Exploring a haven for Yawuru Country

Wed, 27 Nov 2019

Nyamba Buru Yawuru, whose traditional lands cover 5300sq km of subtropical coastal and inland savannah country around Broome in Western Australia, are exploring opportunities to develop a predator-free wildlife sanctuary on their country. If a fenced feral predator-free wildlife haven was established on Yawuru country it would be the first in northern Australia and the first to be led and managed by an Indigenous organisation. Mike Wysong, the Indigenous Protected Area Coordinator, told us about Yawuru’s recent visit to Canberra to see the Mulligans Flat sanctuary and the opportunities a haven could open up for Yawuru.

The Kimberley is a massive region which has unique ecosystems across its land and sea, and much of its land tenure is under Indigenous control. While there are many Indigenous ranger groups and conservation projects, there are no fenced safe havens in the Kimberley. The Yawuru community is largely unaware of what havens are or the benefits they may offer, so we sent a Yawuru delegation to Canberra in September 2019 to visit Mulligans Flat so that we could get a first-hand understanding of what fenced safe havens are and how they work.

The delegation of nine people included Indigenous rangers, senior Yawuru Traditional Owners and staff from the Environmental Services unit of Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY), the operational company for the Yawuru native title holders.

Yawuru Rangers Eduardo Maher and Sharee Dolby present Ngunnawal custodian Richie Allan with a pearl shell from Yawuru country. Image: Bradley Moggridge

Ngunnawal welcome

On the first day Richie Allan, a Ngunnawal Traditional Owner, provided a Welcome to Country and offered his perspective on the cultural value that Indigenous groups can provide to safe haven programs. We also met with Jason Cummings and others at Mulligans Flat wildlife sanctuary to hear about the project and to tour the sanctuary. At night, we learned about the research program, went on a great spotlighting tour and saw some of the threatened animals within the sanctuary. We also had an opportunity to meet with the Threatened Species Commissioner and the Minister for the Environment in Canberra to discuss our interest in developing a Yawuru fenced safe haven.

This trip was about imagining possibilities for a local project that is strongly aligned to Yawuru’s values and mission and not dependent on traditional development options for regional economies such as mining or agriculture. During the trip we realised that returning missing fauna to country heals country in a holistic way by restoring lost or broken ecological processes.

This is a powerful message for both healing Country and the people of Yawuru Country who have been on this land for tens of thousands of years. This is valuable in a post native title world when healing can start with healthy country and foster healthy people and communities through maintenance of culture, traditions and values.


The delegation of Yawuru cultural leaders, Indigenous Rangers and NBY staff presented the idea of a haven and what they had learned at Mulligan’s Flat Sanctuary to Yawuru community at a community meeting after they returned. Image: Nyamba Buru Yawuru

Taking it back to community

To ensure we have community support for this project, we hosted a Yawuru community meeting to share what we learnt and discuss the project with Yawuru members. There was strong support for the project from the members present to develop it into the next stages.

Given this support, we will be seeking funds to further develop this project so that we have capacity to take on such a large endeavour and develop a feasibility study exploring funding models and options. We will reach out to organisations who can provide program support to establish mutually beneficial partnerships for the long term.

A multitude of possible benefits

The fenced safe haven project aligns strongly with our mission of Mabu buru, mabu ngarrungunil, mabu liyan (healthy country, strong community, and good feeling). A sanctuary could potentially bring benefits to the whole of NBY, including Environmental Services, Community Development, the Yawuru Language Centre and Economic Development.

Yawuru is the largest private landholder in the Shire of Broome and a strong civic partner. An opporutnity to develop a valuble conservation project would benefit the wider community and offers a sustainable investment in line with Yawuru values.

A number of threatened and culturally important species could be included in a fauna recovery program. Some threatened species historically known in Yawuru country such as the burrowing bettong, golden bandicoot, golden-backed tree rat or northern quoll could be re-introduced. Other rare species like the bilby, northern nail-tail wallaby or the spectacled-hare wallaby could be candidates for protection. Some culturally important species that are either rare or under threat, such as the echidna, the spotted goanna or the bush turkey could be included.


A section of coastline within the Yawuru Indigneous Protected Area. Image: Nyamba Buru Yawuru

Growth opportunities

As the native title holders of the Broome area, Yawuru is in a unique position to develop economic, social and cultural opportunities associated with a fenced safe haven which could be located on the Yawuru Indigenous Protected Area only 15 minutes outside of town.

This project could include guided cultural tours, spotlighting tours or high-end visitor accommodation facilities targeting the many visitors who come to Broome each year bringing revenue to NBY or local Yawuru businesses. Another important benefit could include the development of cultural programs around language, traditions or artwork associated with recovered fauna or though strengthening cultural ties with other Kimberley Aboriginal groups that share these animals.

There is also the opportunity to engage the broader Broome community through school projects, youth retreats, or the development of an interpretation centre. This project may also provide short- and long-term employment opportunities for Yawuru people, provide training and new skills for Indigenous rangers and create career pathways in science and conservation management for young aspiring Yawuru students.

In short, this project has the potential to provide many cultural, social and economic opportunities beyond just threatened species conservation, which makes it highly attractive to the Yawuru community.

Nyamba Buru Yawuru received support from the Western Australian Government’s State NRM Program and the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program to undertake the trip to Mulligans Flat to explore wildlife sanctuary options for their Country.

For further information
Michael Wysong - Michael.Wysong@yawuru.org.au

Top image:Yawuru cultural leaders, Indigenous Rangers and Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY) staff were welcomed to Ngunnawal land by Richie Allan. Image: Nyamba Buru Yawuru 
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