One week on Karajarri Country with the local ranger mob.
Romping through the bush, on a quadbike!
EB, a Karajarri ranger, is driving. There are no tracks; just spinifex, pindan soil, burnt acacias and bloodwood, and EB batters his way through the scrub. Despite the lack of roads, EB knows where he is going. This is his country.
EB is one of his mob’s ‘old people’ – an elder and traditional custodian of this land. He is one of twelve rangers who work with the Kimberley Land Council to deliver a land management regime incorporating traditional and scientific methods.
This is the modern version of Indigenous land management. For thousands of years, EB’s ancestors have cared for this country, and for him, the responsibility to carry on with his cultural obligations is binding and inviolable.
Today, we’re camping out on Nita Downs, a cattle station 200km South of Broome. For almost five years, local pastoralists around the Kimberley have been awaiting approval from the state government to clear land for cattle grazing. We’re here to determine the activity of native bilby populations, and if the clearing would threaten them.
Suddenly, EB stops the quadbike. In amongst scrub indistinguishable to my eyes, he’s spotted a bilby burrow! Sadly, the land has been smashed by cattle, and it’s difficult to discern tracks leading from the burrow to surrounding diggings. Nevertheless, EB marks its location on a GPS tablet.
10am; and the temperature beings to soar. The surveying is rough work. This is harsh country, devoid of water but for a few aquifers, and we’re walking through bush you don’t want to be walking through. There are 206 plots to be surveyed, each of which covers an area of around two hectares.
By 3pm, the heat has become too much and we’re back at the camp. It’s just a tarp, suspended between tent poles and star pickets, and a patch of dirt where we’ve cleared the spinifex to pitch our tents. A colossal billy simmers on a hotplate heated by the fire. There are six of us in total: EB; Ewan, the ranger co-ordinator, and two ladies – Karen and Ruth – from DPAW.
Sitting around the fire; smoking a cigarette, drinking a cuppa. Fire, in the baking heat. Glorious heat! Sweet sweat on my skin! One day down, two more to go! Three days of romping through the bush, looking for burrows. Out in the dust! Dust, dust, glorious dust! It might be irritating now, but I’ll miss it when I get home. Ah, how we memorialise travel.