Our radio observatory in Western Australia has been gifted a traditional name. This all part of our pledge to support the world’s oldest living culture.

We spoke to leaders on Wajarri Country, 800 kilometres north of Perth, to learn more about language, culture, and the new dual name. They shared what this partnership between radio astronomy and Wajarri Country means to them.

Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara

A metal frame in the shape of a tree can be seen in the foreground. Behind the metal frame, Des Mongoo can be seen with his back to the camera. He is wearing a purple "Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara" shirt. In front of him are 2 tables with orange covers which say "Wajarri Group", and next to the tables is a microphone stand. Behind the tables a group of people, most of whom are wearing the same purple shirts, can be seen seated under a shade.
Minangu Land Committee member Des Mongoo at the Wajarri ILUA Celebration on 5 November 2022.

Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, is the new dual name for our observatory in Western Australia. It means ‘sharing sky and stars’ in the local language, Wajarri.

Our ASKAP radio telescope, already on site, and the future SKA-Low telescope, are just two of the world-leading telescopes that will be sharing Wajarri sky and stars from the observatory.

The Wajarri Yamaji are the Traditional Owners and native title holders of the land on which the observatory is built. Specifically, the land is represented by the Minangu Land Committee. One of the leaders of this committee is Des Mongoo.

When asked where he is from, Des doesn’t say a city or town – he says, “I am Wajarri Yamaji.” He is very much a part of Country, and Country is a part of him. It is more than somewhere to live.

“We have a real connection to the land. Our people, our Elders looked after the land. If you look around us now, you see the beauty of it. You can see it is still being looked after,” Des says.

“Protecting Countries means understanding the past from our ancestors, our Elders. They protected our land and our sacred sites by living it and living in the area.

“We need to make sure that those sites of significance are here forever and ever.”

Inyarrimanha – Sharing

Wajarri man with ochre painted on his torso, arms and face. Yellow and orange threads are tied around his body. His left arm is bandaged and he is holding two long sticks. He is performing a traditional dance.
Godfrey Simpson performs a traditional dance at the Wajarri ILUA Celebration on 5 November 2022.

Our new collaborative agreements with the Wajarri Yamaji ensure that sites of significance are protected. These new agreements are an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) and a Cultural Heritage Management Plan. They outline how current and future high tech radio astronomy projects can exist alongside and protect Wajarri Country and culture.

“The CSIRO and SKA projects can’t disturb sites without consulting our people,” Des says.

“The protection of the Cultural Heritage Management Plan is, to me, the most important part of the ILUA as it gives us that opportunity to look after and protect our sites.

“We know what our people lived through in the past and what they wanted for their future. And their future is what we’re doing now.”

Ilgari – Sky

A bearded Wajarri man in an orange collared shirt can be seen talking to two men and one woman wearing purple "Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara" shirts.
Dwayne Mallard (left), Minangu Land Committee member, speaks with CSIRO’s Dr Douglas Bock (right) together with David Luchetti (Commonwealth lead ILUA negotiator, DISR) and Dr Sarah Pearce (SKA-Low Telescope Director, SKAO) at the Wajarri ILUA Celebration on 5 November 2022.

On Saturday, 5 November 2022, Wajarri Yamaji Aboriginal Corporation (WYAC) and the Minangu Land Committee held a celebration of the new ILUA on Country. Celebrating, together with State and Federal Governments, alongside the Wajarri Community was a special experience for our team.

It was a great day for science and, more importantly, preserving Indigenous culture.

Rebecca Wheadon is a member of the ILUA negotiation team and our manager of the observatory site. She says the ILUA for the expanded observatory is an important part of the work to protect Wajarri culture and Country.

“The negotiation team worked for years with Wajarri to produce a meaningful cultural heritage management plan which underpins the ILUA. It’s at the core of everything we will do from this point, and it’s vitally important,” Rebecca says.

“We must (and will) do all we can to preserve and protect Wajarri culture. This is an enduring relationship between CSIRO and a people strongly connected to land and spirit. I feel incredibly privileged to be partnering with the Wajarri to protect their heritage.”

Dwayne Mallard, like Des, is a Minangu Land Committee member.

“It’s quite special. We’ve all got a responsibility and obligation to protect our cultures, and this is science happening not at the expense of culture,” Dwayne says.

“There are many lenses on any landscape. Here, on Wajarri Yamaji Country, and shown in the ILUA, we have all lenses coexisting: scientific, social, cultural. Our lens, our voice, was heard. We can now all walk together to preserve Country.”

Bundara – Stars

A woman in a purple shirt with long brown hair is smiling at and touching the shoulder of an older Wajarri woman wearing a blue shirt who is also smiling.
Julie Ryan, member of the Minangu Land Committee, and CSIRO’s Rebecca Wheadon at the celebration for the new Wajarri ILUA on 5 November 2022.

“The Wajarri people are the first astronomers of this region. The stars are a source of knowledge and guidance,” Des says.

“Our people looked up at the stars every night and from that they knew when and where they had to be. Where our rightful place on our Country is.”

The site will continue to be a place for knowledge and guidance with the building of the SKA-Low telescope on the site. Our ASKAP radio telescope – one of the most advanced telescopes in the world – is already there. Signing the ILUA means that construction of the SKA-Low by the global SKA Observatory can start soon.

The new name was the first step in the ILUA. Discovered by a competition process run by WYAC, the name was submitted by Shakira Whitehurst, and subsequently gifted to us. We are so excited to share it with everyone. 

We are looking forward to building on our already strong relationship with the Wajarri Yamaji while we work together to protect this precious cultural heritage.


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