The Gunduwa Stories told by the people

who made it happen

Humble Beginnings


I was involved with Extension Hill as an Environment and Community Manager. My role was to renegotiate the environmental approvals for the Extension Hill project. I spent three years renegotiating very carefully and getting approval for a bigger project.

One of the conditions required for us to establish a Regional Environmental Association, was for it to be centred on four Shires – set up by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) by drawing multiple points on a map. The regional association had to include the shires of Mount Marshall; Dalwallinu; Yalgoo and Perenjori. It took some time and red tape to establish those boundaries. Eventually, one call led to another, sanity prevailed and the Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association (GRCA) was formed.

After forming the association, which was basically trying to look at conservation efforts in a radius around the mine, we invited all conservation groups who were active in the area including the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), Bush Heritage, the Malleefowl group, and the Aboriginal traditional owners: including the Widi, Badimia and Southern Yamaji mobs. On consultation, the Aboriginal groups volunteered the name Gunduwa – which is the Badimia name for the echidna.

If you could make some claim for the area, you were invited as a member. You didn’t have to pay, you were invited to contribute, to fully participate in the planning. We didn’t say, this is our money and this is what’s going to happen. While we provided the money, this was our community, inclusive of everyone involved.

GRCA had a perfect balance of interests.

It has conservation groups which were represented all across Australia; local conservation groups which have a particular interest within the area; several local Aboriginal groups who were really passionate about caring for Country; and mining companies who were committed to doing the right thing. As a group we had plans to do the work with the smallest footprint possible. The opportunities were boundless.

Inclusivity and mutual respect


About eight years ago, I stepped up to be the Chair. At the time I was the Reserve Manager at Charles Darwin Reserve. I wasn’t originally part of the design, it was all defined in the Ministerial Statement. All the policy and legislative work had already been done around Mount Gibson. If you are on a mine you gotta do all these things to offset it and this is one little part of that big list. It dawned on me that if we formed an association we would have access to this money, so we did.

In the beginning, I remember the meetings very clearly. I didn’t even know what we were doing. It was very much learning by doing and that’s what made it fun. The community members felt like they were a part of something new and exciting. The mining side felt a bit procedural, but we all knew this was bigger. Some struggled with giving the community trust, but the majority did.

It was like learning to dance with a new partner – it takes time for relationships to grow on both sides.

My vision for GRCA was to bring like-minded organisations together, especially those working and living in and around the Mount Gibson Mine, Perenjori, Paynes Find, Dalwallinu and Wubin – to collaborate on conservation projects. It was a chance to gather resources together and prioritise what we thought were necessary activities, including supporting young people in conservation; trying to coordinate larger research projects; and supporting like-minded groups also doing conservation work in the region. The funding wasn’t a huge amount, but we certainly got projects off the ground.

As the Chair, holding space for the committee meetings was set up to be inclusive, where everyone had a voice. Being a community-focused association, by its very nature needed to be relevant to the people living in this region and working in the environment or conservation area. I’ve learnt over the years that it’s far more effective to make sure people’s voices are heard and to try and work out the best course of action once you’ve listened and understood. Also, GRCA was in its infancy stage, if we didn’t create a space that genuinely showed interest in what people were trying to do in this unique landscape – you wouldn’t be able to engender any support. A lot of people work remotely in small teams, so it was good to get together with a variety of different people, often bringing in guest speakers or interesting presentations we could all share and take back to our more remote lives. Providing an inclusive space is critical, as it is very much how we bring people together and make the most of this money.

On the flip side, there were frustrating elements too. Community groups and the resource sector are an unnatural fit in most cases, they both have different drivers and different ways of doing things. Trying to find that balance between how a resource company needs to operate and ensure it’s beneficial for them, as opposed to how a community group works, is always challenging. Both parties understood that and we got to a point where there was mutual respect. The good thing was that GRCA didn’t try to reach beyond its capabilities. It may come and go because it does depend on the income from the mines in the area.

