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Balla Balla story camp: Desert to Sea

Sam Harper and Jo McDonald

The 2023 Desert to the Sea Culture Camp with Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) was an initial planning session on Ngarluma country at Balla Balla near Whim Creek. This camp involved Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi Traditional Owners as well as MAC heritage staff and researchers from UWA and the Western Australian Museum.  We camped for three nights next to Balla Balla Creek.

The UWA and WAM researchers joined the MAC team at MAC HQ to organise vehicles, food supplies and camping gear, before heading east. The journey started with Vince Adams showing the researchers a site at Murujuga with motifs revealing the journey of a known song lines onto the Burrup. 

As several Ngarluma elders were unavailable during this week, our conversations at camp revolved around planning for a more detailed trip with the right people to tell particular stories. We visited several important places on Ngarluma and Yinjabarndi country, and identified the right people to talk for these places.

A key learning focus was the discussion about how Murujuga brings together stories from the adjacent language groups, both travelling to and from this place. This linking of stories and places across the Pilbara and into the desert – is the essence of the Desert to the Sea Project, which seeks to explore the connections between rock art and mythological narratives – and the importance of water.

We visited several key places where some of these stories intersect – travelling in convoy as far as Black Hill Pools. Women’s areas and men’s areas were identified within broader cultural places for future more detailed work. Stories, rock art, and other evidence for long-term human uses of these landscapes coalesce at these places, and we have charted rich opportunities for future field seasons!

In the evenings we cooked alongside each other, using the tray of a MAC dual cab for the gas ring burners. Annie shared WAM collection images relevant to the custodians present, touching on another of the project's research foci.

We all left with a strong sense of place for this creekline, with views across the tidal flats to the island, surrounded by shell midden... a short distance from multi-coloured outcropping pigment.  And the luxury of a sandfly-free meeting place, in a beautiful landscape ... We look forward to the next MAC culture camp to further this important two-way journey sharing western and Indigenous knowledges.

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