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Martu country is an area spanning 13.6 million hectares in the Western Desert in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. The Martu culture is one of the world’s oldest. For thousands of years, three of Australia’s western deserts have evolved under the stewardship of the Martu people. The Martu people have an immense depth of traditional knowledge and their management of country is critical to this vast and important arid landscape.

The availability of fresh water is essential for the survival of the desert and its wildlife. Temporary water sources include rock holes, lakes and clay pans replenished by rainfall, while more permanent sources include soaks, springs and waterholes within river systems. These sources are also connected to cultural and spiritual stories.

Close collaboration with the Martu people has resulted in a project to restore traditional vegetation burning practices, control feral pests, rehabilitate water holes and protect threatened species, such as bilbies and rock wallabies. The Martulu-Palyalu Project is a partnership between the Martu people, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa and WAIO to conserve part of the world’s most intact desert and assist the Martu people to continue their remarkable connection to country.

Through the project, a total of 1,118 fresh water sources have been identified and mapped on Martu lands, predominantly by Martu rangers. Of these, more than 70 waterholes have been cleaned. In combination with the control of weeds and feral pests (including camels, donkeys and cats), this has resulted in a sustained supply of high-quality water for the benefit of people and wildlife.

The Martulu-Palyalu Project is a successful ongoing partnership that has already provided positive results for land management, nature conservation and the wellbeing of the Martu people. By working together, the Martu people have the opportunity and capacity to look after their country using traditional knowledge, assisted by contemporary land conservation planning, logistics, financing, governance and economic expertise.

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