to learn more,” says Jerry Jangala. “But some are losing their culture, their ceremony, everything. It’s not good for our people. It’s not good for Australia. Our country will be lost. That’s why we’re here. To teach them another way to learn. After all, one day I won’t be here with you.”

Article written by Anthony Ham and published in The Monthly.

Ninety years after Pitjantjatjara man Yukun was killed by police and his remains sent to museums in Adelaide, he is finally laid to rest.

On the day Yukun was returned to Uluru, his descendants leapt into the deep, narrow grave to help ease him to rest as their elders looked on, weeping.

The ceremony, at the base of the rock on an unusually cold and rainy morning, helped ease the pain of almost 90 years of unfinished business that began with a Northern Territory police shooting in 1934.

View the full feature article online here.

Family arrive at the ceremony.
Family arrive. The ceremony will help answer questions and resolve decades of doubt.

The fate of the NT’s largest ever groundwater extraction licence at Singleton Station hangs in the balance, as distressed traditional owners challenge the science behind the decision and the effectiveness of water laws.

By Samantha Jonscher, ABC Alice Springs.

View the full feature article online here.

David Curtis senior and junior visited Alyerernye, a threatened sacred site, with the ABC.

An anthropological survey commissioned by the Central Land Council has revealed that the drawdown area of the Northern Territory’s largest water licence is home to dozens of groundwater-dependent sacred sites that the licence puts at great risk.

The country around Singleton Station, where the NT Government plans to gift Fortune Agriculture 40,000 mega litres of water per year for 30 years to grow export crops, is rich in songlines and Aboriginal cultural sites that depend on underground water for their very survival.

More than 80 traditional owners, native title holders and affected remote community residents spent much of June visiting the region south of Tennant Creek with independent anthropologist Susan Dale Donaldson and identified 29 different groundwater-dependent sacred sites and related dreaming tracks that would be threatened by the massive water licence. 

The named sites include waterholes, soakages, springs, and sacred trees across the Singleton and Neutral Junction stations and the Warrabri and Iliyarne Aboriginal land trusts.

“Our people are responsible for the protection of the places that embody the Dreaming. Damaging these sites that represent their deceased ancestors threatens their spiritual wellbeing and their vital cultural connection to their country,” CLC chief executive Les Turner said.

“That’s why we urge the NT water security minister to take the findings of the survey very seriously as she reviews the controversial water licence decision.”

The survey participants worry desperately about how the sheer scale of the planned water extraction will affect their rights to hunt and collect bush foods and medicine, develop their country and teach their next generations.

“There is a lot of Ngappa Wirnkarna (Rain Dreaming) around the Singleton area. Karlu Karlu (the Devils Marbles), Wakurlpu, Warlaparnpa – all these places were made by Nappa Wirnkarra, all these places will be affected if there is no water,” traditional owner Michael Jones said.

“The story will be there, still alive, the song will be there and still be sung, but we will be sad when we go to that place all dead. The story will be weaker for younger people because the places will be ruined.

“We take them to soakages that are gone and to country that is sick. We have lost other soakages when they put in bores.”

Although the region’s water allocation plan highlights the lack of knowledge about Aboriginal cultural values in the drawdown area as an “extreme” risk, the licence conditions the NT imposed on the company don’t include the need to protect Aboriginal cultural sites.

Sacred site clearance work has only been carried out around the 3,500 hectare area on the cattle station that would be cleared for export crops, but the drawdown area that would be impacted by the unprecedented volume of the water extraction is five times that size.

Mr Turner said the CLC commissioned the survey of the drawdown area because the NT failed to carry out a baseline assessment of cultural values on which the company would base its so-called adaptive management plan.

“We had absolutely no confidence that this critically important survey work would be done in time and to a rigorous standard because the government is clearly only paying lip service to the rights and interests of remote community residents and traditional owners,” he said.

“Remember, the decision to grant the licence is not based on solid scientific data but on mere guesswork and if the modelling turns out to be even slightly wrong, those sites are in mortal danger.

