On Friday afternoons, the remote Indigenous community in and around Wadeye, 400 kilometres south-west of Darwin, come to the Thamarrurr Rangers, to turn in beverage containers that previously got dumped on country.
The collection is very popular, Thamarrurr Ranger Manager David Curmi recalls one enterprising resident who in one afternoon exchanged 2,500 containers for $250.
Since opening the collection point in January, Wadeye residents have collected almost 300,000 containers, which the Rangers count, sort and provide refunds for, with almost $30,000 going back to the community so far this year.
Mr Curmi admits the 10 cents refund per container provided by the government scheme is a strong incentive, particularly for youngsters keen for pocket money, but the Rangers have also had to think innovatively to make it work.
A few years ago Thamarrurr Rangers were confronted with rubbish, along their beaches, stuck in mangroves and littered around community facilities they patrolled as part of their vast 18,000 square kilometres of country and 250 kilometres of coastline.
The key was recognising that many in the community were accustomed to using paperbark and other traditional products that for generations had disappeared into the landscape once discarded.
Adopting new materials like plastic, meant learning new ways to dispose of them.
Women from the Ranger group banded with other women in the community and together started an education campaign.
It led to the Ranger group facilitating the recyclable collections and starting the now annual Rubbish Art collection.
Mr Curmi said having fun making art with rubbish while discussing serious messages about looking after the environment was so well received, they made the event bigger this year and attracted donations from local businesses for prizes.
Working closely with schools and young families and bringing in experts from the Ghost Net Art Project, set up to spread the message about the dangers fishing nets left abandoned have on the marine environment, also helped boost the number of entrants.
Thamarrurr Rangers rubbish reducing activities as well as their ‘regular’ ranger work, which involves managing weeds, feral pigs and carrying out fire management, has now been recognised.
The group has been named a finalist in the NT NRM Awards, in the Indigenous NRM Champion category, as well as the Research in NRM category, where they are a joint finalist with Top End environmental consulting firm EcOz.
The NT NRM awards recognise the achievements of Territorians who contribute their time and energy to sustainably managing the land, water, soil, plants and animals that make up the Territory’s natural environment.
There are 25 finalists, vying for 10 awards this year, including the People’s Choice category, which is decided solely by votes from the public.
Territory Natural Resource Management chief executive Karen May said the Awards gala dinner was part of a three-day TNRM conference that attracts hundreds of Territorians including pastoralists, Indigenous rangers, scientists, government staff, Landcare workers and volunteers involved in managing fire, weeds, feral animals, and protecting cultural and natural assets.
“The Northern Territory is home to 67 sites of conservation significance, 189 threatened species, 7 feral animals and 17 weeds of national significance,” Ms May said.
“Working to protect these assets and manage the threats is a huge job.”
Ms May encouraged everyone to visit http://www.tnrmconference.org.au/awards to see the great work being done by this year’s finalists.