Finding the middle ground

Host: Aneka Collison & Hugh James
Written by Hugh James – Ranger, GoGo Station.

I returned to GoGo to do some more research on goannas over the wet of 14/15, and caught up with the Gooniyandi Rangers to talk about goannas and gain some insight on traditional hunting and harvest. The coordinator at the time said that he was going to be relinquishing his job as his wife needed him in Broome full time and not away during the week with their new born baby. He suggested that I could should give his job a crack, as the boys loved the “Goanna Man”, and it would mean I could do more research etc.

Upon further discussions with Ewan, I realised just how much conflict and tension there was between Indigenous land use and management and that of cattle stations. I learnt that GoGo was one of the better stations that worked well with the Rangers but could definitely improve. As I was based (in a donga this time at GoGo for my research instead of a tent) I talked the job prospect over with Rick and Stacey, and they seemed to think that it would be an awesome idea, being able to use both my ecological knowledge, station experience and connections and relationship that I already had with the Gooniyandi Mob to bring it all together.

I got the job.

I didn’t have anywhere to live though. So GoGo once again saved my skin . . . talk about pushing the friendship. Rick and Stacey set Aneka and I up in an old house at the station and we are still living there today. As the Gooniyandi Ranger Coordinator, I work all over Gooniyandi Country, GoGo, Fossil Downs, Mt Pierre, Lousia Downs, Bohemia Downs, Larrawa, and Christmas Creek. We organise cultural trips to visit important sites, or complete site management like removing vegetation from around rock art sites to prevent fire damage, weeding, feral management, or fencing off waterholes from cattle to prevent degradation. This is where some of the negotiations occur between stations and the mob, it’s a great environmental idea to fence off a spring, but what about the cattle that water on those points? So it’s a balance of give and take.

Nothing brings pastoralists together like a good old fashioned fire. The Rangers plan to complete four weeks of early dry season burning, we burn to reduce fuel loads, protect significant sites and ecologically significant locations, and to prevent late season wildfire. Some stations like to burn and some like to hold off and hope for the best. Burning pasture, seems like burning money to some but seems like a safe bet to others. We try our best to work in with all of our pastoralists and have been steadily improving our relationship as the years go on.

One way to kick start a relationship is to try and burn a neighbour out. We assisted Mt Pierre station to complete some aerial burning and monitored the fire for a few days and it looked like it had pulled up. But as the wind kicked up a notch the fire crept into 5-7 y/o spinifex hill country, and pushed towards the Christmas Creek boundary. We scrambled to call our team in over the weekend and ended up battling the fire for six days and nights straight. We used our ranger network to call in extra man power from Warmun, Fitzroy Crossing, Jalmadanga, and Broome. We worked side by side with Corgy from Christmas Creek and his young crew, and eventually as the fire jumped another boundary, GoGo station. GoGo brought to the table helicopters and another grader to complement the Christmas Creek grader.

After nearly licking it multiple times the wind would kick up again and the fire would jump our lines, heart breaking. Being able to see from the air what the fire was doing was invaluable, and I encourage pastoralists to assist rangers whenever possible in these circumstances with giving them a better look. Massive credit goes out to the Rangers who worked tirelessly on the front lines, forgoing sleep for days on end and putting up with crazy ideas to hand cut a fire break up a hill and valley with rake hoes and enthusiasm. Credit must also go to the stations for keeping their cool (mostly) and working with us and not against us. Being able to give our crews clear and concise instructions really made the difference. In the end we sacrificed some country to put in a big grade and a back burn which eventually pulled up the beast. As experience now allows, the only way to fight fire is with fire.

Upon returning home after the fire I expected to get an eviction notice, instead Phil Hams of GoGo said that he remembered the last time that country was burnt, and that they fought it for weeks on end with only the river managing to pull it up. I didn’t feel so bad after that.

 B3.1 copyFire planning meeting with Traditional Owners and Pastoralists.

B3.2 copyThe calm before the storm

B3.3 copyAll Hands on deck, back to the drawing board.