“If there is even a small drop in the water table, our soakages will disappear for good, our springs will dry up and our animals will die along with our trees.”

“By the time we see any warning signs, by the time stands of sacred trees that are part of a songline begin to look sick, it is already be too late because the changes are irreversible,” said Mr Turner.

Survey participants also reported feeling disempowered by the water licence decision, with David Curtis saying that extracting water from the desert “makes no sense. We can’t be certain it can be recharged and rain is not as reliable as it used to be”.

“I can’t believe the government did this. Aboriginal people should have control over water, it is part of our country. We thought we had land rights but what good is land without water?” Mr Curtis said.

Maureen O’Keefe, who grew up in the drawdown area, told Ms Dale Donaldson: “We know what’s about to happen, there is about to be a water crisis. We have to stop it before it happens.”

12 August 2021

For a summary of the survey report please go to https://www.clc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Singleton-Station-Water-Licence-Aboriginal-Cultural-Values-Assessment.pdf and contact us for images.

Desart and the Central Land Council are inviting Aboriginal artists to submit works for the third Vincent Lingiari Art Award that speak to the theme Ngawa, Ngapa, Kapi, Kwatja, Water.

The $10,000 award celebrates the 55th anniversary of the Wave Hill Walk Off, when Vincent Lingiari led striking station workers to camp near Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory, by accepting works that respond to the critical importance of water for the continued survival of Aboriginal peoples.

“We have chosen this year’s theme to spread the word that water rights are land rights,” CLC chair Sammy Wilson said.

 “The government gave us some of our land back but not the water. Water is the new land rights.”

“This year’s Vincent Lingiari Art Award highlights the campaign for Aboriginal water rights the NT land councils kicked off last year with their call for a safe drinking water act,” Desart chief executive Philip Watkins said.

“The award has always been unashamedly political and this year it will raise awareness of our struggle against massive water theft that threatens the survival of desert plants, animals and people and for safe drinking water for our remote communities,” he said.

Water is critical to the social, cultural, economic and political identity of Aboriginal people in the CLC region.

“Over almost half a century the CLC has won back significant areas of land on behalf of traditional Aboriginal land owners, but without safe, secure and adequate sources of water their very survival on this land is under threat,” CLC chief executive Lesley Turner said.

“Poor water quality, water shortages, water use in fracking and agribusiness have a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of our people, their country and cultures.”

 He said the award exhibition from 8 September 2021 at the Tangentyere Artists Gallery in Alice Springs will send an urgent message not to take water for granted in a world where water rights are shaping up as a new frontier.

Artists from the CLC region (the southern half of the NT) and art centres affiliated with Desart have until 30 June to submit works that explore their connection with their land and water.

In addition to the main award, CLC members will choose the winner of the Delegates Choice Award when they meet from 24 to 26 August at Mr Lingiari’s home of Kalkaringi, ahead of the 55th Freedom Day celebration at the community.

The CLC and Desart established the Vincent Lingiari Art Award in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic Wave Hill Walk Off and the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976.

In 2019 the award theme Our Country – True Story reflected on the call of the Uluru Statement from the Heart for truth-telling.

The Aboriginal land rights and contemporary Aboriginal art movements share the same roots. They evolved in the NT at the same time, drew strength from the same sources and have significantly contributed to Australia’s modern national identity.

The award is made possible through the generous support from the Peter Kittle Motor Company and Newmont Goldcorp.10 May 2021Media contacts:

Elke Wiesmann, media@clc.org.au, 0417 877 579 and

Carmel Young, programmanager@desart.com.au, 0411 534 913

The Central Land Council will join the Anangu [AR–nung-u] traditional owners of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park as they mark with inma [ceremonies] the closure of the Uluru climb.

Hundreds of Anangu from remote communities in the cross-border region of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia will gather near Uluru at sunset on Sunday, 27 October, to celebrate the climbing chain coming off the Rock at last.

“We will be dancing because enough people are finally accepting and respecting our point of view and we can all be proud of this,” said traditional owner and CLC chair Sammy Wilson.

