Indigenous Communities

and the Environment

Yinapaka (Lake Surprise), Southern Tanami IPA | Courtesy of Central Land Council

Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area

Northern Territory | Declared in July 2012

"Without the country our spirit will die, we got nothing left, we lose everything. Every part of land is important because Jukurrpa (Dreaming) is still there in the country today"
Eddie Jampijinpa Robertson

Clarke with bilby | Courtesy of Central Land CouncilProtecting rock wallaby habitats with fire | Courtesy of Central Land Council

Top: Clarke with bilby. Bottom: Protecting rock wallaby habitats with fire.
Images Courtesy of Central Land Council

In the heartland of Warlpiri country, the traditional owners have dedicated Australia's largest Indigenous Protected Area. At 10.16 million hectares, the Southern Tanami IPA is bigger than Tasmania and the largest protected area on Australian land.

The Southern Tanami is rich in cultural and natural values. Home to the Warlpiri speaking people, the Indigenous Protected Area links central Australia's deserts to subtropical savannahs. It is a critical part of the proposed Trans-Australian Eco-link, an internationally significant wildlife corridor stretching more than 3,500 kilometres from Arnhem Land to the Great Australian Bight.

Stunning expanses of the Tanami and Great Sandy deserts dominate. Rising from the arid landscape in the south are the red, rocky hills of the Reynolds and Truer ranges. Dotting the sand dunes and plains are salt pans, spinifex tussocks and flowering shrubs.

Hidden beneath the desert sands are threatened animals such as the iconic walpajirri, bilby, colourful warrana, great desert skink, and jajina, brush-tailed mulgara, a small marsupial hunter.

Over 70 types of birds occur in the Southern Tanami including those of conservation significance like the beautiful Jarrurlujarrarlu, princess parrot, and larger wardilyka bustard and yankirri, emu. Following heavy rains, thousands of waterbirds flock to large inland lakes such as Yinapaka, Lake Surprise, and Yirninti Warrku Warrku, Lake Mackay to feed and breed.

Around 100 reptile species live here leaving telltale signs in the sand, like the erratic tracks of wigi, military dragons, the sand wiggles of semi-legless lizards and the burrows of wardarpi, large sand goannas.

The Southern Tanami has a strong cultural story, created during Jukurrpa, the Dreaming; a time when spirit ancestors emerged from the earth and created the landscape and its wildlife as they travelled. The land remains alive with the spirits of these creation ancestors and Jukurrpa law, songs, stories and dances that guide how the country is looked after.

The Southern Tanami has several groups of traditional owners, who are mostly Warlpiri speakers, with some areas belonging to Anmatyerr, Warumungu, Warlmanpa, Kukatja, Pintubi and Luritja language groups. Each area of land in the Southern Tanami has kirda, land owners and kurdungurlu, custodians of land, who have different but complementary responsibilities to look after their ancestral country.

European settlement has brought about changes, as Central Land Council senior Warlpiri Ranger Madeleine Napangardi Dixon explains.

"In the past our old people looked after country and kept it strong. Now there are new problems coming in, like weeds, feral animals and big wildfires."

Traditional owners, with Central Land Council staff, have developed a management plan to guide the work of Warlpiri Rangers in maintaining the natural and cultural assets of this vast area. There are Warlpiri Ranger teams in each of the communities in the Southern Tanami, Yuendumu, Willowra and Nyirripi.

The Warlpiri Rangers combine Aboriginal knowledge and contemporary science to look after country. For example, they learn from elders about patch burning to rejuvenate country and reduce wildfires, as well as working with scientists, helicopters and satellite imagery to burn remote areas and monitor their fire management. Other Warlpiri Ranger tasks include surveying wildlife, monitoring bilbies, controlling weeds, maintaining water places and feral animal control.

Traditional owners and Warlpiri Rangers also work with community based organisations, such as schools and youth programs to teach the younger generation about land management practices such as burning country and sustainably harvesting wildlife.

The Southern Tanami is declared under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) category six, which ensures the conservation of natural and cultural values while enabling the sustainable use of natural resources.

Like all Indigenous Protected Areas, Southern Tanami is part of the National Reserve System - our nation's most secure way of protecting native habitat for future generations.

The Australian Government's Indigenous Protected Areas and Working on Country programs support the Southern Tanami IPA and its rangers through funding provided to the Central Land Council.

The Nature Conservancy, an international philanthropic organisation dedicated to funding conservation outcomes, supported traditional owners to dedicate their country for conservation. The Central Land Council, The Nature Conservancy and the Australian Government are continuing to support the Warlpiri Rangers as they plan to look after their land, playing an advisory role around issues like fire abatement and threatened species management. Other critical funding for Warlpiri Ranger operations is provided by the Indigenous Land Corporation's Real Jobs program and the Aboriginals Benefit Account, with project funding also provided by the Northern Territory Natural Resource Management Board.


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