Fire fighting on country with Warddeken. Third Trip for Nat Geo.
"This is my country.
This is where I recognise myself.
I have a responsibility to manage
it now and into the futureâ
Andrew Marangurra - Traditional Owner
For thousands of generations, Nawarddeken clan groups lived on their customary estates in the stone country. They were part of a living landscape, integral to the health of the stone country, Nawarddeken walked, camped throughout their lands, each dry season undertaking landscape-scale traditional burning.
With the arrival of Balanda (white people), Nawarddeken began to leave the stone country attracted by Christian missions and government trading posts, opportunities to work in the mining and buffalo industries, and the appeal of larger settlements.
A Nawarddeken diaspora resulted and, by the late 1960s, the Stone Country was largely
depopulated. Nawarddeken elders considered the country orphaned.
During this time, our elders saw and felt the devastation of large wildfires and an increasing number of feral animals impacting biodiversity and cultural sites. Their concern was matched only by their desire and motivation to return to country, to once again look after the Stone country, and maintain and pass on their knowledge to future generations.
In the 1970s a return to country movement began in Australia, which resulted in Nawarddeken moving back to outstation communities, the traditional homes in the stone country.
In 2002 after decades spent bringing other Nawarddeken back to country, traditional owner Bardayal Lofty Nadjamerrek returned to his childhood home at Kabulwarnamyo to establish the first of three Warddeken ranger bases, providing employment in the region and allowing landowners to make a living on country. Establishing their own schools, housing and infrastructure.
Warddeken Rangers were the first in the world to earn carbon credits from the traditional burning of country.
Although the diaspora still exists, The elderâs vision of all Nawarddeken clan groups once again looking after country is making progress.
Today Warddeken Land Management manages 1.4 million hectares of traditonal lands, known as the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) home to the Nawarddeken people.
A key part of the Warddekens responsibilities is to carry on the practice of traditional burns - A continuation of traditional land management that has been practised for tens of thousands of years by Nawarddeken, Aboriginal people - the oldest continuous culture on earth.
The practice aims to strategically burn parts of the stone country at opportune times - Normally at the beginning of the dry season when temperatures and winds are moderate and the country hasnât completely dried out. These fires are known as cool burns, they move slowly along the floor of the landscapes allowing animals to escape, burning the undergrowth and removing the build-up of fuel on the ground.
By burning in complex patchwork formations instructed by the traditional owners of the country, a natural barrier is created preventing the spread of out of control destructive hot fires at the end of the dry season often ignited by lighting. These wildfires emit far greater amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Using this ancient traditional knowledge, combined with western science and contemporary technologies such as aerial burning, leaf blowers and digital mapping, Warddekens fire abatement work has successfully decreased the amount of CO2 that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere, and in 2006, the organisation was able to sell these saved emissions to heavy polluter ConocoPhillips an LNG plant in Darwin for close to 1 million dollars per year. Enabling the Nawarddeken people a far greater degree of opportunities and control over their lives.
For example - once a year in the dry season, using proceeds from the carbon credits, Warddeken organises a bush walk with Aboriginal landowners in an effort to encourage people to return to their homelands and traditional lifestyles. The walk is an opportunity for elders to pass down knowledge to the younger generations: Children are taught how to hunt, where important sacred sites are and when the country needs to be burnt. During the walk, fires are being lit sporadically whenever conditions are appropriate.
However, in recent years, with the onset of climate change, Warddekens work is becoming more challenging: They are seeing shorter but more intense wet seasons and longer, drier, windier and hotter dry seasons - making fire abatement increasingly difficult. Climate change not only jeopardises the business and the self-determination of Nawarddeken people but threatens one of the countryâs most unique environments.