“We want the land council members by our side as we celebrate because they have always backed us. Their past and present leaders have helped us get our land back in 1985 and supported us all the way to close the climb.”

“Now we can start a new chapter in the history of our country and welcome the world to experience it through our eyes,” he said.

Mr Wilson has been taking Australian and international tourists to his family’s homeland near Uluru since 2016 and has seen the number of visitors looking for authentic experiences increase.

He is not the only traditional owner working in tourism. Anangu have also been working with the CLC, government and industry to plan alternative visitor attractions.

Mr Wilson says the traditional owners want more support to develop and operate tourism experiences that not only make people open their wallets but their hearts and minds as well.

“You never know whether the little boy or the little girl you are taking on your tour and teaching about your culture may grow up to be the leader of the country one day,” Mr Wilson said.

CLC CEO Joe Martin-Jard said the closure of the climb is one of the rare occasions since the handback and subsequent leaseback of the park to the federal government that the traditional owners are asserting their sovereignty and cultural authority.

“For more than three decades, Anangu went along with joint management even though there were limited benefits and they put up with pressure to let tourists climb over their sacred sites,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

“We look forward to a brighter future as we celebrate an act of self-determination that is every bit as momentous as their decision in 2005 to use their share of the park’s gate money to drive their own community development priorities.”

Since then, Anangu have invested more than $14 million of their gate money in more than 100 community benefit projects such as pools, stores and churches, as well as education, health and culture initiatives in the communities where their families live.

“Their decision to use their collective income to strengthen their communities is arguably the best thing for Anangu to have come out of the handback so far,” he said.

Ntaria residents fixed up their historic cemetery where loved ones are also buried outside the walls.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner faces tough questions about his government’s proposed burial legislation when he attends the Central Land Council meeting on 28 October at Yulara Pulka.

Meeting in Alice Springs ahead of the council meeting, the CLC’s executive was deeply disappointed to learn that a committee of the NT Legislative Assembly ignored its submission to amend Burial and Cremation Bill 2019, as well as the submissions of all other Aboriginal organisations.

“If the government goes along with the recommendation of the Social Policy Scrutiny Committee to pass the bill without the amendments Aboriginal people are seeking, it will have to answer to their elected representatives,” said CLC CEO Joe Martin-Jard.

Mr Martin-Jard said Aboriginal people want to follow their traditions when burying their loved ones on their homelands and outstations, without undue interference from a passing parade of powerful public servants.

“Our members believe the draft bill gives too much power to unelected officials who will be able to threaten people with jail or fines of tens of thousands of dollars for burying their loved ones on their land, in accordance with their customs,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

“The new law would allow faceless bureaucrats in Darwin to make up the rules as they go along, at the expense of the most incarcerated and poorest people in the country. We want to see regulations that limit their power.”

Under the draft legislation, the fine for burying someone without the consent of the bureaucracy will go up from two to 200 penalty points ($31,000), or a two year jail term.

Mr Martin-Jard said CLC members don’t object to sensible restrictions for health and safety reasons – for example, no burials near drinking water sources and houses – but they don’t believe bereaved people should have to appeal to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to get bureaucratic decisions overturned.

“It is just heartless to put people through this when they are grieving,” he said.

The CLC executive also objected strongly to the new law opening the door for fee gouging at local government-run cemeteries.

“The bill allows the cash-strapped shires to set their own fees for funerals,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

“Aboriginal people out bush already struggle with the high costs of funerals and want the government to cap these fees.”

“We urge Mr Gunner to come to our council meeting with amendments that respect our members’ burial rites and rights.”

Families affected by the Coniston Massacre from around Australia have tonight gathered at a meeting of the Central Land Council outside Yuendumu, getting ready to remember the innocent men, women and children killed during a series of massacres in 1928.

Early tomorrow morning they will travel to the remote outstation of Yurrkuru (Brooks Soak), approximately three hours north west of Alice Springs, to commemorate with songs, dances, speeches and prayers the 90th anniversary of the killings.

Yurrkuru is the site of the murder of the dingo trapper Fred Brooks which triggered the revenge parties led by Police Constable George Murray between August and October 1928 that have become known as the Coniston Massacre.

