• Leroy Johnson and his colleagues are on a mission with a difference - helping feed mob in one of the most remote patches on NSW. (NITV The Point: Otis Filley)Source: NITV The Point: Otis Filley
An outback operation with a difference. Two roo hunters, hundreds of kilometres of red dirt country, and a grateful community.
Karen Michelmore, Otis Filley

The Point
31 Aug 2021 - 2:14 PM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2021 - 4:38 PM

Leroy Johnson is on a mission.

He's driving a four to five-hour round trip to the outskirts of COVID-stricken Wilcannia, in the red dirt outback of NSW.

It's a trip he makes every two or three days in his trusty white ute, delivering hundreds of kilograms of fresh kangaroo meat, harvested from the abundant Mutawintji National Park.

"We know that our mob love a bit of wangga or wild meat, so we are just providing it for them," he says.

"If we can lighten the load on families in town there, that’s what we want to do."


A magical, spiritual place

The Malyangapa Barkindji Wiimpatja man is bunkered down with a group of skilled men at Mutawintji National Park, the Aboriginal-owned park he manages.

They're spending their time in isolation giving back to their community - conducting cultural hunts on Country and processing the meat on-site, to feed the mob in Wilcannia.

Leroy Johnson says he feels lucky and humbled to be in the park.

"It’s magical. It’s spiritual," Mr Johnson says.

"I’m not sure of how to explain it - one, I can’t think of any better place to one be in lockdown but two, to live full-time and be a custodian of our lands, I'm very grateful for the opportunity to live out here and work out here." 

Exercising native title rights

Warlpa Thompson shares the shooting duties with Leroy Johnson.

"I'm the hunter because I'm the best shot," he jokes.

Mr Thompson, a Wiimpatja Marli man, is the chairman of the Mutawintji Board of Management.

He says the groups are exercising their native title rights in Mutawintji National Park.

"It's a park where it's under Aboriginal ownership and part of the lease agreement that we have with the state government allows us to hunt on our traditional lands," Mr Thompson says.

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"It was one of the things that people wanted to make sure that we had, was the right to hunt on the park, and we do it in a sustainable way so there's only a few designated hunters on the park.

"Because we could see what was going on in Wilcannia, Derek the CEO of the Barkindji Native Title body gave myself and Leroy a call and said what do you think about going out and getting some wild meat for the mob in Wilcannia."


 'We're going to do something'

And so the idea of the cultural hunts, aka Operation Deliveroo, was born.

It came as COVID cases started popping up in the Far West less than a fortnight ago.

Today the total number of cases has climbed to almost 700 in western and far western NSW. There are now 83 cases in the Far West communities of Wilcannia and Broken Hill.

"As soon as I heard there was a case, that's when I sat down with Leroy and Warlpa (Thompson) and I said 'listen we're going to do something'," says Derek Hardman, the chief executive of Barkindji Native Title.

"We don't want to be caught up in the health thing - we're not the health experts.

"But let's do what we can, let’s utilise the strengths and the resources we can obtain and what we’ve got access to.

"We've got people who can shoot in the park, we've got people who've done all their food handling and can obtain wild meat, done all the courses, accredited.

"We've got all the resources to do it. Let's do it."

The group notified the police in Broken Hill, who were supportive of the idea.

"Our people can't leave homes, they're isolated, they're locked down," says Mr Hardman, a Barkindji Wimpatja Marli man.

"So, if we can give something back in that way (we will).

"We’re not doing it for praise, we’re not doing it cause we want some pat on the back or anything like that, we just do it because that's our cultural obligation to our people.

"People can criticise it, others I'm sure that when their tummies are full and the curries are cooking, they are grateful and appreciative of what we’re doing out here." 

Make people 'feel safe, feel better'

The group has already delivered more than 700 kilograms of fresh meat to Wilcannia and Broken Hill.

That's around 12 to 15 kangaroos every few days.

"What I love the most is hearing the same day, 'oh we just made some kangaroo curry', 'we had some kangaroo rissoles'.

Barkindji Elder Robert Kennedy, better known as Niblo, is pretty quick on the boning knife.

"I was only sitting in town doing nothing, so I thought I'd come out," he says.

"We’ve been here a week now, probably be here another couple of weeks I reckon.

"Our little bit we do here to look after our people that’s what it’s all about."

COVID-Safe deliveries

Leroy Johnson pulls up his ute on the outskirts of Wilcannia, and drops off the precious cargo to local radio broadcaster Brendon Adams, who will distribute it across the community.

"This whole town is so appreciative of their hard work, because it's what we have done for thousands of years - look after each other," Mr Adams says.

"What I love the most is hearing the same day, 'oh we just made some kangaroo curry', 'we had some kangaroo rissoles'.

"While we're in this (time of) confusion and the fear is happening, we're going to look for ways, for solutions to make people feel safe and feel better.

"Providing the kangaroo to the mob definitely plays a part in that." 

Watch the whole story below.

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