Warlpiri woman Alice Henwood is an expert tracker from Nyirripi.(ABC Alice Springs: Victoria Ellis)

“Nyiya Nyampuju?” What is this?

The call rings out across the red clay and sand.

The voice belongs to Warlpiri woman Alice Henwood from Nyirripi, a small community about 400 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

“Nyiya Nyampuju?” she asks again.

The group of people, spread out like the tufts of spinifex across the land, slowly gather around to look at where she is pointing.

They are quiet.

Alice knows the answer to her question, but right now she is teaching.

Finally, someone speaks up.

“Wardilyka,” Bush turkey, he guesses correctly.

The questions continue.

“Ngana-kurlangu?” Whose is it? “Nyarrpara-purda?” Which direction?

A group of people are tested on their tracking knowledge.(ABC Alice Springs: Victoria Ellis)

Over and over she asks the group with each new set of tracks that are found.

There are many of the puluku, cow.

There’s also the ngaya, cat, the puwujuma, fox, the warnapari, dingo and excitingly, the endangered walpajirri, bilby.

Full story here: Warlpiri preserve language, culture through animal tracking program for next generation – ABC News

Jeffrey Curtis has been waiting a long time for a new ranger hub in Tennant Creek, but now it’s come — and he’s looking forward to seeing how it helps young people in the remote Northern Territory town.

The new Muru-warinyi Ankkul Ranger base, built by an Aboriginal-owned construction company, is bigger and airier than the last, with modern amenities.

The ranger group had previously been splitting their operations between two locations, but the upgraded single site replaces what was basically “a very old shed”, according to Mr Curtis.

“I’ve been waiting for a new one for a very, very long time, maybe 10 or 15 years,” he said.

“I’m very happy for this new ranger hub and I hope it can do better for the future for our young ones.”

An Aboriginal man wearing a cap and blue work shirt looks at the camera in front a Tennant Creek Ranger Workshed sign.
Ranger Jeffrey Curtis hopes the new Tennant Creek hub will benefit young people in the community.(Supplied: Central Land Council)

Rangers as role models

Muru-warinyi Ankkul Rangers was established in 2003 and is one of the oldest Central Land Council ranger groups.

The rangers care for country by monitoring plants, animals and water, but they have also mentored Tennant Creek high school students; up until the work experience program was stopped due to COVID-19.

Ranger Kylie Sambo said she hoped to restart the program.

“It [learning about country] starts early. If they know it when they’re young, it’s easy for them when they are older to get back to their roots,” she said.

“This is just a fun way of trying to work with non-Indigenous people on country.”

An Aboriginal woman wearing a navy work shirt holds onto the frame of a buggy in a work shed and looks at the camera
Ranger Kylie Sambo would like to restart a work experience program from the hub.(Supplied: Central Land Council)

Tennant Creek has long been facing problems of youth crime, but Ms Sambo knows first-hand the power of positive role models.

“When I was at school I would go on a lot of trips with Central Land Council and write up essays about what we were doing on country and that would give me credit with school,” she said.

“That helped me a lot with being on the streets and doing all of these things that are happening now.

“I watched them [rangers] as a kid first and then said to myself, ‘I’m gonna be a ranger some day’. And sure enough, I am.”

Two Aboriginal women rangers stand on either side of a fence, putting it together.
The Muru-warinyi Ankkul Rangers is one of the oldest Central Land Council ranger groups.(Supplied: Central Land Council)

New hub cooler and closer

The new ranger shed has a large fan, lockers, a tool cage, welding benches and, outside, a pressure cleaner and wash bay, while the house on the property received a new kitchen, bathroom, furnishings, solar panels and air conditioning.

A new conference space and server room will allow the site to be used as a training facility, while space for heavy equipment storage means the site can be a central hub for other ranger teams from Arlparra, Lajamanu, Daguragu, and Ti Tree.

Three Aboriginal men huddle around a fence post, one uses a sledge hammer to bang it into the ground.
The hub will become a training site for other ranger groups.(Supplied: Central Land Council)

Ms Sambo said having a new truck and tractor stationed at the hub will also be a boon, as central regional rangers previously had to travel to Alice Springs to borrow big equipment.

“[The hub] can make a huge difference with the time the rangers spend on roads to get to places and then come back to do the job, and then get that equipment back to where it came from,” she said.

“That’s been one of the biggest problems.”

A woman points at a diagram on a posters on a brick interior wall. A man is listening.
The new hub has modern amenities inside and out, allowing for a wide range of uses. (Supplied: Central Land Council)

Modern way of caring for country

Ms Sambo said the new hub would help her work on country and learn about her culture.

“And I’m being paid to do that, which is very important, because with this society we live in, everything revolves around having funding, having money to do so,” she said.

“The ranger program that’s in place allows us to tackle jobs given to us by traditional owners and that is also deeply important to us, because we are connected to the country.

“This is just a modern way of taking care of country and taking care of family and taking care of the plants and animals.”

A woman wearing fire safe clothing hold a fire lighter and lights the grass in an savanna.
Rangers say the new hub will help them work more efficiently on projects including traditional burning.(Supplied: Central Land Council)

Mr Curtis said the rangers made him proud.

“[I’m] very happy with my group. We were established from 2003, but we’re still going,” he said.

“This ranger group has achieved a lot — a lot of training has been done and a lot of land management and conservation … it’s made us a stronger group.”

An ABC news story posted 20 Feb 2024

Tennant Creek’s new Muru-warinyi Ankkul Ranger hub a welcome upgrade for working, training – ABC News

Join Bronwen Cavanagh, from the Ltyentye Apurte Rangers, and Kitana Shaw, from the Aputula Rangers, to learn new skills and help family protect country and culture. The two award-winning rangers have worked behind and in front of the camera to bring you this video.

Custodian Terrence Abbott and Australian Wildlife Conservancy CEO Tim Allard

An exciting new partnership in Central Australia between the traditional owners of the Ngalurrtju Aboriginal Land Trust, Central Land Council and Australian Wildlife Conservancy sees more than 300,000 hectares brought under conservation management

Alice Springs, NT, Thursday 12 May 2022 – The traditional owners, the Central Land Council (CLC) and Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) have signed an agreement to collaboratively promote the conservation of the unique cultural and ecological values of the land trust in the Northern Territory.

Building on long-standing and productive relationships between the Warlpiri, Anmatyerr and Luritja -speaking traditional owners, the CLC and AWC, this new collaboration – the Ngalurrtju partnership – will provide exciting opportunities for mutual learning through the sharing of Aboriginal cultural and ecological knowledge, conservation land management practices and scientific research methods.

“We look forward to working on our country with the CLC and AWC, to protect our sacred sites and look after all the plants and animals,” said Nigel Andy, from the Karrinyarra traditional owner group.

The land trust features many sites of great cultural and spiritual importance. A major ngapa (water) songline travels right through the middle.

CLC chief executive Les Turner said the agreement between the CLC and AWC would provide for strong protection of these sites and included an employment package of approximately $170,000 per year.

“The package will create employment and training opportunities for the members of four estate groups and their communities,” he said. “All these groups will be represented on the partnership’s steering committee, ensuring the area will be managed in line with the traditional owners’ cultural knowledge and obligations.”

The 323,000 hectare land trust in the Great Sandy Desert bioregion at the edge of the Tanami Desert straddles the transition zone at the junction of three arid zone bioregions. It adjoins AWC’s 262,000-hectare Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary.

Together these two properties will protect almost 600,000-hectares of exceptional conservation value.

Central Australia’s biodiversity is under threat from feral cats and foxes, altered fire regimes, feral camels, cattle, horses and weeds. Tim Allard, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s CEO, anticipates that the partnership will see these threats controlled and biodiversity restored on a landscape scale.

“AWC is working to extend its innovative Indigenous Partnership model by forming a new partnership with the Ngalurrtju traditional owners and the CLC. Together we will be establishing a template for collaborative conservation in Central Australia.”

The adjacent Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary has been effectively managed for conservation for more than two decades.