The families of an estimated 100 murder victims are planning to speak at the event, alongside members of Constable Murray’s family and political leaders such as Senator Patrick Dodson and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner.

“We expect up to 400 people to join us for a chance to share the truth about our colonial past with the families of the victims and the murderers,” said Central Land Council chair Francis Kelly.

“We want everyone to know that these massacres didn’t happen during some distant past but 10 years after the end of the First World War,” Mr Kelly said.

“We remember those who lost their lives in that war every year, in every town around Australia. We have a special public holiday for it and lots of memorials everywhere,” he said.

“What about our fallen loved ones?”

Their families unveiled a plaque at Yurrkuru in 2003 and plan to call for annual events commemorating the massacres and for interpretive signs at the many massacre locations.

They also want all school children to be taught about the frontier wars.

Mr Kelly, one of the creators of the documentary Coniston which will be shown at the CLC meeting tonight, said he is particularly pleased to welcome students from surrounding Aboriginal communities to the commemoration.

“Until all Australians know about the crimes committed against our families we can’t move forward as one mob, one country,” he said.

“Other countries with murderous pasts have managed to come together by speaking the truth. If they can do it, why can’t we?”

Truth telling, along with agreement making and an Aboriginal voice to parliament, is a theme of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Central Land Council welcomes the long overdue decision by the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park board of management to close the climb to the summit of Uluru for good.

“The CLC congratulates the board on righting a historic wrong,” said CLC director David Ross.

“This decision has been a very long time coming and our thoughts are with the elders who have longed for this day but are no longer with us to celebrate it.”

After agonising about people climbing the sacred site since the 1930s, its Anangu traditional owners recently reaffirmed their long-standing desire to close the climb during consultations by the CLC.

“Some people, in tourism and government for example, might have been saying we need to keep it open but it’s not their law that lies in this land,” said CLC executive member Sammy Wilson, who also chairs the jointly managed park’s board and runs a small tourism business.

“It is an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland. We want you to come, hear us and learn. We’ve been thinking about this for a very long time,” Mr Wilson said.

Mr Wilson takes visitors to his family’s homeland near the park to watch the sunset and they often ask him why Anangu don’t close the climb.

“Why this decision wasn’t made decades ago is a fair question,” Mr Ross said.

“Anangu have genuinely struggled to accommodate many powerful competing interests and have faced massive pressure.”

Mr Wilson said the traditional owners have been in a difficult position and are glad their wishes have prevailed at last.

“Over the years Anangu have felt a sense of intimidation, as if someone is holding a gun to our heads to keep it open. Please don’t hold us to ransom. This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu to feel proud about,” he said.

Mr Ross said while Anangu board members agreed to delay the date of the climb’s actual closure for another two years the balance of power is slowly shifting.

“Today’s decision to close the climb was unthinkable only 10 years ago.”

Mr Ross said if fledgling Anangu tourism plans, especially in the vast Indigenous Protected Area surrounding the national park, receive the assistance they need to get off the ground nobody will miss the climb.

“There is so much else besides that in the culture here,” said Mr Wilson “If we have the right support to take tourists outside [the park] it will benefit everyone.

We have a lot to offer in this country. So instead of tourists feeling disappointed … they can experience the homelands with Anangu and really enjoy the fact that they learnt so much more about culture.”

Read Sammy Wilson’s full speech here

Traditional owners of Anthwerrke (Emily Gap) have invested their rent income from the Yeperenye/Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park in an interactive visitor experience at the sacred site near Alice Springs.

They will launch the interactive tour with CLC chair Francis Kelly, the Member for Namatjira Chansey Paech and guests at Anthwerrke on 26 September at 10:30am.

Anthwerrke [UN-door-kwa] is the home of a significant dreaming, the place where the three caterpillar songlines Yeperenye [Yep-ah-RIN-ya], Ntyarlke [N-CHAYL-ka] and Utnerrengatye [OOT-ner-ung-utch] intersect.

The Anthwerrke interactive tour app features the traditional owners welcoming all to country and talking about the significance of the site.

“Without a knowledgeable guide by your side you may be able to appreciate the beauty of Anthwerrke but you would miss out on its stories and leave this special place none the wiser,” said Mr Paech.

“This interactive tour is like having a friend walk through the site with you and explain the hidden meaning of its natural features, its plants, animals and cultural history.

No interpretive sign can pass on this knowledge the way the traditional owners can.”

“It’s a special place for Arrernte people from this area”, said Lynette Ellis, a traditional owner and working group member.

“You’ve got a lot of tourists going to the West Macs but not that many come east.

Those that do come to Emily Gap don’t have much information. Now they’ve got us telling them the stories about this place.”

The app-based experience, a project driven by the traditional owners and supported by the CLC, was four years in the making and cost some $34,000 to develop and maintain.

It is worth every cent, according to Ms Ellis.

“With more people coming to Emily Gap, later there might be more opportunities for cultural experiences with the traditional owners, or they could work on the park as rangers or tour guides,” she said.

The working group’s next project is a walking and bicycle track between Emily and Jessie Gaps.

“Our NT parks rent money community development program is one of the most positive outcomes from the joint management of the 16 parks and reserves in our region,” said CLC director David Ross.

“In 2010 CLC members decided to use 100 per cent of this income stream for community development and last financial year traditional owners invested more than a million dollars of their park rent income in projects they drive.”

Visitors can download the app free of charge from http://sitesandtrails.com.au/ or the app store by searching for Sites and Trails NT. Once downloaded they can search for the Anthwerrke Interactive Experience or navigate there via the Locations list.

Traditional owners of Karlu Karlu (the Devils Marbles) in the Northern Territory are calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the recent desecration of their sacred site and for visitors to respect their longstanding wish not to drink alcohol anywhere at the site.

The Central Land Council has asked the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority to take legal action under the NT Sacred Sites Act against the individuals who defecated on the site and circulated a video of the desecration that was published by numerous news web sites and papers around the country.

The traditional owners told CLC chair Francis Kelly during a site visit that they feel deeply distressed and upset about the incident and believe it has demeaned their culture.

“They are feeling very hurt and angry,” said Mr Kelly.

“One elder said: ‘When I see that video it is not only him shitting on our site but shitting on our culture. We see that and we think that he sees our culture as shit. In the old days he would have been speared in the leg’.”

The incident has opened old wounds for some of the traditional owners.

“Why do they hate us?” asked Sonny Curtis.

“Everybody knows we are strongly saying we would like to share our country. It’s here for everyone, all of us to enjoy. But somehow they want it all, don’t want us to have any say at all.”

Mr Curtis reiterated the traditional owners’ well-documented desire for an alcohol ban at Karlu Karlu because they believe that drinking promotes disrespectful and unsafe behaviour.

“There shouldn’t be any grog. The best thing would be for people not to have grog at all when they are at a sacred site. Just enjoy the scenery, not drink grog because we all know grog brings lots of trouble.”

Traditional owners have requested signage at Karlu Karlu that informs visitors of their wish.

They also called on the company that brought the perpetrators of the desecration to the Tennant Creek region to apologise to them both publicly and privately.

They plan to raise the matter directly with AAPA at the CLC meeting in Tennant Creek this week.

The maximum penalty for individuals who desecrate a sacred site is $61,600 or two years jail.

The management plan for the vast Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) is no longer a closed book to the Aboriginal people responsible for looking after the vast and fragile country near the border of the Northern Territory and West Australia.

Frustrated with the wordy and complex IPA management plan, the Warlpiri speakers of the Tanami Desert have replaced it with an innovative and engaging digital storybook that puts them in charge by literally speaking their language.

The interactive web application at www.walyaku.org.au requires neither literacy nor English skills because it replaces the text with short videos, audio and animation in Warlpiri, allowing viewers to move through the management plan by following voice navigation prompts and icons.

“We searched the globe for something traditional owners could understand and own but we could not find anything remotely like it, so they came up with their own digital plan that’s exciting, entertaining and a world first,” says CLC director David Ross.

