Country and Culture

Working together as a community to establish a solid foundation towards independence,
community wellbeing, cultural identity, and healthy Country now and for future generations.

Aboriginal Heritage

The primary role of RRKAC is to enable Robe River Kuruma people to exercise their native title rights and interests. This includes facilitating caring for Country in traditional ways (such as country visits for families) and more contemporary ways – namely, through undertaking heritage surveys, social surrounds surveys, and monitoring activities that have environmental impacts.

There are many important cultural heritage places in the landscape that Robe River Kuruma People have cultural obligations to look after. These include important cultural precincts such as the Bungaroo, Gunarika and Jajiwurra, the complete Robe River system.  Jajiwurra is referred to as the ‘lifeblood’ of the Robe River Kuruma People and it connects Robe River Kuruma Country.

Water, known as bawa, is intrinsic to the culture, Country, and heritage of Robe River Kuruma People. ‘Bawa is life. There is no life without bawa.’ Bawa means that Country is healthy and looking beautiful. When Robe River Kuruma People are on their Country, they see that sacred and heritage sites around bawa are powerful, beautiful and it feels good to belong to Country and be part of it. RRK People feel happy when bawa is there. There are also rules about the dangers of bawa and spirits such the warlu-warlu that reside in bawa. These rules that must be followed or there may be consequences. Spirit beings are both benevolent and malevolent, meaning that when people look after Country, the Country will look after people; but if people neglect Country, bad things will happen to them.

The Robe River Kuruma People have responsibilities to look after their Country which include maintaining, protecting and preserving cultural heritage places such as sacred sites, cultural precincts, spiritual and dreaming places, flora and fauna, the environment and landscapes.

RRKAC undertakes a broad range of post-determination activities including:

  • Conducting anthropological and archaeological research
  • Heritage protection
  • Cultural Awareness Training
  • Repatriation of cultural materials and information
  • Agreement negotiation
  • Legal representation
  • Strategic development
  • Future Act negotiations

Cultural Protocols on Robe River Kuruma Country

Robe River Kuruma People have cultural protocols for visiting Robe River Kuruma Country. These protocols are important for all visitors and residents on Robe River Kuruma Country. Understanding cultural protocols is important for building respect, ensuring cultural safety and protecting cultural heritage. It is important for acknowledging Robe River Kuruma People as the Traditional Owners and their connection to Country.

A Future Act is a proposed activity or development that has the potential to affect Native Title rights and interests. The types of future act activities that can occur on land and/or waters, include (but are not limited to):

  • Mining
  • Exploration
  • Water licenses
  • Pastoralism
  • Public works
  • Public housing
  • Tourism

Native Title holders have rights to comment, to be consulted, to object and to negotiate in response to any proposed future act.
Native Title rights to negotiate do not include the power of veto: they do not enable RRK people to stop mining, exploration, or even compulsory acquisition.

Almost 100% of the Robe River Kuruma Parts A & B determination areas are covered by mining and exploration tenements. With so much interest in RRK country, it is essential for RRKAC to develop agreements with other stakeholders in order to manage Native Title interests consistently and effectively.
Many of our agreements were developed in the pre-determination era – prior to 2016 and 2018 – and they reflect the difficulties faced by Native Title parties in negotiating fair and meaningful agreements with powerful corporate entities. However, following the destruction of the Juukan Caves in the neighbouring PKKP determination area in 2020, RRKAC has commenced an “Agreement Modernisation” process to reset the relationship between our members and other stakeholders. This process seeks to increase the roles of RRK people in the management of their Country – before, during and after mining and other land uses – and to negotiate more diverse and stronger cultural, social, economic, and environmental outcomes. To this end, Cultural Heritage Management Plans and Environmental Protocols are developed as part of RRKAC agreement negotiation and modernisation processes.

A Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) is a written report prepared by a professional heritage advisor (usually an anthropologist and/or an archaeologist). It includes results of an assessment of the potential impact of a proposed activity on Aboriginal cultural heritage. It outlines measures to be taken before, during and after an activity to manage and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage in the proposed project area.
In Western Australia, the primary instrument for protection and management of cultural heritage is the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act (2021) WA. Previously, the Aboriginal Heritage Act (1972) WA performed this function. The full implications of this legislative change are still being developed by the Western Australian Government’s Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage (DPLH). However, for RRKAC, a significant feature will be increasing reliance on CHMPs with other stakeholders, in order to establish agreed obligations around regulatory consultations, project management, and outcomes for RRK people.

RRKAC intends to apply to become a Local Aboriginal Heritage Services (LACHS) under the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 (Act).
The new Act provides for the establishment of LACHS to enable Aboriginal people to be decision makers in relation to activities that may impact their cultural heritage. LACHS will be locally based incorporated Aboriginal organisations that will play a key role in the identification, conservation, and management of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. This will provide RRK People with a statutory role in managing and protecting RRK cultural heritage, and to devolve decision making to RRK People at a local level.
RRKAC is currently participating in the process prescribed by the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage to prepare to undertake this role.