When they are producing there’s more income, when they’re not producing there’s zero income.

The local Governments, particularly the Shire of Perenjori, Paynes Find, Dalwallinu, and Morawa – were involved and saw it as a way to add value and depth to their sustainability program – another important part of its success. Once the mining companies understood what we were trying to do, they got behind it and were supportive of the initiative. GRCA started working quite closely with the Badimia Corporation, a great evolution. They had a really difficult period with the loss of their Native Title Claim, then they regrouped and GRCA was able to help with the Healthy Country Plan (HPC). The HCP is a big milestone for the Badimia Corporation, yet they need more support to get it kick-started and stabilised.

GRCA has shown that they can work well with mining companies, local Government, and Aboriginal, environmental and conservation groups across WA. There’s plenty of scope to bring in other resources, support research and continue to support great work and growth in this unique patch of the world. It was a great experience and something I’m proud to be part of. I look back on my time with the association very fondly.

Protecting the bush chook


When the association was forming they invited people from various groups to be part of GRCA. One of those groups was The North Central Malleefowl Preservation Group (NCMPG) – a group that me and my wife Glenda were part of since 2012. From there, we were representatives and active members of the association. Even before GRCA was formed, bird surveys in the region were studied and monitored to reveal the malleefowl as a vulnerable species.

Living in Dalwallinu as a kid, I grew up around the malleefowl.

I used to wonder – are they a chook gone wild?

This bird basically lives on the ground with a number of predators around, such as wedgetail eagles, cats and foxes. They used to exist in other parts of Australia, but now only live in patches of the Wheatbelt. If their species die out, they don’t come back.

The Gunduwa region is prime for the malleefowl because there’s fit vegetation and scrub that attracts them. They typically live on the outer edge of agricultural areas where suitable habitat exists. malleefowl are omnivorous: they eat grain, acacia seeds, herbage, and flowers – such as everlastings, and scratch around leaf litter for insects, too. 

The mining support helped to fund monitoring and conservation projects to train and monitor malleefowl nests. We were able to get Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) done – a type of remote sensing technology that uses GPS mapping and planes to generate 3D images of malleefowl mounds. We were also able to run a number of workshops and attract people from interstate to come over and help monitor the birds. Without the GRCA, none of this could’ve happened.

Landowner's influence on Country


I’m a Badimia man managing Ninghan Station, next to Charles Darwin Reserve. The area is partly a national park and partly a pastoral station. A quarter of the land is turned into an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). We have a feral animal and weed control program that’s ongoing, in which I play a big role.

We got involved with Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association (GRCA) because my mother, Leah Bell, was formerly a member of GRCA. She represented our interests as landholders. At the time, I was still working for Mount Gibson Mining as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer.

When we took over Ninghan Station years ago, there were originally 18,000 sheep. Over time, we dropped the numbers back down to 7,000 – a number that we thought we could run effectively without degrading the country. For years and years, the pastoral stations have been flogged. There’s only a small amount of seed bank left. The grazing patterns shape the land. We run stock on the station very conservatively. We keep the land covered with as much bush as we can, removing and restocking certain animals to control how they move around the landscape, so they’re not eating it all out. Back when there were 30,000 sheep, if you had a small tree that poked its head out, like a sandalwood or quandong tree, it would get knocked off. We’re encouraging healthy country to come back. We tried to be very conservative with our stocking rate to give the Country a fighting chance.

Applying traditional knowledge and culture overrides every decision that we do – that comes first.

We look at it through a cultural lens. We can see if the landscape is good or not. We want it to come back, and we want it to be better.

GRCA has played a big role in aligning with us. They’ve been our allies in improving Country while uplifting the Badimia community. In the early days, there wasn’t much input from the Badimia people, but once they found their feet and got established, we were able to come along for the ride as well. We’ve formed very good partnerships with the Gunduwa Association.

Most of the projects had some Aboriginal input. The Milieu project on the Western Spiny-tailed Skink was the first project where there was Aboriginal involvement. We were able to tell our story and have it incorporated into the study.

