Indigenous Communities

and the Environment

Patch Burning Walakara  South Australia

Walalkara and Watarru Indigenous Protected Areas

South Australia | Declared in June 2000

Map showing the location of Watarru and Walalkara Indigenous Protected Areas in South AustraliaWatarru and Walalkara Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) were declared in June 2000.

They cover 1.2 million hectares and 700,000 hectares respectively on Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands. Both areas lie in the Great Victoria Desert, the traditional lands of the Pitjantjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra and Yankunytjatjara peoples, known as Anangu.

Anangu Traditional Owners manage their lands in accordance with traditional law, or Tjukurpa. Tjukurpa describes a time when heroic beings combining the attributes of humans and animals travelled across the landscape, creating and shaping the features of the land. Their actions established the code of behaviour followed by Anangu today. This code regulates all aspects of life, from resource use and land management to social relationships and personal identity. For Anangu, the landscape embodies the stories, songs and art of Tjukurpa.

As well as being imbued with the stories of ancestors, the landscape is the result of thousands of years of management through traditional practices, like patch burning. During the cool season, small fires lit close together leave burned and unburned areas, or patches. The resulting mosaic pattern helps to provide protection for small animals, while removing old vegetation and encouraging the growth of new shoots.

The environment on both IPAs is largely intact, with no history of grazing and few other disturbances. IPA funding supports traditional fire management activities and helps to maintain precious sources of water like rockholes and soakages. Tjukurpa teaches about the location and care of these sources, many of which are known only to Anangu.

Traditional Owners, with the help of APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Land Management, work with scientists to find ways to deal with contemporary land management issues, such as weeds and feral animals. These problems are not dealt with in Tjukurpa as they are only relatively recent issues.

Watarru and Walalkara have a huge diversity of reptiles , including tjakura, the great desert skink, and Australia's largest lizard, the perentie.

IPA funding is used to control feral animals, like cats and foxes, which pose a threat to native animals. Although feral cat numbers are relatively low, native wildlife populations can be devastated if the cats are not controlled. Work is also underway to control camels, which foul waterholes and soakages, placing extra stress on the native animals which use the water.

The Traditional Owners are interested in developing small-scale tourism ventures through which they can share their knowledge of the country with visitors. Several small tourist ventures have already been undertaken on the two IPAs, including visits to Walalkara by Earthwatch, and Watarru by the Victorian Land Rover Club. IPA activities help pass on traditional knowledge about country to younger generations. Elders take younger members of the family out into the field whenever appropriate and work with schools close to IPAs to share traditional knowledge.

The two IPAs are managed in line with the following International Union for Conservation of Nature category: