Waanyi Garawa culture camp & biodiversity survey

Bush Heritage, Waanyi and Garawa rangers, Traditional Owners and the Northern Land Council have come together for a week long Biodiversity and Culture Camp on Siegel Creek, deep within the China Wall (Mindibirrina) Ranges in the Gulf Region of the Northern Territory. This was an exciting and happy week with more than 40 people coming together to strengthen culture and survey wildlife.

This rugged area provides many hidden moist refuges for a range of endemic and threatened species and is also a highly culturally significant area for the Waanyi and Garawa Traditional Owners.

In recognition of the ecological and cultural significance of their country the Traditional Owners last year declared their area the Ganalanga-Mindibirrina Indigenous Protected Area. This was the second year we've helped fund these camps to support Traditional Owners being on country, passing on cultural knowledge and identifying the area’s conservation values.

The camp was held during school holidays so that families could bring their children along. This was a huge success. Kids actively engaged in setting up and checking fauna traps and searching for animals, tracks and scats. Whenever a snake was discovered there was great excitement as everyone gathered around ecologist and reptile enthusiast Nic Gambold as he enthralled us with facts and stories of snakes. 

Kids also took part in spotlighting surveys scrambling over rocks and along creeklines in search of geckos, frogs, freshwater crocodiles and more. Despite the noise and excitement the spotlight searches turned up a range of interesting species including six species of gecko, and seven types of frog. 

During the heat of the day surveys turned to the cooler rivers and springs in the ranges where survey techniques that have been undertaken for many generations were utilised. Using fishing lines, hooks and bait we surveyed the fish and turtles of these remote rivers. The highlight of this was the discovery of a healthy population of the endangered and endemic Gulf Snapping Turtle high in the upper reaches of the Calvert River system. This included a very large specimen with a shell length of 32cm. 

In the early mornings and late afternoons bird surveys were undertaken. Bird numbers and species diversity were high with over 50 species being recorded from the survey sites. Highlights included the presence of good numbers of the beautiful and shy Purple-crowned Fairy Wren amongst the riverside shrubs and grasses. This species is considered rare and threatened in other parts of its range however the Ganalanga-Mindibirrina IPA appears to be a stronghold. Another rarely seen species that was recorded and photographed was the Buff-sided Robin.

The camp was also a great time to record senior elders cultural knowledge about many of the significant species found in the region. Long sessions were undertaken with the senior women and ecologists sharing knowledge and stories. Of particular interest were stories of some of the snakes found high in the ranges. Elders recounted stories of a large well-patterned snake living in gorges and caves along the China Wall. Preying on rock wallabies and ringtail possum, they were considered to be dangerous especially when guarding eggs. Nic suggested this may a reference to carpet pythons, a species not otherwise known from the Gulf region. 

Bush Heritage and the Northern Land Council also supported Waanyi and Garawa women to be employed as rangers for the survey. The women worked as a team to set up motion sensor camera traps at eight different sites. Everyone is looking forward to checking the traps in September to see what wildlife have been caught on camera. We're really hoping to get a shot of the rare and endangered Carpentarian Rock Rat.

In the evenings traditional and contemporary dancing and singing kept everyone entertained. This included rehearsals by prominent Garawa artist and senior elder Jack Green and his family in preparation for his upcoming exhibition at the Darwin Festival. A highlight was an innovative dance and song regarding the impacts of mining on the land with the kids dancing the part of backhoes.

At the end of the camp a wrap-up meeting was conducted. Traditional Owners and Waanyi Garawa Rangers expressed their appreciation of Bush Heritage’s support for the camp and their desire to continue to work together to strengthen and build on the relationship to support the ongoing management and monitoring of the Ganalanga-Mindibirrina Indigenous Protected Area.

Bush Heritage would like to acknowledge and thank the Traditional Owners of Siegel Creek for their support for this project, Nic Gambold for coordinating the biodiversity survey, NLC staff for supporting the project, ecologist Kym Brennan for volunteering. Special big thanks to Ranger Coordinator Jimmy Morrison, IPA coordinator Harry MacDermott and Kate van Wezel for organising the women rangers participation. Also thanks to the Flora and Fauna Division of the NT Government for providing trapping equipment and technical advice.