“The digital storybook overcomes the digital divide between our communities and mainstream Australia because it doesn’t even require an internet connection. Who said innovation and agility are only for cities?”

The product of more than two years of research, trial and error, the storybook can also be accessed through a desktop application in community learning centres and home computers, as well as through USB sticks for TVs and game consoles.

“And because so many locals were involved in filming, directing, editing, translating, designing and scripting the storybook it has built community pride and ownership before it’s even launched,” Mr Ross says.

The storybook’s creators will present it at the Natural Resource Management Conference in Darwin on 23 November, followed by launches in the remote communities of Yuendumu, Nyirrpi and Willowra from 28 November.

The CLC will evaluate the project to see if it inspires people in the Tanami, especially young people, to become more involved in ranger group activities such as seasonal burning, feral animal management and the protection of threatened species before rolling it out to other groups.

“Already, people in Lajamanu have put aside a quarter of a million dollars of their compensation money from the Granites Mine to create another digital storybook for the Northern Tanami IPA. We expect the idea will take off from here because it fulfills a real need,” says Mr Ross.

“We have dozens of jointly managed national parks in the NT alone, all of them with plans for ‘two-way management’ that most owners of these parks can’t understand.”

Traditional owners are also taking their innovation to the world, with indigenous land managers everywhere welcome to adapt a free digital storybook template to their needs.

The world’s largest gold miner, Newmont, co-funded the project because it recognised the global potential of the digital storybook.

“Traditional owners are already thinking of how their concept can be further developed and taken to the world,” says Mr Ross. “I hope the storybook will become a valuable tool for empowering indigenous people everywhere, no matter how remotely they live.”

Dianne Ungukalpi Golding’s work Helicopter chasing camels celebrates Aboriginal rangers.

Hetti Perkins’ art pick celebrates 40 years of land rights Art lovers from around the world are in for a special treat as curator Hetti Perkins arrives in Alice Springs this weekend to judge the overall winner of the $15,000 Vincent Lingiari Art Award.

The choice of the eldest daughter of the Central Land Council’s first chair, Charlie Perkins, will be revealed on Wednesday 7th September at Tangentyere Artists Gallery in Alice Springs, at the opening of the Our Land Our Life Our Future exhibition.

Ms Perkins will choose from a shortlist of 23 art works – paintings, installations, sculptures and collaborative works – created by central Australian Aboriginal artists to celebrate the 40th anniversary of land rights.

“The range and quality of works produced for this exhibition indicates the significance of this landmark event in Australia’s history. It is an honour to be part of this celebration and I am excited to see the works displayed at Tangentyere Artists,” said Ms Perkins.

“The breadth of themes and mediums reflects the wonderful diversity of Aboriginal artistic traditions and shows how this cultural bedrock has been so brilliantly interpreted for our contemporary world.

Choosing a winning work from an exhibition of works that are of equally exceptional merit is never going to be easy,” she said.

“I’ll be looking for a work that best captures the moment – the zeitgeist – of Aboriginal experience today in response to the theme of Our Land Our Life Our Future.

While there can only be one winner, the exhibition is certainly a ‘win’ for art lovers as all of these incredible works will be available for sale – a not to be missed opportunity!”

Vincent Lingiari’s son Timmy Vincent is travelling from Kalkaringi to announce the winner.

South Australian artist David Frank, who won the Central Land Council Delegates’ Choice Award for his painting Our Future at Kalkaringi earlier this month, will also travel to the opening from his home community of Indulkana. His work depicts the famous scene of Gough Whitlam pouring red dirt into Vincent Lingiari’s palm.

In June Aboriginal artists from Central Australia submitted one work for each of the 40 years of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976, the high water mark of Aboriginal rights in Australia.

Our Land Our Life Our Future will run for a month and provide Aboriginal workers from Desart member art centres with the chance to gain on the job training and experience in all aspects of curatorial practice.

The exhibition, made possible by the support of Peter Kittle Motor Company, Newmont Australia and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, kicks off the busy Desert Mob weekend.