At Newhaven, AWC has worked with Luritja and Warlpiri-speaking rangers and native title holders for more than 15 years on conservation programs ranging from biodiversity and targeted threatened species monitoring to active land management programs such as fire management and feral animal control.  

Science informs all of AWC’s on-ground conservation actions and an extensive science program will be implemented at Ngalurrtju, including monitoring of threatened and culturally important species and ecosystems.

The partnership will complement and extend the work on Newhaven in collaboration with the CLC’s Warlpiri and Anangu Luritjiku rangers and AWC’s Ngalurrtju and Newhaven Warlpiri rangers.

Recording and mapping threatened and culturally important species and ecosystems and building an inventory of extant plant and animal species will be early priorities. This important process helps to identify threatening processes and informs the development of a culturally-based conservation land management program and ‘healthy country’ planning.

The partnership will help to secure populations of some of Australia’s most threatened species, deliver positive cultural and socio-economic outcomes for traditional owners and provide a best-practice template for collaborative conservation in Central Australia.

Follow links for more information on the Central Land Council’s and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s work.  

Enid Gallagher leaned forward over the spinifex and clutched her chest in fear. Suddenly, she wasn’t just showing the three young men from Nyirrpi how to track brush-tailed mulgara, she had become the frightened animal.

The animal in question is a small, threatened marsupial Yapa call jajina.

“Jajina wake at night when the lightning strikes,” she said, and pointed to the burrow beneath the spinifex.

Her teenage students learn the difference between fresh and old kuna (poo) left by the small marsupial, and read the tiny footprints around their burrows.

They listened carefully to their kuyu pungu (master tracker), and filled out their work sheets.

Reading and learning the country (yitaki mani) is part of a workshop by eight senior Yapa knowledge holders, educators, Central Land Council rangers from Yuendumu, Nyirrpi and Willowra and other staff.

The week-long workshop at the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, 363 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, included Nyirrpi high school students so they could road-test new learning materials developed by the Yitaki Mani project working group.

The workshop is part of a new CLC project that aims to find out how senior Yapa knowledge holders pass on a lifetime of learning and caring for country to Yapa who grew up in settlements.

Unlike young people today, kuyu pungu and Warlpiri Ranger Alice Henwood was born out bush, west of Nyirrpi, and learned to live off the land. “I’m one of the last bush ladies,” Ms Henwood said proudly.

Now in her sixties, she learned to track as soon as she could walk and follow her parents and aunties on the hunt.

Ms Henwood’s journey took many years, but she feels a sense of urgency to teach her young colleagues.

“I am worried that when I pass away that knowledge will just disappear. That’s why we have to pass the knowledge to the young rangers now, as well as the young people, so they can pass on to their kids,” she said.

“I am worried that when I pass away that knowledge will just disappear. That’s why we have to pass the knowledge to the young rangers now, as well as the young people, so they can pass on to their kids,” she said.

Warlpiri Ranger Alice Henwood, one of the last people to grow up living off the land.

Yapa and the CLC want to fast-track that learning process so that young rangers have access to yitaki maningjaku – everything you need to know to track.

The project working group developed teaching and learning materials that young people can relate to, but that still foreground Yapa knowledge systems.

Kardiya (non-Aboriginal people) typically trap animals to identify what species live in an area, but this only works if something falls into the trap.

A skilled kuyu pungu, however, can tell you the size, diet, territory and hunting patterns, as well as the speed of travel, age and sex of all the animals, reptiles and insects that left tracks around the trap overnight.

“We teach whitefellas, and we also learn from them too,” said Ms Henwood’s daughter and fellow Warlpiri Ranger Christine Michaels.

“Like with the tablets CLC showed us how to store information about endangered animals.”

Yapa knowledge is not just about identifying the animal, it’s also about the purda nyanyi (sensory awareness) of the expert tracker, which is traditionally stored in their head.

Thanks to funding from the 10 Deserts Project, the Yitaki Mani team is developing tools and resources to maintain and promote this knowledge for generations to come.

“I’m getting a little bit sick now, so I really need to pass my knowledge to the younger rangers and the kids.

