Aboriginal corporations and CSIRO combine to solve environmental problems in remote WA

Two Aboriginal corporations in Western Australia’s Pilbara region have asked CSIRO to help  preserve natural resources and strengthen the long-term financial prosperity of an Indigenous cattle station.

Since 2011, the Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation (AAC) has subleased Peedamulla Station from Jundaru Aboriginal Corporation to help stabilise commercial ventures at the station.

Peedamulla means “plenty of water” in the local Aboriginal language. The Cane River runs through the 226,000 hectare property.

But in recent years, poor water quality has threatened to cripple the local livestock industry.

The CSIRO was asked to identify issues affecting fresh waterways at Peedamulla and advise on the best way to heal the country and protect business operations.

The CSIRO confirmed damaging factors included sediment from floodwater runoff from theCane River, erosion and overstocking .

AAC chief executive Steve Sonneman-Smith was hopeful irrigation would solve most of the issues.

“One of the problems we’re looking at is trying to access water – where could water be dug for irrigation?” he says.

“Part of that was then going back and looking at the Cane River and the aquifers and whether they  stored enough water to  tap into and irrigate.”

The CSIRO found the aquifers were too shallow and relied heavily on yearly rainfall to replenish them.

To mitigate the immediate concerns, attention turned to controlling cattle and restricting the grazing area.

“If you remove cattle from there, how do you then run a viable station?” Sonneman-Smith says.

“It was then we looked at alternative practices around breeding. We’d already started doing some work on breeding with a sort of boil-off of the costings around it, designing where cattle should go, and what areas can hold cattle.

“We actually rotate (the cattle) to build the financial capacity.”

The concerns extend to environmental preservation and protecting the cultural significance of the area.

Jundaru Aboriginal Corporation chairwoman Caroline Parker said the area traditionally was used for camping, and was home to unique plants and animals.

“Animals were always around the wetlands area, even if it did dry out during drought, there are small waterfalls,” she said. “We used to still be able to see where the kangaroos used to dig for water.”

The destruction of waterways compromised the history of Peedamulla as a camping place for local Indigenous people, the future of migratory birds, and the farming of livestock.

Sonneman-Smith said the CSIRO increased attention directed at Peedamulla, hopefully spurring an increase in investment in what is a  beautiful part of the world.

People can get a more accurate understanding of how Peedamulla is dealing with the environmental and economic difficulties of the region and can stay at a designated campground on the property.

Peedamulla Campground was developed under Tourism Western Australia’s Camping with Custodians program.  Camping with Custodians is an Australian first initiative which allows visitors to stay on Aboriginal lands and engage with Aboriginal people.    For communities, Camping with Custodians creates income, employment, training and the opportunity to showcase local culture.    Campgrounds built under the Camping with Custodians program have a minimum standard of facilities.

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