Partners find rich rewards
Partners find rich rewards

Vincent Kennedy leads through long Kimberley grass towards Wirrjilwarim. This is the traditional indigenous name for Molly Springs, a short drive outside Kununurra in the East Kimberley and a favourite spot for locals, both Aboriginal and otherwise, over many generations. The place of the spring frog dreaming.

It is now jointly managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation and the local Miriuwung Gajerrong (or "MG") people and, most particularly, by the people of the Wirrjilwarim community.

Six Yoorrooyang Dawang regional parks were set up under the final agreement with traditional owners for the extension of the Ord Valley growing area, all under joint management. The "dawangs" are living areas for MG people. A Park Council represents the community.

DEC East Kimberley district manager and MG co-ordinator Luke Bentley believes joint management is the way forward right across the region. A partnership between traditional owners and the DEC. A common interest, open communication, common goals.

"The DEC brings the operational component and the Park Council brings a really strong sense of how to manage the land culturally," he explains.

It is clear to me that it has proved a platform for a great deal of learning on both sides. And then there is specific learning for the indigenous people going through a broad training course to become DEC MG Rangers.

Local children have these trainees to look up to, and the trainees have mentors such as Mr Bentley and DEC senior operations officer Bill Dempsey.

Vincent Kennedy is one of that first intake of trainees and I follow him as he continues to push the grass aside, establishing the path and telling me about his 11-year-old son Malik, who loves wildlife.

"When I'm doing animal surveys I show him pictures of what we've caught, but he wants me to bring them home."

Clearly, there might be a future for Malik in the training scheme, perhaps specialising as a DEC wildlife officer.

It strikes me, following Vincent, that it's harder to blaze the trail and easier for those that follow, like the next wave of trainees who I met as they worked in Mirima National Park yesterday.

Like the three school-based trainees working with DEC three days a week, towards traineeships.

"I don't think there's a shortage of trainees - they want to work with the big boys," Mr Dempsey says. "It works one person at a time. You help them through and then they help others through."

Perhaps like Malik, in years to come.

"There's opportunity for him - to stick to it and make a life for himself," Vincent Kennedy says, showing me the pools at Wirrjilwarim in which his three older children learnt to swim and where his youngest, doubtless, will too.

The freshwater spring runs all year round into a pool and the trainees have put in new parking and barbecue areas, making it more sustainable for high usage.

The same as when we drive on to Bandaba (Valentine Springs).

Mayiba (Middle Springs) and Thegooyeng (Black Rock Fall) will be the next projects for joint management attention in the Ngamoowalem Conservation Park (the Livistona Range). They will likely be a focus over the next couple of years, improving their amenity for locals and giving visitors more attractions within an easy drive of Kununurra.

Margaret Moore, from the Wirrjilwarim community and serving for the second time as chairwoman of the Park Council, says that before anything happens in the six regional parks, "conversation happens first".

Mr Dempsey confirms: "There's no decision made by one person - never. There is ongoing consultation."

He adds: "We still have some challenging conversations. But there is genuine trust between the DEC and the Park Council."

Mrs Moore says joint management "takes a lot of trust".

But then she looks across at Mr Bentley and Bill Dempsey, and adds: "They are tops, these blokes."

·Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Australia's North West tourism.


  • fact file *

·For more on Australia's North West, visit australiasnorthwest.com.

·Search dec.wa.gov.au for more on the Department of Environment and Conservation in the Kimberley.

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