I’ve been working for a very long time,” Christine Michaels said. “Today the kids from Nyirrpi were really excited to go tracking for jajina and warrarna (great desert skink) and count the burrows.

I was really happy with that.“If young people want to become a ranger they have to work to know their country, spend time with elders on country, and not go into town drinking,” she said.

The Ltyentye Apurte Rangers have removed swallow nests from the paintings of their most significant rock art site – with a little help from their friends from Kaltukatjara (Docker River).

Anton McMillan put his training into practice at Utyetye.

Traditional owner Damien Ryder led the convoy of two ranger groups on a trip to Utyetye, a large open cave at the bottom of a cliff on the Santa Theresa Aboriginal Land Trust, to watch them restore the paintings covering the cave roof to their former glory.

He stood at the edge of a cliff that turns into a waterfall after heavy rains, and creates a curtain across the cave opening while topping up the bright green water below.

“The old people used to camp here,” Mr Ryder said, gesturing down into the narrow valley beyond the cave that the rangers have recently cleared of reeds.

Bernard Bell, from Kaltukatjara, clambered down the steep rock face with a cardboard box under his arm, ready to show his colleagues what he learnt at Walka, a cave full of rock art his group is protecting back home.

“I’m teaching them how to look after these paintings and clean off the mud nests,” he said as he inspected the mesmerising design of concentric circles in yellow and orange ochre that covers almost the entire roof of the cave.

Then he pulled a wooden stick and a small hammer out of the box and started to carefully chip away at one of the dozens of mud nests stuck to the ochre.

When only a narrow rim of mud was left he pulled out a spray bottle filled with a clear fluid.

“We spray it with methylated spirits to make the mud soft,” he explained.
The moisture revealed even more paintings underneath the wet mud as he gently swept away the last of it with a soft paint brush.

Bernard Bell (left) showed Farron Gorey how it’s done.

“We use the brush to clean off the rest of the mud, spray it again, brush again, until it looks nice and clean. It works well. It never takes off the rock painting.”

“It’s been here for a long time and that’s why we need to look after it.”
Farron Gorey, from Ltyentye Apurte, got the hang of it right away.
“It’s a bit different from other ranger work,” he said.

His colleague Anton McMillan already had some practice, having learned the technique during a visit with the Kaltukatjara group.

“My first time was at Docker, where I was doing some training for this kind of work,” he said.

“Nobody has come out here before to clean out the swallow nests to look after all the paintings. It’s part of the history for this country, that’s why it’s important.

“I reckon the traditional owners will be happy with it.”
Mr Gorey agreed.

“I feel good that we can continue to do this, so the old people can see it,” he said.
“I want to bring them here to show them what we have learned. When they see this they are going to feel happy.”

Mutitjulu primary students harvesting urtjanpa with CLC Tjakura Ranger Ashley Paddy.

Students in Mutitjulu, Watarrka and Utju are soaking up traditional knowledge at school, thanks to a partnership between Tangentyere Council Land and Learning and the traditional owners of the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park.

Each school worked with local elders to plan bush excursions and what they wanted to teach on the trips.

Utju studied bush medicine plants, with students learning to prepare rubbing medicine from the witjinti plants they had collected out bush, and drinking and rubbing medicines from ilintji.

The elders’ knowledge, along with the students’ drawings and photos of the excursions, were then used to create teaching resources in Pitjantjatjara and English.

At Utju, they made two language books, Irmangka – Irmangka Palyantja, about making rubbing medicine from eremophilas, and Punti, Muur-muurpa, Witjinti munu Ilintji, Utjuku miritjina irititja kuwaritja, about how to use senna, bloodwood, corkwood and native lemongrass.

“It was a good story and the pictures too. Palya, it’s colourful and a good story,” assistant teacher Rachel Tjukintja said.

Teacher-linguist Leanne Goldsworthy agreed. “The book is beautiful and informative. It’s a great resource to have and a record of knowledge so it won’t be lost,” she said.

Anangu elders, the CLC’s Tjakura Rangers and the national park rangers took Mutitjulu students to Kata Tjuta to harvest urtjanpa (spearwood). They cut mulga wood for wana (digging sticks) and clap sticks from the surrounding woodlands and collected kiti (resin) from the mulga leaves.

