A geospatial partnership with the Yawuru community

15 July 2019

This process informs the geographic aspects of Yawuru country and maps places of cultural and social significance for Yawuru people

Donors to the Lesslie Endowment are supporting an ongoing partnership between ANU and the Yawuru people, who are the traditional owners of country in and around Broome, Western Australia.

In 2012, senior Indigenous leader and Yawuru man Patrick Dobson requested ongoing engagement from ANU in building geospatial capacity and broader skills to assist the Yawuru community in meeting post-native title challenges.

Today, the Yawuru are using Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology to digitally map Yawuru country in partnership with the Fenner School of Environment and Society.

Dr Bruce Doran, Senior Lecturer in GIS at the Fenner School, says the long-term partnership with the Yawuru community is focused on developing practical uses of GIS to support Native Title decision making.

"This process informs the geographic aspects of Yawuru country and maps places of cultural and social significance for Yawuru people," said Dr Doran.

The partnership enables Yawuru people to map and monitor historical, current and future use of Yawuru terrestrial and marine environments, and provides evidence - both from a Yawuru cultural perspective and from western science - to assess the impact of activities on Yawuru country.

Currently, work is focused on the Yawuru estate, but discussions are underway to extend these innovative approaches to Indigenous communities across the Top End.

Dr Doran says that donor support for the Fenner-Yawuru GIS partnership has come at a key moment of looking to expand on and share the success of using mapping to support Yawuru decision-making processes.

"The flexibility of the funding enables us to take up opportunities that emerge at relatively short notice. In 2018, following a presentation at the Native Title Conference, we were invited to present at a Defence Environment Conference in Canberra, and ANU funds were used to support travel and accommodation for Yawuru colleagues. Donor support has also allowed us to purchase some GPS tracking equipment to further develop and validate some of our land use models."

The partnership also includes the appointment of a Yawuru Visiting Fellow, Dean Matthews, who has co-supervised Honours projects and co-taught case studies about Yawuru country. This is an important recognition of the joint nature of the partnership and a model for collaborative work with Indigenous communities.

In 2016, Dr Bruce Doran and Dean Matthews received the ANU Vice-Chancellor's Award for Indigenous Education.

The Lesslie Endowment recognises the contributions to landscape conservation and ecology by Dr Rob Lesslie, an alumnus of ANU, and supports applied research in these areas.

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