Researchers join Native Title group to care for desert country

Not far from the South Australian mining town of Roxby Downs, picturesque Lake Mary still holds ample fresh water after the 3 successive wet years that followed the 2018-20 drought.

The shores of the lake have revealed important archaeological camp sites left from past gatherings of the Kokatha people, the Aboriginal language group indigenous to the area.

It is also part of a working cattle station known as Purple Downs, one of 3 stations now managed by Kokatha Pastoral Pty Ltd.

On Friday, 22 September, Kokatha representatives and officials arrived at the site to witness an agreement being struck to preserve wildlife and restore desert country. 

The Memorandum of Understanding was forged between Kokatha Enterprises and not-for-profit conservation research group Arid Recovery as part of a multi-faceted plan to add scientific rigour and traditional know-how to existing efforts to restore country. 

Arid Recovery Chief Executive Dr Katherine Tuft joined Kokatha Enterprise Chair Aaron Thomas in signing the agreement on lands formerly owned by BHP, parts of which were handed back to traditional owners under a 2014 settlement of a Native Title Claim

The successful claim by the Kokatha people – first lodged in 1996 and reputedly one of the most complex in SA history – awarded land rights, compensation and undisclosed agreements with the South Australia government and BHP

Part of the judgement included almost 34,000 square kilometres of land between Lake Gairdner and Lake Torrens and the 3 pastoral leases of Roxby Downs, Andamooka and Purple Downs. 

Not far from Roxby Downs, Arid Recovery manages a 123 square kilometre  predator-proof fenced reserve on Kokatha Country to the north of Olympic Dam where it conducts scientific research and a rewilding program.

In the past 20 years, the group has successfully rewilded 6 mammals that had gone missing from the area, including the burrowing bettong, greater stick-nest rat and greater bilby.

But the groups’ aims include more than restoring lost species. They are also focused on combating feral animals and overgrazing, monitoring birdlife, and training Aboriginal rangers.

“The goal between Arid Recovery and the community is to care more for country around here, and to do it together,” says Tuft, “it’s really about the growing of our relationship.  

“As a science research-based conservation NGO, our goal is to bring together that science with the community and cultural interest in country.  

“We’re particularly interested in rewilding animals that have been missing from the landscape.” 

In addition, Kokatha Pastoral intends to grow its cattle production on the 3 pastoral leases while training rangers and pastoral workers and caring for country.

Such work to restore resilience to arid ecosystems is an important part of Australia’s preparations for climate change.  

Ionically perhaps, the ceremony took place not far from the world’s fourth largest copper deposit and largest known uranium deposit: BHP’s Olympic Dam Mine, about 550km NNW of Adelaide.

BHP is a listed sponsor of Arid Recovery’s research and holds places on its advisory board.

Listen to the Cosmos Country podcast to hear more from Dr Katherine Tuft and Aaron Thomas.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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