We’ve always strived for two-way learning.

The white people learn from us, and in exchange, we learn too. Some of our stuff is very relevant to what they’re doing. Being able to be involved and have a seat at the table is important for us.

A mining perspective


I’m General Manager in Environment and Approvals, at Mount Gibson Mining. Our role is to meet compliance with the Ministerial Statement, but secondly, we are trying to holistically improve the way we rehabilitate the land. By engaging local people and conservation groups, GRCA can look at an area that spans much more than mining tenements. As mining representatives, we often get too insular and too focused on things related to local-level mining. GRCA gives the opportunity to look at the whole district, to contemplate what to do with things like salinisation, feral species, land restorations etc. There’s solid learning that can come out of that experience, just coming from another sector outside of mining.

It’s pleasing to see GRCA and the committee fund numerous projects, where the recipients were receiving a small amount of money to target work across lots of different aspects of the environment.

A few years ago, the strategy changed, and they were looking to invest in longer-term projects with the view of enriching knowledge, cultural heritage, and landscape restoration around aspects of Western science.

By acknowledging those pillars you get a different outcome.

For many years we had our Senior Environment Superintendent from the mine attending meetings and being exposed to the grassroots projects. She was responsible for site rehabilitation, which is going really well – there’s an organic connection there.

Through a sponsorship project of a Ph.D. student at Curtin University, the Western Spiny-tailed Skink (egernia stokesii) were studied. At a new mine site in the Midwest, we have maps indicating the presence of these skinks on the tenements. We now know enough about them to avoid them and consequently haven’t taken any Western Spiny-tailed Skink out of the habitat, due to the findings of this study. As part of our rehabilitation, we’re going to rebuild an artificial habitat. It’s the types of offsets that help benefit the Western Spiny-tailed Skink. They like to hang around fallen York gum logs – that’s their waterfront mansion.

GRCA as a whole is made up of several key individuals who are tireless in their work and are well-connected in the district. That’s a strength, that piece of human fabric. I see people who are really committed in their day jobs, and that work ethic reflects in GRCA, as well.

Facilitation is the future.

It’s driven by people’s commitment and inspiration rather than dollars. If GRCA can ascend that territory outside of the funds, it will attract other potential funding sources.

Monitoring the beloved malleefowl


I’m the Reserve Manager at Charles Darwin Reserve, which is managed by Bush Heritage, Australia. My job is land management, but also community engagement. There’s a lot of pest control, baiting, trapping and shooting as required, and weed and erosion management.

One of the highlights of my work is bird surveying. I do a lot of work with the malleefowl species. That’s the reason why I ended up out here. The malleefowl is a really iconic bird for the Wheatbelt and the Midwest – you rarely see them. They’ve captured the hearts of farmers in the region because you can see their big mounds in the landscape. They also have a cultural significance to the Badimia people. They are one of three megapods across Australia, the size of a chicken. They have gigantic feet, which they use to work the mounds, moving leaf litter in and out, and use the compost to incubate their eggs (rather than sitting on them). When the chicks hatch, they have zero parental care. The parents completely ignore them and they’re on their own.

GRCA has funded monitoring projects to protect and conserve the vulnerable malleefowl. Each year we monitor the malleefowl mounds to see if they are active or not. We have an adaptive management project where half the reserve is baited to see how the species composition changes, and the success of the baiting program.

As the treasurer for GRCA, I love being part of the committee.

Everybody who has been part of the committee has become a friend of mine. This area is a hotspot for environmental organisations. It’s amazing to see everybody working together.

Empowering the Badimia Mob


I’m a member of the Badimia Bandi Barna Aboriginal Corporation (BBBAC). Our involvement with GRCA has been a great synergy from the beginning.

The Badimia people have been waiting a long time for change to happen. The fact that we  were able to meet – it couldn’t have happened without GRCA. We’re highly appreciative of the collaboration, as it gives us an opportunity as a corporation to make sure things are happening.

