Caring for country creates new land of opportunity

 Manwurrk Rangers and ANU researchers recording Indigenous ecological knowledge

Manwurrk Rangers and ANU researchers recording Indigenous ecological knowledge in remote Arnhem land. Photo by Sam Bentley-Toon.

New conservation partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are saving threatened animals, returning Aboriginal people to their ancestral homeland, discovering new types of plant species and developing novel cross-cultural ways of managing country.

The inspiring projects have been featured in a special issue of the Australasian journal Ecological Management & Restoration, released yesterday and guest edited by Emilie-Jane Ens from The Australian National University. The ecologist from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic and Policy Research at ANU says that the new partnerships represent some of Australia’s most successful land and water management efforts.

"Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are working together in remote parts of central and northern Australia to develop innovative land and sea conservation projects," she said. "These projects combine Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientific knowledge and methods, highlighting the seldom-documented voices and input of Indigenous peoples into conservation work.

"Indigenous Australians have a wealth of knowledge accumulated over thousands of years that can fill substantial gaps in non-Indigenous understanding and knowledge of species, ecosystems and sustainable ways of managing country. Furthermore, use of these methods has the added advantage of working to maintain Indigenous culture - some of the oldest living traditions on the planet. Australia is a unique country and we need to develop innovative and uniquely Australian ways of managing our land and seas.

"Successful partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations are increasingly being formed to conserve and manage some of the most intact and unique parts of the country such as Arnhem Land, the Great Victoria Desert, the Queensland coast and the Kimberley.

"These projects have yielded some really important conservation results, including the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions, the return of threatened wallabies to their native habitat, fire abatement and prevention, sustainable water management and use, and the discovery of new plant species."

Ens added that Indigenous people manage around 20 per cent of the Australian continent, contributing to a substantial proportion of Australia’s national reserve and parks system.

"This includes some of the most intact and biologically diverse landscapes on the continent, lands which also have important spiritual meaning to Indigenous people," she said.

"Many of these collaborative projects show how Indigenous Australians’ involvement in ecosystem management is reinforcing their capacity to manage their country on their own terms. This is not only beneficial for environmental conservation but has ramifications for Indigenous wellbeing and cultural survival."

Ecological Management & Restoration is a publication of the Ecological Society of Australia and is published by Wiley-Blackwell. The special issue ’Indigenous land and sea management in remote Australia’ was sponsored by the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country Program and the Nature Conservancy and is available online at onlinelibrary.wiley.­com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1442-8903

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