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Indigenous Protected Areas – the ‘backbone’ for long term job creation

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Five Indigenous men in front of a water tank
Shed tank crew at Matuwa Kurarra Kurarra in 2008.
15 Dec 2015

In 2008, a group of men from Wiluna in Western Australia built a water tank on the Lorna Glen and Earaheedy ex-pastoral lease, known today as the Matuwa Kurarra Kurarra Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). 

This project was the first step for the Traditional Owners to create positive long term jobs. What began with 20 days of employment has, with support of the IPA programme, turned into 1000 days of flexible employment with flow-on social, cultural and environmental outcomes.

Over the past few years, two IPAs, Birriliburu and Matuwa Kurarra Kurarra have been dedicated across large areas of the Western Desert region. They have been treated as mutually supportive projects where information, personnel and partners are shared.

The IPAs have been vital for getting people to reconnect with country through planning meetings and land management activities by getting out on country.

“You can’t talk about country when you are not on country. No use talking about it from town,” said Native Title holder, Darren Farmer.

The IPA planning process enabled Traditional Owners to work out the broad aspirations for the management of their country. They identified that by employing Indigenous people to work on country through flexible employment, local communities could develop a reliable workforce that could engage with partners in the region.

Traditional Owners then developed a culturally appropriate employment model using a staged approach that allows workers to balance their working life with obligations to family and culture and to learn at their own pace.

The first step involves Indigenous people working as rangers on Birriliburu IPA in a culturally supportive environment that enables them to learn land management skills. This is followed by working in a more structured way on Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara IPA which is co-managed with Parks and Wildlife Western Australia.

The final step is delivering professional environmental services such as mine site rehabilitation to working with mining companies like Northern Star Resources.

A key outcome for the community and their land management partners has been a steady increase in employment across all projects and an 80 per cent employee retention rate.

The IPA has been a vital investment for the Australian Government in creating jobs and work ready employees in this remote desert region.

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The flexible employment model that has been built through the IPA programme ensures that Indigenous workers develop their skills in land management while being able to carry out their family and cultural duties.