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Young rangers find their feet as ambitions emerge on Murujuga ngurra

Tom Zaunmayr -

Working on country in one of Australia's most significant historic sites has allowed Ngarluma woman Sarah Hicks invaluable insight into her own culture, insight she now wants to share far and wide.

Hicks has spent the past five years working on country as part of Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation's ranger team looking after the World Heritage-nominated peninsula.

The time out on country has been rewarded for Hicks, but it is her plans to use the knowledge gained from her job which really bring a spark to her eye.

"I am hoping to start up a nursery with native plants and bush medicine," she said.

"I also get to next month go to Canberra for museum curator work where I get to learn how to display artefacts and see different things from their perspective on how they look after their culture."

Central to Hicks and fellow rangers' work is recording of Murujuga's one million-plus petroglyphs dating back more than 50,000 years, more of which are being uncovered every day.

Murujuga ranger Sarah Hicks.

But there's more to the job than recording rock art; Murujuga's rangers are also involved in tourism, research, environmental management and will soon have a role to play in the proposed living knowledge centre to be built at Conzinc Bay.

It is an operation heavily focused on cooperation - MAC itself is a collaboration of five Traditional Owner groups entrusted to protect the culture of an area where the original inhabitants were wiped out by colonial settlers.

The ranger program too is supported by government agreements, as well as Woodside, which has contributed nearly $15m to the unit in the past decade, a partnership committed to until 2030.

That partnership laid the foundation for Woodside's Caring for Country program in 2010, which today has expanded significantly to including building female ranger teams, native seed collection and tree planting to create on country jobs.

Hicks is heavily involved in the tourism side of the program, leading rock art tours while also taking an interest in the lesser known bush medicines and survival history of Murujuga.

"I really enjoy doing the rock art tours, seeing different people come in each day not knowing much but then walking out with a lot of knowledge," she said.

It was more sharing my knowledge of our culture that push me towards this job.

"I wanted to learn more and see how the old people survived that long here."

At the other end of the scale is Ngarluma man Jordan Churnside, who signed on to Murujuga's ranger program this year.

Newly-minted Murujuga ranger Jordan Churnside.

Churnside is relishing the opportunity to learn about his ngurra having spent much of his formative years in the big smoke.

"I was in Perth boarding for a long time and went straight to uni after that so didn't have much opportunity to go out to country and enjoy it as much," he said.

"I am trying to find my own direction and how I want to learn, and this has allowed me to explore it in a safer, more engaging way with the community.

"There is such an enormity to everything that goes on here and we are playing our part. Right now I want to get used to my part."

While finding his feet as a ranger now, Churnside said he was interested in understanding the political aspect of Murujuga's history, and the agreements which have shaped what the region is today.

"It is very important for young people to have a chance to learn these things and this job is a pretty good path to be able to do that," he said.

"It allows interaction with our elders, going out on country to learn and interacting with the community."

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