Spreading our wings with birds

12 July 2017
Spreading our wings with birds

A workshop to share knowledge and stories about birds saw Indigenous rangers from across Arnhem Land come together with scientists at Barrapunta.

The “Talking Birds” workshop involved senior landowners and Mimal, Warddeken, Jawoyn, Arafura and Wardaman joning with scientists and researchers, linguists and ecotourism providers.

“It’s about sharing knowledge two ways - Indigenous knowledge and western science – to hear old stories, share names and think about ways to look after birds better,” Mimal chairman and Barrapunta landowner Alfred Rickson said.

“By sharing knowledge we see how things have changed from a long time ago and remember names of birds in different languages.”

Over two days, the workshop covered a wide variety of issues. The rangers shared techniques for monitoring birds, including using camera traps and special apps that enable them to identify bird calls.

They talked about work being done to know more about rare and threatened species as well as explore economic benefits that birds could bring to the region.

Laurie Ross is a photographer who specialises in taking enthusiasts into the bush to see rare endemic birds that are difficult to find.

He told the group there is a strong market for bird tourism in Arnhem Land, describing how he has successfully partnered with Manmoyi outstation landowners to host people from all around the world who are eager to catch a glimpse of a bird they won’t see anywhere else.

Stories about hawks that hunt with fire also excited many in the group, with stories of how the black kite or brown falcon sits at the fire front, then swoops down to pick up a burning stick, then take it to a place to start a new fire. When rangers are trying to stop wildfires, those birds can be really cheeky.

The bird is known as karrkkanj and its special hunting techniques are told in song, which Dalabon elders Dudley Lawrence and Maggie Tukum shared around the campfire.

ANU’s Professor Nick Evans says he spent time with Dudley and Maggie in Weemol after the meeting to find out more about this special fire bird.

“Karrkkanj is a term for the black kite but can also be applied to two other raptor species, the peregrine falcon and the brown falcon,” Professor Evans explains.

“The peregrine falcon can also be known more specifically as ngalmirlangmirlang and the brown falcon as wunwunbu; these are said to be husband and wife.

“Karrkkanj is also ritually significant as the one who founded the Lorrkkon mortuary cycle – the practice of initially placing bodies on tree platforms after death, then holding a Lorrkkon ritual a couple of years later when the bones have been picked clean by birds, so that they can be placed for safekeeping in a hollow Lorrkkon pole carved with clan designs.”

Talking about birds got people excited, with much knowledge, language and stories shared.

There are plans to hold a similar meeting next year.