Indigenous Communities

and the Environment


Kimberley Western Australia | Declared in May 2013

"Our community has a strong vision for looking after our country. We want to make sure that our traditional knowledge is alive and strong and that all plants, animals and cultural sites are looked after." Leah Umbagai, Dambimangari Traditional Owner

The photos used are courtesy of Kimberley land council.

Photo courtesy of Kimberley land council.

The Dambimangari Indigenous Protected Area is located on the rugged, dramatic Kimberley coast between Broome and Darwin. Situated north of Derby, it stretches east to the Prince Regent area, covering more than 1.4 million hectares.

Dambimangari means belonging to homelands and its people are from clan groups of the Worrarra tribe. The Dambimangari are saltwater people, in the past they built rafts and dug-out canoes to hunt, fish and trade goods along the coast. During the Dreaming, Wunggurr, the creator snake and Wandjina, creation ancestors formed the sky, land, sea and all living things in their country and also made the law and the rules to live by.

Spectacular images of large-eyed, mouthless spirit beings and creation ancestors adorn rock shelters in this country and that of their eastern neighbours in Willinggin and Uunguu country. All three Indigenous Protected Areas are on the National Heritage List as part of the cultural landscape of the west Kimberley. Dambimangari also encompasses the tropical waters of the proposed Camden Sound Marine Park, an important nursery area for Munumbanany, humpback whales. These majestic mammals travel from feeding grounds in the arctic to give birth to their 1.5 tonne calves in the dry season. In addition to breaching humpbacks, several types of dolphins Jigeedany, are often seen playing in deeper waters while closer to shore is the more elusive snubfin dolphin. This Australian dolphin has an unusual fishing technique; it spits water to distract fish, making them easier to catch. Yowjab, Montgomery Reef is Australia's largest inshore reef and is of outstanding conservation value. It's also where culturally important juluwarra, sea turtle, warlinya, dugong and jaya, saltwater fish can be found.

On land, the west Kimberly is biologically diverse, with over 165 plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. Dambimangari also provides a refuge to animals that have disappeared from other parts of Australia. Endangered animals include wijingarra, northern quoll, a good hunter with a powerful cultural story, and the brightly coloured Gouldian finch.

Vulnerable animals include climbing rodents like the golden-backed and brush-tailed tree rat, a crab eating water mouse, the freshwater and green sawfish and the purple crowned fairy wren.

Dambimangari people tell a story about an unusual possum only found in the Kimberleys. In the Dreamtime when the trees were in flower, Ilaangaalya, scaly-tailed possum said to Mirimiri-ngarriny, echidna, who could not climb trees, 'Hold on to my tail, I'm a good climber and I will take you high up to the flowers.' Echidna grabbed possum's tail and they climbed up the tree trunk. As echidna's grip started to slip, he pulled the hair off possum's tail and fell backwards into the spinifex below. So to this day, echidna has spikes stuck to his back and possum has no hair on his tail.

By force of recent history, most Dambimangari people live in communities near Derby, or in Broome, Port Hedland and Perth. Many still look after country in the traditional way by refreshing Wandjina rock art, burning at the right time, hunting and gathering, cleaning freshwater places and talking to ancestral spirits.

The Dambimangari rangers have been established by Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation to look after land and sea country. Working in collaboration with elders and conservation agencies, tasks include 'rightway' fire management, looking after cultural sites, wildlife surveys, feral animal control, monitoring fish stocks, quarantine checks and removal of nets and plastic likely to harm marine life. They are also looking at tourism opportunities and introducing a visitor protocol and permit system.

Like all Australia's Indigenous Protected Areas, the Dambimangari Indigenous Protected Area is part of the National Reserve System - our nation's most secure way of protecting our cultural heritage and native habitat for future generations.

Formally declared in 2013, the Dambimangari Indigenous Protected Area is managed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Category VI, as a protected area with sustainable use of natural resources.

Download this page as the Dambimangari fact sheet (PDF - 286 KB)

Photo courtesy of the Dambimangari Indigenous Protected Area and the Kimberley Land Council.