GRCA has been a great alliance for the Badimia people because we’re on the same page on how to protect barna (Country). The funding has contributed to the creation of the Healthy Country Plan.

It’s a really powerful document, written from our perspective.

This document gives the Badimia people a strong voice and advocacy, which is lacking in Badimia Country. This document is able to articulate what is really important to us. Having elders’ voices in there is invaluable. Long after those elders are gone, their words on what to do on Country will be there in that plan. With time, we’ll keep building on that and we’ll make it stronger.

Within the five-year targets, we’ve actually achieved a lot of these goals. This plan is implemented into what we’re negotiating with the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions (DBCA). We’re also working with the DBCA to recruit staff for the ranger program, complete cultural mapping, as well as recruit permanent staff, such as a CEO, project officer, and events coordinator to continue the work on a regular basis.

BBBAC is fortunate to have the ongoing support of GRCA in helping the Badimia people achieve our objectives, which directly impact not only the region but generations of the Badimia community.

Fostering key relationships


As an Aboriginal Engagement Manager for Bush Heritage Australia, my role is about supporting our staff across the Midwest and Great Southern Region, but also supporting our staff on the policy and procedure perspective, working with traditional owners across Australia.

Over the last four years, my work with the Badimia Bandi Barna Aboriginal Corporation (BBBAC) involves working directly with the Badimia family group on the conservation estate on Charles Darwin Reserve, supporting Badimia people to get out on Country: to access, care for and continue those stories and storylines through their culture. There are 1.4 million hectares of conservation estate throughout Badimia Country.

Part of our role is being the facilitator and ensuring that the aspirations and goals are being met. We link the Badimia people with associations that are able to support them financially. For example, they want to protect their cultural sites and protect water flows in the region. The GRCA says

“This is the same thing we want to protect, we share the same values, we share the same goals – so – let’s do it together.”

When working with traditional landowners it’s all about the relationship. It’s about the next-door neighbours. It’s about the relationship across the country. Bush Heritage’s work on Charles Darwin Reserve neighbours Ninghan Station IPA, run by the Bell family. We share a lot of activities that are done on both reserves because we have shared goals of looking after Country and conservation.

From there having a relationship with one family opens doors to other families. Events like Blues in the Bush have attracted not only local people but also Aboriginal people who want to come back onto Country and spend time connecting there.

Without having another stakeholder who is representative of other groups like the mining sector, the agricultural sector, and the conservation and environment sector – we wouldn’t have the success that we have in this region. You need to have all those stakeholders at the table to make for such pure and real relationships. If you don’t have those real relationships, you’re not going to have that genuine collaboration.

The backbone of GRCA



As a Business Manager, I liaise with the Management Committee to facilitate meetings and forums, manage projects, and all the day-to-day activities required.

Although our boundaries have been fixed by the EPA, there is flexibility in who and what projects we can fund.

We absolutely identify with the core objectives of GRCA in each and every project we support and will continue to do so. Our biggest achievements are bringing groups and organisations together to achieve a common outcome. The committee has been open and willing to take part in wide and diverse projects, encouraging people to come along and participate, especially the youth. It has been a wonderful opportunity to bring people together to be part of the association.

From 2014 to 2018, we hosted the Gunduwa Forum where we had the opportunity to engage and share knowledge with the surrounding communities. Three of them have been held at Blues in the Bush at Charles Darwin Reserve. These forums brought together pastoralists, landholders, indigenous groups, universities, ecologists, scientists, and ministers – to learn about the environmental and conservation work done in the region. Collectively, with different minds put together, we work towards the same goal. Everyone wants to look after their own patch of land and make it better. We aspire to host more events like this in the future.

Another great highlight is working closely with the Badimia people supporting their Healthy Country Plan and seeing it come to fruition. Moving forward we may do more of these kinds of projects and hopefully longer ones in the future. In order to support the local organisations already in the region, we need a little bit of extra support to go to the next level.