They also made kulata (spears) and dug for maku (witchetty grubs). Back at the school, the elders showed the students how to finish their punu (wooden tools) and prepare kiti. They helped the students to record on worksheets what they had learnt. “We make kulata, wanaand music sticks. It was fun, I liked it,” student Sarah Lee Swan said. “The ladies teach us how to make them from the tree with different tools. I want to go camping next time.” Student Nazeeria Roesch agreed. “Yeah, fun. I make stick. I look for maku. Yes, let’s go again,” she said.

Maruku Arts provided the tools for this pununguru palyantja (making tools from trees) trip. With some planned trips cancelled due to COVID-19, Watarrka students illustrated Yaaltji ngiyarilu tjilka mantjinu (How the thorny devil got his spikes), a story told by Brian Clyne and translated by Julie Clyne.

Source: Community Development News – Summer 2020

Mutitjulu elders are today launching a new Central Land Council ranger group to manage the vast Katiti Petermann Indigenous Protected Area surrounding the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park.

Central Land Council chair Francis Kelly says Mutitjulu’s Tjakura rangers – the CLC’s 12th ranger group – are taking their name from the Pitjantjatjara/Yangkunytjatjara word for the threatened great desert skink.

“They are proud to wear the logo with the tjakura on their uniforms because that’s what our rangers are so good at: looking after endangered plants and animals the proper way, under the guidance of their elders.

They don’t just keep country healthy, they also keep people’s culture and knowledge of country strong,” Mr Kelly says.

The Tjakura rangers’ logo is based on a concept design by senior Mutitjulu artist Malya Teamay, who will unveil it at the launch, following a ceremony at 10.30 at the community’s ranger office.

The new group will share the protection of the five million hectare IPA with the CLC’s Kaltukatjara rangers from the remote border community of Docker River, a rough three hour drive west of Mutitjulu.

“I’m so happy my team of six will finally be joined by seven new colleagues from Muti,” said Kaltukatjara ranger co-ordinator Benji Kenny.

“We really needed these reinforcements because it’s been a daunting job to look after an IPA of more than 50,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Denmark or Switzerland, on our own.

“By comparison, the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park inside the IPA covers only just over 1,300 square kilometres and employs more than a dozen non-Aboriginal rangers, plus another dozen non-ranger staff.”

The IPA is an international hot spot for mammal extinctions, with 18 mammals vanishing from the area since European settlement.

Anangu [pronounced AR-nangu] traditional owners still remember animals such as kantilypa (pig-footed bandicoot), tawalpa (crescent nail-tailed wallaby), lesser bilby, and walilya (desert bandicoot) which died out during the lives of today’s elders.

Feral cats and foxes and changes in traditional fire regimes after Anangu were moved into settlements drive these extinctions.

The Tjakura rangers will help to look after more than 22 surviving native mammal species, 88 reptile species and 147 bird species found on the IPA, including threatened species such as the murtja (brush-tailed mulgara), waru (black-footed rock-wallaby) and the princess parrot.

“We use traditional knowledge and skills such as cat tracking and cool season patch burning and combine them with modern tools such as aerial incendiary machines and digital tracking apps to manage these treats,” Mr Kenny said.

“Having two ranger groups look after the IPA means that we’ll be able to double our efforts and involve more community members on a casual basis, for example to hire more locals to do controlled burns during the upcoming fire season.”

Unique to Australia, IPAs are areas of Aboriginal land traditional owners voluntarily declare and manage as part of Australia’s National Reserve System funded by the federal environment department.

The federal government’s IPA and Working on Country programs provide scarce opportunities for ongoing paid employment for Aboriginal people in remote communities and are highly sought after.

The skills CLC rangers gain through structured accredited training boost their employment prospects in other sectors as well as improve their mental health and wellbeing.

The federal government has delivered on the promise to fund the group, which Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion made in 2015, shortly after Anangu traditional owners declared the country around Uluru Australia’s 70th IPA.