Indigenous Communities

and the Environment

Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area

Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area

Kimberly, Western Australia | Declared in May 2011

We want a future for our children on our country... our blackfella national park (Indigenous Protected Area) makes us proud... respects our country, our Wanjina culture and knowledge... so that our children give a future for their children in our ancestors' country.
Basil Djanghara, senior Wunambal traditional owner

In May 2011, the Wunambal Gaambera people formally declared stage one of the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area. Uunguu stretches over about 343,515 hectares of the northern Kimberley - one of the most remote and spectacular coastlines in the world.

Uunguu means 'living home' - it is all the things in Wunambal Gaambera country and the home of their ancestors for thousands of years.

Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area

photo: courtesy of Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area and Parks Australia.

Their culture, Wanjina Wunggurr, is shared with their neighbours, the Ngarinyin people of Willinggin country and the Wororra people of Dambinmangari country.

The Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area is the first major step in the Wunambal Gaambera people's Healthy Country Plan 2010-20.

The traditional owners have been working on this plan since the late 1990s. They want younger and future generations - and other Australians - to understand the unique cultural and natural assets on their country and how to look after them.

These years of work have shown the Wunambal Gaambera people that the present health of their Uunguu is only fair, so they have committed to improving its health within 10 years. Declaring this Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area for part of Wunambal Gaambera Country is the first step of that commitment.

For Wunambal Gaambera people, Uunguu is part of Lalai, the story of how and when their country was made. Lalai is told through rock art sites found throughout the Indigenous Protected Area.

The rock art speaks of the Wanjina spirits and the Wunggurr spirits, creation ancestors who made the languages and the law for each family to look after a traditional part of country. Lalai started in the time when the world was soft, when each Wanjina had a job to do to make the country.

Some Wanjina like Rumitjmarra and Wundulii carried stones, wet and soft as a cloud, as they moved throughout the land giving life and language to the country. These stones became the caves and shelters where Wanjina rested, leaving their images and stories behind in rock art.

Wanjina is also in water, rain and cyclones and the wet-season build up of clouds. The Wunggurr snake travelled through the country making rivers, waterholes and hills. Some Wunggurr spirits still live in Punamii-Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls), one of the region's most spectacular waterfalls.

Today Wunambal Gaambera people live a different life from their ancestors - living in two worlds, embracing traditional culture and modern ways of doing things.

The community has a population of about 400 who, by force of recent history, are dispersed around Kimberley towns including Kalumburu, Derby, Kununurra and Broome. Only one family group still lives on their traditional country, high up on the Mitchell Plateau.

The traditional owners have identified 10 priorities in their Healthy Country Plan: looking after Wanjina Wunggurr law, 'right-way fire', kangaroos and wallabies, rainforest, waterholes, bush plants, rock art, cultural places on islands, fish and other seafoods, marine turtles and dugong.

The plan and its priorities will guide the Uunguu rangers in their daily land management of fire, weed and feral animal control, fencing, visitor management, cultural heritage conservation and monitoring the health of plants and animals.

The Uunguu Rangers will manage the Indigenous Protected Area using both traditional knowledge and modern ways, best exemplified in right-way fire. Right-way fire burns a mosaic in the cool season to prevent wildfires in the hot dry racing through vast stretches of land, damaging cultural places and plant and animal habitat.

The Australian Government is supporting the Healthy Country Plan with funding from Caring for our Country to help manage the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area.

The Wunambal Gaambera people are also being assisted by Bush Heritage Australia and the Kimberley Land Council to develop their healthy country management capacity.

Male and female Uunguu rangers are supported by the Australian Government as part of Closing the Gap under the Working on Country program.

Like all Australia's Indigenous Protected Areas, the Uunguu 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 May 2011, the Uunguu 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 the Uunguu fact sheet (PDF - 921 KB)