Martu and whitefellas working together

Four pujiman (Martu bushman) stood around a waterhole, recounting a dreamtime story in Martu wangka (language or talk) to three younger Martu men. The pujiman grew up in the desert and only came into contact with ‘whitefellas’ as adolescents in the early 1960’s.  The waterholes had been crucial to their survival; the associated dreaming remains at the heart of Martu culture and identity.

We were 40 kilometres east of Punmu, a remote Martu community on the edge of Lake Dora. For most of the year, the lake is a saltpan, its water evaporated by the harsh western desert sun. The nearest service town is Port Hedland on the Western Australia coast, almost 600 km west-north-west.

SVA has been engaged by Kanyirninpa Jukurrpu (KJ) to conduct an evaluative Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis of its on-country programs.  SROI is a methodology for measuring the social, economic and cultural value not reflected in conventional financial accounting.  The analysis is driven by stakeholder engagement, which in this case necessitates a three-week long field trip to the Martu communities in which KJ has a presence on the ground – Punmu, Parnngurr and Jigalong.

In that time, we hope to speak with many of the 275 Martu employed by KJ in pursuit of its goals:

  • preserving and celebrating Martu culture; and
  • establishing the foundations of a viable economy in Martu communities.

As KJ has grown, it has increasingly understood the importance of partnership in achieving its goals. Peter See, KJ CEO, explains that, “KJ is strong because of Martu and whitefellas working together, respecting each other and learning both ways.”

As we navigate the heavily corrugated road from Punmu to Parnngurr, we stop for lunch south of Newcrest’s Telfer gold-copper mine and the Desert Queen Baths, permanent water holes known to Martu for millennia. KJ rangers pluck a couple of freshly killed bush turkeys, preparing to cook them in a pit of hot coals. While one ranger throws his bird in the pit uncovered, the other carefully wraps his bird in aluminium foil.

“See that,” says the first ranger, pointing to the wild bird wrapped in foil, “that’s Martu and whitefellas working together.”