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Shell Two-Way Learning Camp at Kurlku and Pirnini

Peter Murray

Karen Yungabun, Yanunijarra’s Ngurarra 2 Way Learning Officer, uses ice cream to teach kids about groundwater. She gets a clear plastic tub and fills the bottom of the tub with choc-chips—these are the rocks. Then she drenches the rocks in fizzy lemonade. The lemonade represents groundwater. On top of the groundwater goes the ice-cream, the clay. Then finally, she masks the ice cream with sprinkles. The sprinkles represent the top layer of soil.

It's Karen’s aim to teach kids about water in a way that’s visual and memorable.

“Water’s important for everybody, but especially for us, Ngurrara people, because our water is scarce,” Karen says.

The Ngurrara 2 Way Learning project is a cultural and environmental program combining western science and traditional knowledge, and with a focus on water monitoring. It’s funded by Shell Australia, and the purpose of the project is to build the capacity, aspirations and employability skills of Ngurrara youth.

In August, the Ngurrara rangers accompanied primary-aged students from Djugerari Remote Community School and Ngalapita Remote Community School to Kurlku, Pirnini and Purluwarla, in the Great Sandy Desert. Here, the rangers ran a bush classroom, teaching the kids how to use water monitoring equipment to test the conductivity and pH levels at Lake Pirnini, and at the jila Purluwarla.

“Looking after water—after ngapa—is looking after country. This project is important, because it recognises the value of Indigenous knowledge and language, and it pairs this with a western science perspective,” Karen says.

The results of the tests, which included unusually high levels of salt at Purluwarla jila (where there’s an uncapped artesian bore), are consistent with the results gathered a month earlier. On this earlier trip, our rangers, Yanunijarra staff, and scientists from the University of Western Australia, travelled further afield, visiting three bores, three jila and one jumu. Some of the highlights included visiting the newly named ‘Frankies Bore’, which we have looked for on previous trips, but couldn’t find because of the dense vegetation; measuring bore water levels and quality; and camping out at Willi, where there’s usually plenty of bush tucker, like sand goannas, wild turkeys, echidnas and bush cats. There was also another animal that used to live in the area, but that finished a long time ago. The trip was important not just for the rangers to learn new skills, but for maintenance to be undertaken at the bores and for Ngurrara knowledge about local plants and animals to be shared.

The Ngurrara 2-Way Learning Project is now in its last year of funding. It has definitely been a success, in that it’s allowed us to teach our young people about jila and jumu both through traditional stories and western science. It’s also allowed us to gather a baseline of information about our water, against which we can measure future impacts of development and climate change.