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Desert to the Sea - fieldwork underway!

Emma Beckett and Jo McDonald

The first Desert to the Sea (D2C) trip for 2023 took place in May. This trip was hosted at Yamada Camp by Mungarlu Ngurrarankatja Rirraunkaja (MNR) Aboriginal Corporation and it brought the research team together from across Australia with Birriliburu IPA custodians and rangers.

The researchers flew and drove in from all over the country, and the custodians also came together from all over the vast Martu estate. After a day’s drive north of Wiluna, we arrived in the early evening and set up camp. In the morning we were greeted by amazing views of the rocky ranges near Mount Methwin from our beautiful camp site.

D2C has four research ‘nodes’; 1) rock art and Jukurrpa (the Dreaming); 2) fire and plants; 3) collections and 4) databases and heritage training. This first trip focussed on nodes 1 and 2.

After introductions and discussions about the programme, and clearances of the right places for people to go, the fieldwork began. Night time talks used the project vehicle as a screen (a new take on the Drive In!! ). We all shared details of the research and watched community movies.

The fire and plant researchers and Birriliburu Elders and rangers collected plant specimens from rock art complexes around the ranges - discussing scientific and traditional knowledge about the plants. We were all very excited to see a draft copy of the Birriliburu Bush Tucker Book!

Chae Byrne and Emilie Dotte collected wood specimens and ran some exciting fire experiments see:

Michi Maier undertook botanical survey and sampling and after Roxane showed us where to find delicious Watja-watja this became a frequent green inclusion in our delicious evening feasts.

Richard Fullagar and Jude Field found significant evidence of grinding activities around all sites (to be reported on in a blog coming soon).

Pauline Grierson and Casey Ryan (with extra muscle from Ron Witt and Peter Kendrick) found lots of Callitris (Cypress pine) growing on the hillslopes to core and sample. Dendrochronology (the age of trees through their rings) will help build a better understanding of past climate in these areas (note: no live trees were harmed in this process!).

Emma Beckett, Sam Harper and Jo McDonald recorded several key rock art site complexes around Katjarra. This work audited rock art sites recorded previously with custodians for native title and during earlier dating work - for monitoring and to help develop management strategies for these important sites.

Rachel Popelka-Filcoff demonstrated her exciting techniques for pigment colour matching which she trialled at several the rock art complexes. One grindstone was found to have evidence of pigment processing!

We also recorded a new rock art complex around a major rock hole which Birriliburu custodians had identified as a management priority. This was a very rich location with lots of occupation evidence (including many grindstones) as well as a major rock art assemblage and smaller satellite sites.

With a drone, we captured several sites and their landscape contexts. The team also found a fabulous white pigment source – which is important given the amount of white pigment used in this area’s rock art!

Marc Wohling started discussions with the Birriliburu IPA Co-ordinators what the heritage management priorities were, and how the project could help.

It was a great start the project’s fieldwork and a wonderful privilege to be out on country with people learning and sharing knowledge!

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