Ngurrara Rangers from Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation recently took the stage at the 2019 Australasian Groundwater Conference in Brisbane to present their findings on a groundwater study from WA’s Kimberley region.

Undertaking an 18-month study of groundwater across the Great Sandy Desert (Ngurrara), the Rangers wanted to find out how Jila (Walmajari for ‘living water’) and Jumu (‘temporary water’) were all connected underground in the context of contemporary Western science.

With traditional knowledge already telling the Rangers all Jila are connected, they wanted to understand how Jila change over time so they can be appropriately managed into the future with respect to the effects of climate change.

Working with the University of Western Australia and Rockwater Senior Hydrogeologist, Steve Bolton, the Rangers looked at five different sites.

“Within the project area it’s about 110 kilometres from the first Jila to the last Jila,” said Ngurrara Women Ranger Coordinator at Yanunijarra, Chantelle Murray.

The team put in lines of shallow bores at each Jila and Jumu to see the direction of the water flow and measure water level changes and salinity, amongst other measurements.

Ms Murray said during the project the Ngurrara Rangers learnt a lot of the science behind the workings of groundwater and the underground.

What they found was that the water from each Jila was coming off sand dunes and that all Jila had a high salt reading.

The Rangers then compared these results to traditional knowledge that said Jila originally weren’t very salty and all were drinkable.

Ms Murray said the old people used to use a type of grass to filter the water.

“They’d dig the Jilas up and they’d put [in] the grass … one particular grass that they used, to make it into a round shape and then they put it into the Jilas, that filters the water … it gets the dust away … and then that makes it drinkable,” Ms Murray said.

Cultural knowledge [says] all Jilas have been drinkable.”

At the Conference the Rangers won an award for Best Oral Presentation, which was a surprise to Ms Murray.

“We weren’t expecting any awards,” she said.

“We just went to present and show them how we do things out on Country.”

Mr Bolton presented the Western science side of the presentation, and the Rangers delivered the traditional knowledge and cultural side of the project.

“It was an eye opener for the scientists to see … how cultural ways are the same as Western ways,” Ms Murray said.

“Our Traditional Owners are the scientists themselves, you know? It links up together.”

Ms Murray said the largest part of the presentation was about how the old people used navigation skills to get from one Jila to the next through stories, songs and dances and how the Jila are all connected in this way.

“We wanted to share our stories to scientists from all over the world.”

By Hannah Cross