Be a Voice for Reconciliation: Dambimangari’s Traditional Owners Speak on Caring for Country this National Reconciliation Week

26 May. 2023
Tim Woods

“Be a Voice for Generations”

This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme urges Australians to maintain momentum for change, acting for past, present, and future generations. What does this look like in practice? Amelia Hurrell and Azarnia Malay, dual-badged Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation & AWC Biodiversity Rangers, understand the theme implicitly, incorporating it into their daily activities. Their work exemplifies what it means to ‘Be a Voice for Generations’ continuing their ancestors’ legacy of protecting Country for future generations.

Azarnia On Dambimangari Country During Biodiversity Surveys David Nelson
Azarnia on Dambimangari country during biodiversity surveys

“My family group is Morlumbun, and I’m from Malarndoom country in the North of Dambimangari. I started this job because I want to encourage young people and care for my country. My ranger job makes me who I am. My grandmother was a strong woman I always looked up to for guidance. Now she’s left us, I want to carry on what she taught me for younger ones about how to respect and look after country.” – Azarnia

Amelia On Country Larissa Potter/AWC
Amelia soaking in the rock formations on Country during her first camera trap deployment.

“I’m a Worrora woman from Larinyuwar on the southern part of Dambimangari country. As a child I was always taken out to my grandfather’s country at Yaloon, where my oldest uncle Sam Umbagai told me dreamtime stories and taught us to respect country and not to harm it, or the animals and spirits of the land will get angry. I love being a ranger. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I get to go out on our beautiful country, learn and share my knowledge with my children and families.” – Amelia

Amelia, Skye, Sophia, Rebecca, Azarnia & Larissa At AMS Conference Dinner AWC
Last year, Azarnia, Amelia, and AWC Senior Field Ecologist Larissa Potter gave the opening plenary talk at the Australian Mammal Society Conference, discussing Dambimangari and AWC’s collaboration for conservation in the Kimberley.

Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) have been working together in an innovative partnership since 2018, to manage 800,000 hectares of Dambimangari Country. Guided by Dambimangari’s Healthy Country Plan, Elders, Cultural Advisors, and AWC’s mission, the partnership involves combining traditional knowledge with western science to conduct biodiversity surveys, right-way fire, weed and feral animal management, capacity building and skills training to achieve conservation outcomes across the Dambimangari Partnership Area.

Aerial shot of Dambimangari taken during surveys Melissa Bruton/AWC

The name for Dambimangari people comes from Dambima, meaning “homelands”, and -ngari meaning “belong to”. They are Saltwater people who have been living along the coast for thousands of years.

Dambimangari country represents a large proportion of the north-west Kimberley, one of the few parts of mainland Australia with an intact mammal fauna. The land has been actively managed by the Dambimangari people for millennia, and we have their custodianship to thank for its intact natural values.

Maintaining that consistent care for Country was complicated by colonialism, which caused Traditional Owners to lose access to their land, culture, communities, and traditions in ways both they and the land have not yet recovered from. Reconciliation Week is a time to recognise the ongoing effects of colonialism, and to seek redress, acting to create a better country for future generations.

“Be a Voice for Listening”

Being a Voice for Reconciliation means Being a Voice for Listening. First Nations peoples have a long legacy of speaking up for their communities, but their voices have been excluded or buried under the voices of non-Indigenous people. As Reconciliation Australia says, “Sometimes being a voice means shutting up and listening.”

L R: Narelle Umbagai, Shorisha Ozies, Daphne Gilbey, Cherylyn Ozies, Inga Pederson, Amelia Hurrell, Kirsty Burgu, Larissa Potter And Azarnia Malay Skye Cameron/AWC
L R: Narelle Umbagai, Shorisha Ozies, Daphne Gilbey, Cherylyn Ozies, Inga Pederson, Amelia Hurrell, Kirsty Burgu, Larissa Potter And Azarnia Malay

Here’s Inga Pedersen, Cultural Advisor and Dambimangari Healthy Country Advisory Committee member, on caring for Country:

“Walking into the parliament house or, walking into the courthouse… you have respect because you’re walking into a building that’s the crown. We got no crown in our country, we got our land, our landmarks . . . our beauty is our crown.”

“You don’t want people going to the Opera House and painting graffiti, you’ll get jail for doing that kinda thing. [Country] should be the same thing, same way.”

“It’s not your home, that’s the animals and plants that been there for thousands of years, before man been even walk on this earth, so have respect.”

“[Healthy country means] we’re part it, we’re part of the land, we’re part of the animals. It was left for us to look after, to be the caretakers… knowing that that’s where our ancestors belong.”

“That country is healthy and will always be healthy, as long as you’ve got people looking after it.”

When asked about the Dambimangari- AWC partnership, Inga said:

“Going out on country, we didn’t have that opportunity before. We didn’t have access to helicopters, planes, boats and things like that… to do fire burning, to make sure [nothing damaging is happening] on Country. But just getting access on country itself, with people who got that scientific knowledge, but then having that learning, partnership … We’re teaching them the cultural aspect of our thing and then they are teaching us the scientific thing. It’s a good relationship. This partnership is the best thing.”

“Why make all these different groups, if you’re all fighting for the same thing why not all come together and fight for that one thing… if you’re all combined together, its stronger.”

“You see that the country is healthier, more brighter.”

Flying Over Illeda On The Way Home After A Big Day Collecting Cameras Melissa Bruton
Flying Over Illeda On The Way Home After A Big Day Collecting Cameras

AWC thanks Azarnia, Amelia, Inga, and all Dambimangari Rangers and Traditional Owners across Australia for their invaluable application of knowledge, compassion, advocacy, and skills to conserve Australia’s irreplaceable and ancient landscapes. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded. This always was and always will be Aboriginal Land.

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