Leah Feuerherdt

Leah Feuerherdt


Painting Country for looking after Country

It was wintertime in the desert country of Maralinga Tjarutja people, and properly aru (cold) too. Camping out, we were lucky to have shelter from a shed tank as we woke up to thick fog and then rain. The Oak Valley Rangers were hosting several schools from the area for a two-way science camp, talking and learning about weather and seasons. We were also there to continue planning for the proposed Indigenous Protected Area; recording the important things to look after (targets), and the threats impacting on those targets.

Usually with Healthy Country Planning we brainstorm and share stories to gather information on the targets and threats, and often we use topographic maps to help the process. But this time, we used a different and incredibly engaging approach.

The Ranger Coordinator Sam had organised for Kim Mahood to help the ranger team paint their country on a huge (3m x 2.5m) canvas map. Kim is well known in desert communities for her inclusive and unique approach to connecting western and Indigenous perspectives on country, particularly working with Walmajarri people to bring together scientific and Aboriginal knowledge of the Paruku (Lake Gregory) area.

The map’s original intent is a tool to help the Rangers talk through and develop their regular work plans- where do they need to go, and what activities need to be done. The map painted by the Rangers and Kim is topographically accurate- using a projector to transcribe roads, landforms and vegetation types onto the canvas. Real world data collected by the Rangers on locations of important plants and animals, feral animals and weeds, and fire scars is also included. The Rangers decide what information needs to be included on the map.

We found though, that the active painting of the map at the same time as we were talking about target and threats was a really engaging method to support the first step of the Healthy Country Planning process. With Country so large before us, conversation about what’s important and what threatens Country flowed easily.

But the most exciting thing to witness was the connection every person had to the map. For the Maralinga Tjarutja people (Anangu), the map represents so much more than the data - it illustrates lived history, relationships, stories and songs. Every Anangu that came in when the map was being painted connected immediately to it - to whatever part of the map was strongest for them, and their ancestors’ lived experience. The map was this incredible bridge, connecting the perspectives of Country from Indigenous and non-Indigenous views. A perfect companion to Healthy Country Planning and looking after Country.

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