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CDU passage to top job and traditional culture

[supplied by CDU]


A CDU Bachelor of Environmental Science degree has helped First Nations mother and daughter, Joelene and Darcy Puntoriero, access a new way of life in remote Nhulunbuy in North East Arnhem Land.Electric Fields. Image: supplied

On a remote stretch of tropical coastline shaped by the Northern Territory’s Gove Peninsula, Joelene Puntoriero, 28, and her four-year-old daughter Darcy are living the dream in Nhulunbuy in North East Arnhem Land.

There, Ms Puntoriero, a First Nations woman of Jaru and Arrernte heritage is making the most of her Charles Darwin University (CDU) Bachelor of Environmental Science degree and, in turn, she has been embraced by the local Yolŋgu people.

Graduating from her CDU degree in October 2020 has helped Ms Puntoriero secure a prestigious job with a multinational company and forge a new career as an Environmental Scientist in the Top End town.

Ms Puntoriero has shown the possibilities the degree offers.

It saw her take her first steps in a new job and profession when she relocated from Darwin to Nhulunbuy for work as an Environmental Advisor at Rio Tinto’s Gove bauxite mine in July 2021.

At that time she also took her first steps towards a new way of life, with the young mother and daughter taken up by the stronghold of traditional Aboriginal culture in North East Arnhem Land.

Although previously based in Darwin Ms Puntoriero and Darcy identify as both Jaru people from Western Australia’s Kimberley region and Arrernte people from the Central Australian region.

But since moving to Nhulunbuy they have been adopted by the Yolŋgu people, meaning they now identify with a third First Nations culture, including Yolŋgu extended family, language and names.

“Moving to Nhulunbuy for work was a leap of faith,” Ms Puntoriero said. “But the opportunity to raise Darcy in a place known for the richness and beauty of its intact traditional Yolŋgu culture was very compelling.”

“I was also drawn to the opportunity to work closely with the Traditional Owners of the land, developing and implementing best practice environmental approaches to rehabilitate country impacted by bauxite mining.

“It’s hugely motivating to be contributing to the effort to rehabilitate the mining lease land to hand back to the Traditional Owners – who have adopted us as family,” she said.

To this end Ms Puntoriero works as part of the Closure Projects Team at Rio Tinto, which has piloted a new approach to mine rehabilitation to ameliorate sandy soils lacking topsoil in the Nhulunbuy area.

This approach sees the team use mulch and organic matter locally sourced from native cover crops, instead of topsoil, to improve soil structure and fertility and, ultimately, minimise erosion.

Using this method, the aim is to rehabilitate 300 hectares of leased land in the period before the Gove bauxite mine ceases operations later this decade.

“We’re working with Traditional Owners to make sure we leave a positive legacy for future generations and the new method has the potential to improve mine rehabilitation outcomes around Australia and the world,” she said.

Continuing her post-graduate studies in Nhulunbuy Ms Puntoriero is currently completing a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment at CDU. She hopes this vocational study will enable her to seize new opportunities to develop training, particularly working with First Nations communities, at Rio Tinto.

For instance, content development for cultural awareness training in consultation with Traditional Owners that incorporates Indigenous knowledge of local ecology, fauna and flora.


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