Keeping Culture Project

RRKAC’s Keeping Culture Project has three objectives:

  • Recording cultural knowledge;
  • Facilitating intergenerational transfer of cultural knowledge; and
  • Personal and family cultural history recording

These aims are achieved through a variety of means, including:

  • Audio and audio-visual recordings of sites and precincts for their cultural and familial significance across RRK Country;
  • Facilitating Country visits for each family group;
  • Cultural mapping of Country so that RRK members can capture the significance of sites and transfer knowledge to younger generations;
  • Development of RRK cultural recognition among the broader community, through signage, mixed media methods, and Cultural Awareness Training (CAT);
  • Promoting environmental stewardship, through establishment of the Jajiwurra Rangers program and introduction of RRK CAT as a requirement at all mining and exploration operations;
  • Preservation of cultural information through establishment of The Keeping Place database. The Keeping Place is a software platform to collect, protect and appropriately share cultural knowledge. GIS capabilities make it a powerful tool for information and land management. The software is purpose-designed to empower native title groups to manage cultural heritage, agreements, stakeholders, and native title rights and interests; and
  • Repatriation of cultural materials and information resources to RRK people.

RRKAC would like to acknowledge the generous support of Lotterywest which has helped facilitate our on-Country family trips, record significant sites, and transfer knowledge to our younger generations.

Jajiwurra Rangers

Robe River Kuruma People have been looking after their country for more than 30,000 years.

The RRKAC Jajiwurra Rangers program was launched at the end of 2022 with $50,000 start-up funding from Rio Tinto and a further $100,000 start-up funding from the Western Australian Department of Biosecurity, Conservation and Attractions. This funding is being used to plan ranger-led cultural land management practices with the assistance of experienced staff from Desert Support Services. The Jajiwurra Rangers Program also works closely with the Pilbara Cultural Land Management Project (PCLMP) of which RRKAC is a founding member. The PCLMP aims to support Pilbara traditional owner groups to implement cultural and conservation land management at scale across the region.

The Jajiwurra Rangers Program is guided by RRKAC’s Healthy Country Framework, which aims to ensure that culture, people, and knowledge are central to our environmental stewardship and caring for the Robe River Kuruma Estate.

Development of a strong ranger program facilitates the maintenance of healthy Country and healthy culture, so that RRK people can continue to contribute to and enjoy cultural, social, environmental, and economic outcomes of their lands and waters.

Kuruma Word Lists

Kuruma was traditionally not a written language. Over the years, linguists and ethnographers recording the Kuruma language have used a spelling system that shows how words are supposed to sound.

The rules for pronunciation are not always the same as in English, because Kuruma had some sounds that are not used in the English language. This chart shows how letters are supposed to sound in Kuruma .

This sound chart has been taken from the Kurrama : Kurrama – English Dictionary, English – Kurrama Wordlist, Topical Wordlist and Sketch Grammar (2006) compiled by Alan Burgman and published by the Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre.

Short Vowels:
a – like ‘u’ in but
i – like ‘ i ’ in fin
u – like ‘u’ in pudding
Long Vowels:
aa – like ‘a’ in father
ii – like ‘ i ’ in marine
u u – like ‘u’ in pudding (but longer)

j – like ‘j’ in jetty, but with the middle of the tongue pulled back to the roof of the mouth

k – between the ‘k’ in kite and ‘g’ in goanna

l – like ‘l’ in love

lh – like ‘l’ in love, but with the blade of the tongue against the back of the top front teeth

ly – like ‘ lli ’ in million

m – like ‘m’ in mouse

n – like ‘n’ in night

n g – like ‘ng’ in sing

n h – like ‘n’ in night, but with the blade of the tongue against the back of the top front teeth

n y – like ‘ ny ’ in canyon

r n – like ‘n’ in night, but with the tip of the tongue curled backwards

p – between the ‘p’ in pot and the ‘b’ in box

r – like ‘r’ in rain, but with the tip of the tongue curled backwards

r r – rolling ‘r’ (not used in English, but similar to the ‘ tt ’ in butter when you say it very quickly)

s – like ‘s’ in snake

t – between the ‘t’ in tickle and the ‘d’ in dingo

t h – between ‘t’ and ‘d’, but with the blade of the tongue against the back of the top front teeth

r t – between ‘t’ and ‘d’, but with the tip of the tongue curled backwards

w – like ‘w’ in water (at the beginning of a word, w can be silent when it appears before ‘u’)

y – like ‘y’ in yellow (at the beginning of a word, y can be silent when it appears before ‘ i ’)

Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.