The transition of wet to dry season in northern Australia heralds a dramatic transformation of the landscape. As the monsoonal rains recede, vast wetlands and river systems gradually shrink, exposing an intricate mosaic of freshwater places. Lush vegetation starts to wither, as the once vibrant greenery turns a parched brown. The skies, once adorned with thunderous clouds, now showcase an arid blue expanse. Wildlife adapts to the changing conditions, with migratory birds departing and local species concentrating around remaining water sources. The dry season unveils a striking contrast between the lush abundance of the wet season and the rugged, resilient beauty of a sun-scorched landscape awaiting the return of the rains.
This dramatic change highlights the importance of freshwater places that last all year round, providing a refuge to many species. Despite this, little research has been done on these highly productive environments. Even conspicuous species have been overlooked; scientists have only recently found 20 new species of freshwater fish and recognised the Kimberley as an international hotspot for waterlily diversity.
Beautiful Wiyiga, one of the many stunning palm-filled gorges in the Mueller Ranges. Photo: Samuel Younis
These places are important not only for animals and plants, which must take refuge in the only remaining green places in the Kimberley, but also for people. Culturally, wetlands are significant habitats for Aboriginal people, providing camping spots and food, and are the location of law grounds, sacred sites and homes of creator beings. This importance is reflected in the Gooniyandi Healthy Country Plan (HCP), in which freshwater places are the third target. The HCP groups permanent water places, spring country, billabongs and rockholes, and all the plants and animals that live in fresh water. For Gooniyandi people, the rivers and waterholes are lifelines: special cultural sites with many stories and traditions.
This year in June, the Gooniyandi, Kija and Paruku rangers worked together to fence Wiyiga, one of the many stunning gorges in the Mueller Ranges, which lie south of the Margaret River. They did this because cattle pose a significant threat to freshwater places on Gooniyandi Country. As introduced species, cattle can cause extensive damage to delicate wetland ecosystems by trampling vegetation and eroding riverbanks, leading to increased sedimentation and water pollution. Their unrestricted grazing can deplete vegetation around water sources, destabilizing banks and degrading water quality. Additionally, cattle access can disrupt cultural practices and sacred sites, interfering with the Gooniyandi people's spiritual and traditional connections to these areas. Effective management and control measures are essential to mitigate the adverse effects of cattle on freshwater places, ensuring the preservation of these critical habitats for both ecological and cultural reasons.
Roberta Daylight, Phiffney Skeen and Jedda Thomas learning to weld the braces of the fence. Photo: Samuel Younis
Fencing is the best way to mitigate the threat of cattle to freshwater places on Gooniyandi country because it establishes physical barriers. By keeping cattle out, fencing helps preserve delicate wetland ecosystems, maintains water quality, safeguards cultural sites, and ensures the sustainability of these vital freshwater habitats for both the environment and the community.
This project is supported by funding from the Western Australian Government’s State NRM Program and Lotterywest through the Kimberley Wetlands Project.
Banner: All rangers working together. Photo: Samuel Younis