There are many schools of thought on the best way to look after country, so it was a rare and uplifting experience when 140 people gathered in East Arnhem Land to share ways that Western and traditional, local Indigenous methods can co-exist. Territory Natural Resource Management Top End regional coordinator Anthony Kerr reports on the three-day East Arnhem Land Indigenous Ranger Forum he attended in Gulkula.
There were high hopes for the event, which according to organisers, was the first of its kind in the region for a long time, and was sorely needed.
Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation executive officer Steve Roeger, who has been a driving force behind the land management organisation in East Arnhem Land for close to 15 years, said the three-day event exceeded expectations.
“We have been planning this for a long time. We were concerned that opportunities for Indigenous rangers to get together are falling off the radar more and more,” he said.
With Territory NRM, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and Dhimurru playing key roles in establishing the event and assistance from Department of Fisheries, Yothu Yindi Foundation, Gumatj Association and Sodexo, it attracted 140 participants.
“It has been the most impressive event that I have had the privilege of being part of for a long time,” Steve said.
“I’m just so thrilled to see how sophisticated our ranger groups have become. What we have seen in this last week has been a phenomenon.
“We talked about practical project work, managing weeds, feral animals, fire, the significance of these things from a cultural point of view, cultural heritage management, looking after sacred sites and song lines, understanding Gurrutu (Kinship) and relationship to country.”
Incorporating local Indigenous culture with NRM methods practiced by non-Indigenous agencies, is known as a ‘both ways approach’, and is fundamental to ranger groups acting sustainably, according to Steve.
“I’m sure all of us have come away with a much greater appreciation of who we can rely on, who we are as a group, and what we’re trying to achieve and how we best go about doing that,” he said.
Steve’s colleague, Dhimurru executive support officer Thomas Amagula, an Anindilyakwa man who has ties to the region on his mother’s side, said the ‘both ways approach’ was integral to Indigenous ranger groups establishing a sustainable vision.
“I was really happy that partners that work across East Arnhem Land were present and keen to work together as one, and support us, the eyes and ears of this country,” Thomas said.
Thomas, inspired by Gunbulabula, the spirit man who once blew his yidaki to gather all the clans from the region to come to Gulkula, said the 11 ranger groups were now keen to share their experiences.
Rangers will describe the shared approach of integrating traditional with modern practices through the Learning on Country program, which aims to improve school attendance and improve opportunities for remote students.
“We want to work with the schools to help support the young children learn about the both-way system,” Thomas said
“Caring for land, protecting our song-lines, protecting our culture, protecting our language to make sure our children speak the language, perform ceremonies, understand who they are, where they come from and what they’re related to, to the land or to the sea. That what this forum is all about.”
More than 100 of the participants at the East Arnhem Land Ranger Forum came from 11 ranger groups
Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation Rangers from Nhulunbuy
Yugul Mangi Rangers from Ngukurr
Mimal Rangers from Bulman
Anindilyakwa Rangers from Groote Eylandt
Djelk Rangers from Maningrida
Crocodile Island Rangers from Millingimbi
Gurrwurrling Rangers from Arafura Swamp
Wanga Djakamirr Rangers from Arafura Swamp
SE Catchment Rangers from Arafura Swamp
There was also a healthy presence from key partner agencies and regional facilitators
Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA)
Territory Natural Resource Management (TNRM)
The Northern Land Council (NLC)
Kimberley to Cape Coalition
Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
Australian Government Department of North Australian Quarantine Strategy (NAQS)
Australian Government Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C)
Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection
NT Government Department of Land Resource Management - Flora and Fauna
NT Government Department of Land Resource Management - Weeds Branch
NT Government Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries
The Country Needs People Coalition
This project is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management through funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme.