When rehoming wildlife, Indigenous leadership delivers the best results



Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau (Sinclair Wetlands)
Glen Riley, Author provided

Aisling Rayne, University of Canterbury; Channell Thoms, University of Canterbury, and Levi Collier-Robinson, University of Canterbury

Whakapapa [genealogy] binds tākata whenua [people of the land] to the mountains, rivers, coasts and other landscapes, linking the health of the people with that of the environment. Like humans, species have whakapapa that connects them to their natural environment and to other species. If whakapapa is understood thoroughly, we can build the right environment to protect and enhance any living thing.

These are the words of Mananui Ramsden (with tribal affiliations to Kāti Huikai, Kāi Tahu), coauthor of our new work, in which we show that centring Indigenous peoples, knowledge and practices achieves better results for wildlife translocations.

Moving plants and animals to establish new populations or strengthen existing ones can help species recovery and make ecosystems more resilient. But these projects are rarely led or co-led by Indigenous peoples, and many fail to consider how Indigenous knowledge can lead to better conservation outcomes.

Co-author Levi Collier-Robinson (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Apa ki ta rā tō, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Porou) with students from Te Kura o Tuahiwi.
Ashley Overbeek

We argue that now more than ever, we need transformative change that brings together diverse ways of understanding and seeing to restore ecosystems as well as cultural practices and language.




Read more:
Indigenous peoples are crucial for conservation – a quarter of all land is in their hands


Reimagining conservation

Where Western science often focuses on specific parts of complex systems, Indigenous knowledge systems consider all parts as interconnected and inseparable from local context, history and place.

Experience in Aotearoa and around the world shows Indigenous-led or co-led approaches achieve better environmental and social outcomes. For example, by combining distributional data with cultural knowledge about plants used for weaving or traditional medicines, we can work out whether they will grow in places where they are most important to people under future climate conditions.

In our Perspective article, we present a new framework for reimagining conservation translocations through the Mi’kmaq (First Nations people of Canada) principle of Etuapmumk, or “Two-Eyed Seeing”. In the words of Mi’kmaq elder Dr Albert Marshall, Two-Eyed Seeing is:

…learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing … and learning to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all.

At the centre of this framework lies genuine partnership, built on mutual trust and respect, and collective decision making. This approach can be extended to local contexts around the world.




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Children make connections to Aki (Earth) through Anishinaabe teachings


Two-Eyed Seeing case studies

In Aotearoa, Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi, 1840) provides a foundation for building equitable partnerships between tākata whenua (people of the land) and tākata Tiriti (people of the treaty). For us, as a team of Māori and non-Māori researchers and practitioners, Two-Eyed Seeing means centring mātauraka Māori (Indigenous knowledge systems).

Together with two conservation trusts, Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau and Te Kōhaka o Tūhaitara, we have been working to co-develop strategies to restore native wildlife at two wetlands in Te Waipounamu (the South Island).

These studies are weaving together genomic data and mātauraka Māori (Māori knowledge systems) to restore populations of mahika kai (food-gathering) species such as kēkēwai (freshwater crayfish) for customary or commercial harvest, and kākahi (freshwater mussel) as ecosystem engineers. We are also developing translocation strategies for kōwaro (Canterbury mudfish), one of Aotearoa’s most threatened freshwater fish.

Tuna (eel) monitoring at Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau (Sinclair wetland).
Paulette Tamati-Elliffe, Author provided

Where ecological data is scarce in Western science, such as for many native freshwater fish and invertebrates, past management of those species (for example, translocations along ancestral trails) can inform whether, and how, we mix different populations together today.

For some species, such as kōwaro, there has been little consideration as to how the mātauraka (knowledge) held by local iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes) can enhance conservation translocation outcomes.

Better conservation translocation outcomes

The biodiversity crisis calls on all of us to work together at the interface of Indigenous knowledge systems and Western science.

At the coastal park Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau and Tūhaitara, the revival and inter-generational transfer of knowledge and customary practices is restoring ecosystems that will be renowned for sustainable practice and as important Kāi Tahu mahika kai (food-gathering places).

We contend that centring Indigenous people, values and knowledge through Indigenous governance, or genuine co-governance, will enhance conservation translocation outcomes elsewhere, particularly for our most threatened and least prioritised species.


This work was carried out together with co-authors Greg Byrnes, John Hollows, Professor Angus McIntosh, Makarini Rupene (Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāi Tahu), Mananui Ramsden (Kāti Huikai, Kāi Tahu), Paulette Tamati-Elliffe (Kāi Te Pahi, Kāi Te Ruahikihiki (Otākou)), Te Atiawa, Ngāti Mutunga) and Associate Professor Tammy Steeves.The Conversation

Aisling Rayne, PhD candidate, University of Canterbury; Channell Thoms, , University of Canterbury, and Levi Collier-Robinson, PhD Student, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia, you have unfinished business. It’s time to let our ‘fire people’ care for this land



Rangers from Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, conducting cool season burning on Martu Country.
Tony Jupp,The Nature Conservancy

David Bowman, University of Tasmania and Greg Lehman, University of Tasmania

Since last summer’s bushfire crisis, there’s been a quantum shift in public awareness of Aboriginal fire management. It’s now more widely understood that Aboriginal people used landscape burning to sustain biodiversity and suppress large bushfires.

The Morrison government’s bushfire royal commission, which began hearings this week, recognises the potential of incorporating Aboriginal knowledge into mainstream fire management.

Its terms of reference seek to understand ways “the traditional land and fire management practices of Indigenous Australians could improve Australia’s resilience to natural disasters”.

Incorporating Aboriginal knowledge is essential to tackling future bushfire crises. But it risks perpetuating historical injustices, by appropriating Aboriginal knowledge without recognition or compensation. So while the bushfire threat demands urgent action, we must also take care.

Accommodating traditional fire knowledge is a long-overdue accompaniment to recent advances in land rights and native title. It is an essential part of the unfinished business of post-colonial Australia.

Grant Stewart, a ranger from Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa. The benefits of Indigenous fire practices are becoming well-known.
Louie Davis

A living record

Before 1788, Aboriginal cultures across Australia used fire to deliberately and skilfully manage the bush.

Broadly, it involved numerous, frequent fires that created fine-scale mosaics of burnt and unburnt patches. Developed over thousands of years, such burning made intense bushfires uncommon and made plant and animal foods more abundant. This benefited wildlife and sustained a biodiversity of animals and plants.

Following European settlement, Aboriginal people were dispossessed of their land and the opportunity to manage it with fire. Since then, the Australian bush has seen dramatic biodiversity declines, tree invasion of grasslands and more frequent and destructive bushfires.




Read more:
A surprising answer to a hot question: controlled burns often fail to slow a bushfire


In many parts of Australia, particularly densely settled areas, cultural burning practices have been severely disrupted. But in some regions, such as clan estates in Arnhem Land, unbroken traditions of fire management date back to the mid to late Pleistocene some 50,000 years ago.

Not all nations can draw on these living records of traditional fire management.

Indigenous people around the world, including in western Europe, used fire to manage flammable landscapes. But industrialisation, intensive agriculture and colonisation led to these practices being lost.

In most cases, historical records are the only way to learn about them.

Aborigines Using Fire to Hunt Kangaroos, by Joseph Lycett. Indigenous people have used cultural fire practices for thousands of years.
National Library of Australia

Rising from the ashes

In Australia, many Aboriginal people are rekindling cultural practices, sometimes in collaboration with non-indigenous land managers. They are drawing on retained community knowledge of past fire practices – and in some cases, embracing practices from other regions.

Burning programs can be adapted to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. These include the need to protect assets, and new threats such as weeds, climate change, forest disturbances from logging and fire, and feral animals.




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This process is outlined well in Victor Steffensen’s recent book Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia. Steffensen describes how, as an Aboriginal man born into two cultures, he made a journey of self-discovery – learning about fire management while being guided and mentored by two Aboriginal elders.

Together, they reintroduced fire into traditional lands on Cape York. These practices had been prohibited after European-based systems of land tenure and management were imposed.

Steffensen extended his experience to cultural renewal and ecological restoration across Australia, arguing this was critical to addressing the bushfire crisis:

The bottom line for me is that we need to work towards a whole other division of fire managers on the land […] A skilled team of indigenous and non-indigenous people that works in with the entire community, agencies and emergency services to deliver an effective and educational strategy into the future. One that is culturally based and connects to all the benefits for the community.

Making it happen

So how do we realise this ideal? Explicit affirmative action policies, funded by state and federal governments, are a practical way to protect and extend Aboriginal burning cultures.

Specifically, such programs should provide ways for Aboriginal people and communities to:

  • develop their fire management knowledge and capacity
  • maintain and renew traditional cultural practices
  • enter mainstream fire management, including in leadership roles
  • enter a broad cross section of agencies, and community groups involved in fire management.

This will require rapidly building capacity to train and employ Aboriginal fire practitioners.

In some instances, where the impact of colonisation has been most intense, action is needed to support Aboriginal communities to re-establish relationships with forested areas, following generations of forced removal from their Country.




Read more:
Our land is burning, and western science does not have all the answers


Importantly, this empowerment will enable Aboriginal communities to re-establish their own cultural priorities and practices in caring for Country. Where these differ from the Eurocentric values of mainstream Australia, we must understand and respect the wisdom of those who have been custodians of this flammable landscape for millennia.

Non-indigenous Australians should also pay for these ancient skills. Funding schemes could include training, and ensuring affirmative action programs are implemented and achieve their goals.

Involving Aboriginal people and communities in the development of fire management will ensure cultural knowledge is shared on culturally agreed terms.

Fire people, fire country

In many ways, last summer’s fire season is a reminder of the brutal acquisition of land in Australia and its ongoing consequences for all Australians.

The challenges involved in helping to right this wrong, by enabling Aboriginal people to use their fire management practices, are complex. They span social justice, funding, legal liability, cultural rights, fire management and science.

Fundamentally, we must recognise that Aborigines are “fire people” who live on “fire country”. It’s time to embrace this ancient fact.

Andry Sculthorpe of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre contributed to this article.The Conversation

David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania and Greg Lehman, Pro Vice Chancellor, Aboriginal Leadership, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This rainforest was once a grassland savanna maintained by Aboriginal people – until colonisation



John Glover’s paintings show open savannahs and grasslands in Tasmania. (1838)
Art Gallery of NSW

Michael-Shawn Fletcher, University of Melbourne

If you go to the Surrey Hills of northwest Tasmania, you’ll see a temperate rainforest dominated by sprawling trees with genetic links going back millions of years.

It’s a forest type many consider to be ancient “wilderness”. But this landscape once looked very different.

The only hints are a handful of small grassy plains dotting the estate and the occasional giant eucalypt with broad-branching limbs. This is an architecture that can only form in open paddock-like environments – now swarmed by rainforest trees.

These remnant grasslands are of immense conservation value, as they represent the last vestiges of a once more widespread subalpine “poa tussock” grassland ecosystem.

The temperate rainforest in Tasmania’s Surrey Hills are a legacy of colonialism.
Author provided

Our new research shows these grasslands were the result of Palawa people who, for generation upon generation, actively and intelligently manicured this landscape against the ever-present tide of the rainforest expansion we see today.

This purposeful intervention demonstrates land ownership. It was their property. Their estate. Two hundred years of forced dispossession cannot erase millennia of land ownership and connection to country.




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Strength from perpetual grief: how Aboriginal people experience the bushfire crisis


Myths of “wilderness” have no place on this continent when much of the land in Australia is culturally formed, created by millennia of Aboriginal burning – even the world renowned Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

British impressions

Today, the Surrey Hills hosts a vast 60,000-hectare timber plantation. Areas outside the modern plantations on the Surrey Hills are home to rainforest.

On first seeing the Surrey Hills from atop St Valentine’s Peak in 1827, Henry Hellyer – surveyor for the Van Diemen’s Land company – extolled the splendour of the vista before him:

an excellent country, consisting of gently rising, dry, grassy hills […] They resemble English enclosures in many respects, being bounded by brooks between each, with belts of beautiful shrubs in every vale.

It will not in general average ten trees on an acre. There are many plains of several square miles without a single tree.

And when first setting food on the estate:

The kangaroo stood gazing at us like fawns, and in some instances came bounding towards us.

He went on to note how the landscape was recently burnt, “looking fresh and green in those places”.

It is possible that the natives by burning only one set of plains are enabled to keep the kangaroos more concentrated for their use, and I can in no way account for their burning only in this place, unless it is to serve them as a hunting place.

The landscape Hellyer described was one deliberately managed and maintained by Aboriginal people with fire. The familiarity of the kangaroo to humans, and the clear and abundant evidence of Aboriginal occupation in the area, implies these animals were more akin to livestock than “wild” animals.

A debated legacy

Critically, Hellyer’s accounts of this landscape were challenged later in the same year in a scathing report by Edward Curr, manager of the Van Diemen’s Land company and, later, a politician.

Curr criticised Hellyer for overstating the potential of the area to curry favour with his employers, for whom Hellyer was searching for sheep pasture in the new colony.




Read more:
Explainer: how Tasmania’s Aboriginal people reclaimed a language, palawa kani


These contrasting perceptions are an historical echo of a debate at the centre of Aboriginal-settler relations today.

Authors such as Bruce Pascoe (Dark Emu) and Bill Gammage (The Biggest Estate on Earth) have been challenged, ridiculed and vilified for over-stating the agency and role of Aboriginal Australians in modifying and shaping the Australian landscape.

These ideas are criticised by those who either genuinely believe Aboriginal people merely subsisted on what was “naturally” available to them, or by those with other agendas aimed at denying how First Nations people owned, occupied and shaped Australia.

New research backs up Hellyer

We sought to directly test the observations of Hellyer in the Surrey Hills, using the remains of plants and fire (charcoal) stored in soils beneath the modern day rainforest.

Drilling in to the earth beneath modern rainforest, we found the deeper soils were full of the remains of grass, eucalypts and charcoal, while the upper more recent soil was dominated by rainforest and no charcoal.


Author provided

We drilled into more than 70 rainforest trees across two study sites, targeting two species that can live for more than 500 years: Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghami) and Celery-top Pine (Phyllocladus aspleniifolius).

None of the trees we measured were older than 180 years (from 1840). That’s just over a decade following Hellyer’s first glimpse of the Surrey Hills.

Our data unequivocally proves the landscape of the Surrey Hills was an open grassy eucalypt-savanna with regular fire under Aboriginal management prior to 1827.




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Importantly, the speed at which rainforest invaded and captured this Indigenous constructed landscape shows the enormous workload Aboriginal people invested in holding back rainforest. For millennia, they used cultural burning to maintain a 60,000-hectare grassland.

Learning from the past

Our research challenges the central tenet underpinning the concept of terra nullius (vacant land) on which the tenuous and uneasy claims of sovereignty of white Australia over Aboriginal lands rests.

Our research drilled into the soil to learn what the landscape looked like before British invasion.
Author provided

More than the political implications, this data reveals another impact of dispossession and denial of Indigenous agency in the creation of the Australian landscape.

Left unburnt, grassy ecosystems constructed by Indigenous people accumulate woody fuels, in Australia and elsewhere.

Forest has far more fuel than grassland and savanna ecosystems. Under the right set of climatic conditions, any fuel will burn and increasing fuel loads dramatically increases the potential for catastrophic bushfire.

That’s why Indigenous fire management could help save Australia from devastating disasters like the recent Black Summer.




Read more:
Our land is burning, and western science does not have all the answers


The Conversation


Michael-Shawn Fletcher, Associate Professor in Biogeography, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The world’s best fire management system is in northern Australia, and it’s led by Indigenous land managers


Rohan Fisher, Charles Darwin University and Jon Altman, Australian National University

The tropical savannas of northern Australia are among the most fire-prone regions in the world. On average, they account for 70% of the area affected by fire each year in Australia.

But effective fire management over the past 20 years has reduced the annual average area burned – an area larger than Tasmania. The extent of this achievement is staggering, almost incomprehensible in a southern Australia context after the summer’s devastating bushfires.




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The success in northern Australia is the result of sustained and arduous on-ground work by a range of landowners and managers. Of greatest significance is the fire management from Indigenous community-based ranger groups, which has led to one of the most significant greenhouse gas emissions reduction practices in Australia.

As Willie Rioli, a Tiwi Islander and Indigenous Carbon Industry Network steering committee member recently said:

Fire is a tool and it’s something people should see as part of the Australian landscape. By using fire at the right time of year, in the right places with the right people, we have a good chance to help country and climate.

Importantly, people need to listen to science – the success of our industry has been from a collaboration between our traditional knowledge and modern science and this cooperation has made our work the most innovative and successful in the world.

A tinder-dry season

The 2019 fire season was especially challenging in the north (as it was in the south), following years of low rainfall across the Kimberly and Top-End. Northern Australia endured tinder-dry conditions, severe fire weather in the late dry season, and a very late onset of wet-season relief.

Despite these severe conditions, extensive fuel management and fire suppression activities over several years meant northern Australia didn’t see the scale of destruction experienced in the south.

A comparison of two years with severe fire weather conditions. Extensive early dry season mitigation burns in 2019 reduced the the total fire-affected areas.

This is a huge success for biodiversity conservation under worsening, longer-term fire conditions induced by climate change. Indigenous land managers are even extending their knowledge of savanna burning to southern Africa.

Burn early in the dry season

The broad principles of northern Australia fire management are to burn early in the dry season when fires can be readily managed; and suppress, where possible, the ignition of uncontrolled fires – often from non-human sources such as lightning – in the late dry season.

Traditional Indigenous fire management involves deploying “cool” (low intensity) and patchy burning early in the dry season to reduce grass fuel. This creates firebreaks in the landscape that help stop larger and far more severe fires late in the dry season.

Relatively safe ‘cool’ burns can create firebreaks.
Author provided

Essentially, burning early in the dry season accords with tradition, while suppressing fires that ignite late in the dry season is a post-colonial practice.

Savannah burning is different to burn-offs in South East Australia, partly because grass fuel reduction burns are more effective – it’s rare to have high-intensity fires spreading from tree to tree. What’s more, these areas are sparsely populated, with less infrastructure, so there are fewer risks.




Read more:
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Satellite monitoring over the last 15 years shows the scale of change. We can compare the average area burnt across the tropical savannas over seven years from 2000 (2000–2006) with the last seven years (2013–2019). Since 2013, active fire management has been much more extensive.

The comparison reveals a reduction of late dry season wildfires over an area of 115,000 square kilometres and of all fires by 88,000 square kilometres.

How fire has changed in northern Australia.
Author provided

Combining traditional knowledge with western science

The primary goals of Indigenous savanna burning projects remain to support cultural reproduction, on-country living and “healthy country” outcomes.

Savanna burning is highly symbiotic with biodiversity conservation and landscape management, which is the core business of rangers.

Ensuring these gains are sustainable requires a significant amount of difficult on-ground work in remote and challenging circumstances. It involves not only Indigenous rangers, but also pastoralists, park rangers and private conservation groups. These emerging networks have helped build new savanna burning knowledge and innovative technologies.




Read more:
Our land is burning, and western science does not have all the answers


While customary knowledge underpins much of this work, the vast spatial extent of today’s savanna burning requires helicopters, remote sensing and satellite mapping. In other words, traditional burning is reconfigured to combine with western scientific knowledge and new tools.

For Indigenous rangers, burning from helicopters using incendiaries is augmented by ground-based operations, including on-foot burns that support more nuanced cultural engagement with country.

On-ground burns are particularly important for protecting sacred sites, built infrastructure and areas of high conservation value such as groves of monsoonal forest.

Who pays for it?

A more active savanna burning regime over the last seven years has led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of more than seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.




Read more:
Savanna burning: carbon pays for conservation in northern Australia


This is around 10% of the total emission reductions accredited by the Australian government through carbon credits units under Carbon Farming Initiative Act. Under the act, one Australian carbon credit unit is earned for each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent that a project stores or avoids.

By selling these carbon credits units either to the government or on a private commercial market, land managers have created a A$20 million a year savanna burning industry.

How Indigenous Australians and others across Australia’s north are reducing emissions.

What can the rest of Australia learn?

Savanna fire management is not directly translatable to southern Australia, where the climate is more temperate, the vegetation is different and the landscape is more densely populated. Still, there are lessons to be learnt.

A big reason for the success of fire management in the north savannas is because of the collaboration with scientists and Indigenous land managers, built on respect for the sophistication of traditional knowledge.

This is augmented by broad networks of fire managers across the complex cross-cultural landscape of northern Australia. Climate change will increasingly impact fire management across Australia, but at least in the north there is a growing capacity to face the challenge.The Conversation

Rohan Fisher, Information Technology for Development Researcher, Charles Darwin University and Jon Altman, Emeritus professor, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remote Indigenous Australia’s ecological economies give us something to build on


Jon Altman, Australian National University

Land titling in Australia has undergone a revolutionary shift over the past four decades. The return of diverse forms of title to Indigenous Australians has produced some semblance of land justice. About half the continent is now held under some form of Indigenous title.

Forms of title range from inalienable freehold title to non-exclusive (or shared) native title. Much of this estate is in northern Australia, as this recent map shows.

Status of Indigenous title across Australia.
K. Jordon, F. Markham and J. Altman, Linking Indigenous communities with regional development: Australia Overview, report to OECD (2019), Author provided

Another map from 2014 shows over 1,000 discrete Indigenous communities and the division between north and south.

What’s different about these lands?

These lands and their populations have some unusual features.

First, the lands are extremely remote and relatively undeveloped in a capitalist “extractive” sense. These are the largest relatively intact savannah landscapes in Australia — and possibly the world.

Much of this estate is included in the National Reserve System as Indigenous Protected Areas because of its high environmental and cultural values, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria.

These areas still face threats from invasive animal and plant species, bushfires and increasingly extreme heat. These threats will lead to further species extinctions.

Indigenous Protected Area management plans address these threats to ensure biodiversity and cultural values are at best restored or maintained, at worst not eroded.




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Second, parts of these lands in the wet-dry tropics are valuable as sources of emissions avoidance and carbon storage.

Many groups are paid through offset markets and voluntary agreements to reduce overall emissions. There are emerging options for payment for long-term carbon storage – between 25 and 100 years.

These lands have some of the world’s highest solar irradiance. Multi-billion-dollar solar and wind/solar/green hydrogen facilities are being developed.

Third, the Indigenous owners and majority inhabitants are among the poorest Australians. Only 35% of Aboriginal adults in very remote Australia are formally employed. Over 50% of Indigenous people in these areas live below the poverty line.

Such poverty is explained partly by past colonisation and associated social exclusion and neglect, geographic isolation from market capitalism and labour markets, and different priorities.

Having legally proven continuity of customs, traditions and connection to reclaimed ancestral lands, landowners generally look to care for their country. They use its natural resources for domestic non-commercial purposes as allowed by law.

But Indigenous people continually struggle to inhabit these lands. Their dispersed small settlements range from townships to homelands. Government support is minimal and policy intentionally discouraging.




Read more:
Building in ways that meet the needs of Australia’s remote regions


The problem with official development models

Since federation, many government policy proposals to “develop the north” have sought to replicate the economic growth trajectory of the temperate south. Such plans are based on state-sanctioned, often environmentally damaging, market capitalism.

The latest version is the 2015 Our North, Our Future white paper, released after a parliamentary inquiry. In submission 136, Francis Markham and I asked, “developing whose north for whom and in what way?” We pointed out 48% of the north’s 3 million square kilometres was under Indigenous title at that time, and Indigenous ideas about the land are often very different from those of the government and corporate, mainly extractive, interests.




Read more:
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Four years on, a Senate select inquiry is examining how the Our North, Our Future agenda is progressing. A specific reference to First Nations people has been added. In submission 13, we highlighted four fundamental changes over the past five years.

  1. the Indigenous land share of northern Australia has grown to 60%

  2. Indigenous people are living in deeper poverty partly due to punitive changes to income-support arrangements

  3. growing scientific consensus that global warming will have escalating negative impacts on northern Australia

  4. slowing population growth suggests the white paper’s goal of a population of 4–5 million by 2060 (from just over 1 million now) lacks realism.




Read more:
You can’t boost Australia’s north to 5 million people without a proper plan


We are at a critical crossroads in policy thinking about northern Australia.

The dominant approach sees it as ripe for capitalist development, extraction and associated economic growth, irrespective of environmental consequences. Corporate pressure to undertake risky fracking for oil and gas and to develop industrial-scale agriculture and aquaculture projects epitomises such thinking.

The zero-emissions alternative

The holistic focus of ecological economics informs an alternative approach. It’s based on the tenet that everything connects to everything else: the economy is embedded in society and society is embedded in the environment, the natural order.

This line of reasoning resonates with the focus of many Indigenous landowners on the need to nurture kin, ancestral country and living, natural resources.

Ecological economics distinguishes between economic growth that depletes non-renewable resources irrespective of environmental harm, and forms of development that focus on human well-being, cultural and environmental values.




Read more:
What is ‘ecological economics’ and why do we need to talk about it?


Development in the north might take many transformational forms as we strive for a zero-emissions economy.

Economist Ross Garnaut discusses the potential of a zero-emissions economy in Australia.

Indigenous-titled and peopled lands are well positioned to drive this in three proven ways:

  1. by intensifying projects that reduce emissions and sequester carbon
  2. by increasing efforts to conserve biodiversity by managing and potentially reversing impacts of invasive species
  3. by becoming key players in the renewables sector through massive projects for domestic energy use and export.

The same landscapes can be used for sustainable wildlife harvesting for food and diverse forms of cultural production for income. These uses accord with Indigenous tradition and leave minimal environmental footprints.

Policy and practice must be informed by the environmental perspectives of Indigenous landowners, which are highly compatible with the core concepts of ecological economics.

In these ways, the North could emerge as a powerhouse region beyond current imaginaries. The climate crisis makes this transformation essential.

As ecological economies, remote Indigenous lands could deliver sustainable livelihoods to Indigenous people and contribute significantly to a zero-emissions economy of critical benefit to national and global communities.The Conversation

Jon Altman, Emeritus professor, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After the climb: how new tourism opportunities can empower the traditional owners of Uluru



The Anangu community of Mutitjulu stands in stark contrast to the sleek tourism infrastructure in the neighbouring town of Yulara.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Barry Judd, Charles Darwin University; Amanda Kearney, Flinders University; Chris Hallinan; Christine Schlesinger, Charles Darwin University; Joseph M. Cheer, Wakayama University, and Keir James Reeves, Federation University Australia

Last weekend marked 34 years since the land title to Uluru was handed back to the local Yankunytjatjara-Pitjantjatjara peoples. It was also when joint management of the Uluru-Katja-Tjuta National Park began between the traditional owners (Anangu people) and Parks Australia.

The arrangement recognised Anangu title to the land and ensured the direct involvement of Anangu in the development of tourism in the area.

The agreement also coincided with the relocation of tourism facilities from the southeast base of Uluru to the purpose-built resort town of Yulara. The old hotels and other tourist sites were discarded and became the base for the Anangu community of Mutitjulu.

However, if joint management aimed to deliver improved economic and social outcomes for Anangu residents, it has proven to be a spectacular failure.




Read more:
Closing Uluru to climbers is better for tourism in the long run


Today, Yulara and Mutitjulu stand in stark contrast. Yulara is filled with cashed-up, bucket-list travellers from all over the world, while Mutitjulu is an outpost of lingering disadvantage where overcrowding, underemployment, poverty, high rates of suicide and preventable diseases remain pervasive problems.

Mutitjulu was also the epicentre of the controversial Northern Territory National Emergency Response in 2007, commonly referred to as the intervention, when the federal government took control over more than 70 Indigenous communities in response to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Over a decade later, the intervention has done little to close the gap in these communities.

Mutitjulu is emblematic of what academic Jon Altman refers to as the persistent need to reestablish trust between Indigenous Australians and the institutions that for so long failed to ensure their basic human rights were protected.

An end to climbing brings new opportunities

The end of climbing at Uluru provides an opportunity to reset the relationship between the traditional owners and the tourism sector, and look for new ways for Anangu to be integrated into the industry.

Central to this is how the Anangu can meaningfully develop their cultural assets within the park to ensure the long-term benefit of their people, particularly through direct employment.




Read more:
Why we are banning tourists from climbing Uluru


There would appear to be ample opportunities for the people in Mutitjulu to take advantage of the 1,000-plus tourism jobs in Yulara, which are currently staffed largely by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from outside the community.

The closure of Uluru to climbing also necessitates the development of alternate visitor experiences, particularly more educational and immersive experiences that would entail learning from and interacting respectfully with traditional owners.

The decision to end climbing at Uluru has been a cause for celebration by Indigenous communities.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Obstacles to developing an Indigenous tourism economy

Yet, structural impediments prevent this from becoming a reality at Uluru, as well as other remote parts of Australia.

These obstacles include a lack of education and training options specific to Indigenous needs to help them set up and run their own businesses. Another issue is that land rights and native title claims have tended to benefit a few legally recognised landowners and haven’t been conducive to whole-of-community development.

Both the Anangu and key tourism stakeholders in central Australia, including Voyages Indigenous Tourism and Tourism NT, are keenly aware of the need to reform the local tourism industry.




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Enabling greater access to commercial bank loans is critical to Indigenous business development, as is collaborative planning between Indigenous groups and the government. Likewise, scientific and traditional Indigenous knowledge could be combined in new ways to drive tourism growth in areas like land and wildlife management.

The Anangu must also be empowered to start micro-enterprises grounded in Knowledge of Country that would strengthen their community, culture and language. One example of this is the Indigenous Ranger and Protected Area program, which involves Indigenous rangers managing their own lands based on traditional cultural practice.




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Another approach that has shown promise is embracing Indigenous knowledge systems as part of the tourist educational experience. This is gaining currency in the NT as remote community arts centres seek to become visitor destinations in their own right.

These approaches to bottom-up initiatives have the greatest potential for growth and long-term empowerment in Uluru.

A model for other Indigenous communities

A major tourism rethink also requires addressing the structural impediments that prevent Indigenous peoples from starting businesses.

For example, new incentives could be built into the Australian tax code for those who invest in businesses on Aboriginal-owned land. However, such measures will only succeed if they are supported by bespoke educational and training programs for Anangu wanting to work in tourism.

The closure of Uluru to climbing should not simply focus on the limits the Anangu have imposed on visitors, but rather on the new possibilities this presents to leverage tourism for a more sustainable and resilient future.

This could also provide a model for traditional owners elsewhere who want to reclaim decision-making authority over tourism and other cultural activities on their lands.

And it signals to the broader Australian public that a greater respect for the rights of Indigenous people might just be the catalyst that helps drive a brighter Indigenous future.The Conversation

Barry Judd, Professor, Indigenous Social Research, Charles Darwin University; Amanda Kearney, Matthew Flinders Fellow, Professor of Australian and Indigenous Studies, Flinders University; Chris Hallinan, Research Associate; Christine Schlesinger, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science and Ecology, Charles Darwin University; Joseph M. Cheer, Professor in Sustainable Tourism, Wakayama University, and Keir James Reeves, Professor of History, Federation University Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How indigenous expertise improves science: the curious case of shy lizards and deadly cane toads



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The Balanggarra Rangers are land management representatives of the Balanggarra people, the indigenous traditional owners of the East Kimberley. (L-R) Wes Alberts, Bob Smith (coordinator) James ‘Birdy’ Birch, Isiah Smith, Quentin Gore.
The Kimberley Land Council, Author provided

Georgia Ward-Fear, University of Sydney and Rick Shine, University of Sydney

It’s a common refrain – western ecologists should work closely with indigenous peoples, who have a unique knowledge of the ecosystems in their traditional lands.

But the rhetoric is strong on passion and weak on evidence.

Now, a project in the remote Kimberley area of northwestern Australia provides hard evidence that collaborating with Indigenous rangers can change the outcome of science from failure to success.




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Fighting a toxic invader

This research had a simple but ambitious aim: to develop new ways to save at-risk predators such as lizards and quolls from the devastating impacts of invasive cane toads.

Cane toads are invasive and highly toxic to Australia’s apex predators.
David Nelson

All across tropical Australia, the arrival of these gigantic alien toads has caused massive die-offs among meat-eating animals such as yellow-spotted monitors (large lizards in the varanid group) and quolls (meat-eating marsupials). Mistaking the new arrivals for edible frogs, animals that try to eat them are fatally poisoned by the toad’s powerful toxins.

Steep population declines in these predators ripple out through entire ecosystems.

But we can change that outcome. We expose predators to a small cane toad, big enough to make them ill but not to kill them. The predators learn fast, and ignore the larger (deadly) toads that arrive in their habitats a few weeks or months later. As a result, our trained predators survive, whereas their untrained siblings die.




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Conservation ‘on Country’

But it’s not easy science. The site is remote and the climate is harsh.

We and our collaborators, the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, decided at the outset that we needed to work closely with the Indigenous Traditional Owners of the east Kimberley – the Balanggarra people.

So as we cruised across the floodplain on quad bikes looking for goannas, each team consisted of a scientist (university-educated, and experienced in wildlife research) and a Balanggarra Indigenous ranger.

Although our study species is huge – a male yellow-spotted monitor can grow to more than 1.7 metres in length and weigh more than 6kg – the animals are well-camouflaged and difficult to find.

Over an 18-month study, we caught and radio-tracked more than 80 monitors, taught some of them not to eat toads, and then watched with trepidation as the cane toad invasion arrived.




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Yes, you heard right: more cane toads really can help us fight cane toads


Excitingly, the training worked. Half of our trained lizards were still alive by the end of the study, whereas all of the untrained lizards died soon after toads arrived.

That positive result has encouraged a consortium of scientists, government authorities, conservation groups, landowners and local businesses to implement aversion training on a massive scale (see www.canetoadcoalition.com), with support from the Australian Research Council.

A yellow-spotted monitor fitted with a radio transmitter in our study. This medium-sized male was trained and lived for the entirety of the study in high densities of cane toads.
Georgia Ward-Fear, University of Sydney



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Cross-cultural collaboration key to success

But there’s a twist to the tale, a vindication of our decision to make the project truly collaborative.

When we looked in detail at our data, we realised that the monitor lizards found by Indigenous rangers were different to those found by western scientists. The rangers found shyer lizards, often further away from us when sighted, motionless, and in heavy cover where they were very difficult to see.

Gregory Johnson, Balanggarra elder and ranger.
Georgia Ward-Fear

We don’t know how much the extraordinary ability of the rangers to spot those well-concealed lizards was due to genetics or experience – but there’s no doubt they were superb at finding lizards that the scientists simply didn’t notice.

And reflecting the distinctive “personalities” of those ranger-located lizards, they were the ones that benefited the most from aversion training. Taking a cautious approach to life, a nasty illness after eating a small toad was enough to make them swear off toads thereafter.

In contrast, most of the lizards found by scientists were bold creatures. They learned quickly, but when a potential meal hopped across the floodplain a few months later, the goanna seized it before recalling its previous experience. And even holding a toad briefly in the mouth can be fatal.

Comparisons of conditions under which lizards were initially sighted in the field by scientists and Indigenous rangers (a) proximity to lizards in metres (b) density of ground-cover vegetation (>30cm high) surrounding the lizard (c) intensity of light directly on lizard (light or shade) (d) whether the lizard was stationary or moving (i.e. walking or running). Sighting was considered more difficult if lizards were further away, in more dense vegetation, in shade, and stationary.
Georgia Ward-Fear, University of Sydney

As a result of the intersection between indigenous abilities and lizard personalities, the overall success of our project increased as a result of our multicultural team.

If we had just used the conventional model – university researchers doing all of the work, indigenous people asked for permission but playing only a minor role – our project could have failed, and the major conservation initiative currently underway may have died an early death.

So our study, now published in Conservation Letters, provides an unusual insight – backed up by evidence.

Moving beyond lip service, and genuinely involving Indigenous Traditional Owners in conservation research, can make all the difference in the world.

Georgia Ward-Fear (holding a yellow-spotted monitor) with Balanggarra Rangers Herbert and Wesley Alberts.
David Pearson, WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions

This research was published in collaboration with James “Birdy” Birch and his team of Balanggarra rangers in the eastern Kimberley.The Conversation

Georgia Ward-Fear, Post doctoral fellow and Conservation Ecologist , University of Sydney and Rick Shine, Professor in Evolutionary Biology, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Aboriginal voices are missing from the Murray-Darling Basin crisis


Bradley J. Moggridge, University of Canberra and Ross M Thompson, University of Canberra

The Murray-Darling crisis has led to drinking water shortages, drying rivers, and fish kills in the Darling, Macintyre and Murrumbidgee Rivers. This has been the catalyst for recommendations for a Royal Commission and creation of two independent scientific expert panels.

The federal Labor party has sought advice from an independent panel through the Australian Academy of Science, while the Coalition government has asked former Bureau of Meteorology chief Rob Vertessy to convene a second panel. Crucially, the first panel contains no Indigenous representatives, and there is little indication that the second panel will either.




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Indigenous meaning

Water for Aboriginal people is an important part of survival in the driest inhabited landscape on Earth. Protecting water is both a cultural obligation and a necessary practice in the sustainability of everyday life.

The Aboriginal peoples’ worldview sees water as inseparably connected to the land and sky, bound by traditional lore and customs in a system of sustainable management that ensures healthy water for future generations.

Without ongoing connection between these aspects, there is no culture or survival. For a people in a dry landscape, traditional knowledge of finding, re-finding and protecting water sites was integral to survival. Today this knowledge may well serve a broader vision of sustainability for all Australia.

While different Aboriginal Nations describe this in local ways and language, the underlying message is fundamentally the same: look after the water and the water will look after you.

Native title

In the current crisis in the Darling River and Menindee Lakes, the focus should be on the Barkandji people of western New South Wales. In 2015, the native title rights for 128,000 square kilometres of Barkandji land were recognised after an 18-year legal case. This legal recognition represented a significant outcome for the Barkandji People because water – and specifically the Darling River or Barka – is central to their existence.

Under the NSW Water Management Act, Native Title rights are defined as Basic Landholder Rights. However, the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan provides a zero allocation for Native Title. The Barkandji confront ongoing struggles to have their common law rights recognised and accommodated by Australian water governance regimes.

The failure to involve them directly in talks convened by the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Basin States, and their exclusion from the independent panels, are further examples of these struggles.

Over the past two decades, Aboriginal people have been lobbying for an environmental, social, economic and cultural share in the water market, but with little success.




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The modern history of Aboriginal peoples’ water is a litany of “unfinished business”, in the words of a 2017 Productivity Commission report.

In 2010 the First Peoples Water Engagement Council was established to advise the National Water Commission, but was abolished prior to the National Water Commission’s legislative sunset in 2014.

The NSW Aboriginal Water Initiative, tasked with re-engaging NSW Aboriginal people in water management and planning, ran from 2012 until the Department of Industry water disbanded the unit in early 2017. In a 2018 progress report the Murray-Darling Basin Authority described NSW as “well behind” on water sharing plans.

Even after a damning ABC 4Corners report shed light on alleged water theft and mismanagement, the voices of the Aboriginal people of the Murray-Darling Basin were absent.

In May 2018 the federal Labor party agreed to a federal government policy package of amendments to the Basin Plan, including a cut of 70 billion litres to the water recovery target in the northern basin, and further bipartisan agreement for better water outcomes for Indigenous people of the basin.




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While the measures also included A$40 million for Aboriginal communities to invest in water entitlements, a A$20 million economic development fund to benefit Aboriginal groups most affected by the basin plan, and A$1.5 million to support Aboriginal waterway assessments, how worthwhile are they in a river with no water?

The recent crisis emphasises the perpetual sidelining of Aboriginal voices in water management in NSW and beyond. Indigenous voices need to be heard at all levels, with mechanisms that empower that involvement. Indigenous communities continue to fight for rights to water and for the protection of its spirit.The Conversation

Bradley J. Moggridge, Indigenous Water Research, University of Canberra and Ross M Thompson, Chair of Water Science and Director, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s problem with Aboriginal World Heritage



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Uluru-Kata Tjuta: of 19 Australian World Heritage sites this is one of only two that recognise the values of ‘living’ Aboriginal culture.
Shutterstock

Ian Lilley, The University of Queensland and Celmara Pocock, University of Southern Queensland

Journalist Stan Grant once compared our Indigenous cultural heritage to the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Ironically, though Grant pointed to the Lake Mungo site in the Willandra Lakes as an example, Aboriginal people are poorly represented by Australia’s World Heritage sites. Torres Strait Islanders are not represented at all.

Of 19 World Heritage sites across the country, including such wonders as the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House, only two, Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta, recognise the values of “living” Aboriginal culture, alongside the breathtaking natural features in those areas. These are what UNESCO calls “mixed” sites, bringing nature and culture together.

Australia’s two other such sites – the Tasmanian Wilderness, and the Willandra lakes – recognise archaeological records of Aboriginal people, along with natural values, but not contemporary Indigenous rights and associations.

None of Australia’s three sites inscribed purely for cultural values recognises Aboriginal people. They are the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, and a multi-component listing of convict sites across the country including Port Arthur in Tasmania.

Aboriginal people rightly remain concerned, and often angry, that they were excluded from the original nominations of all of Australia’s World Heritage sites, natural, cultural and mixed. Yet they also remain deeply sceptical about the benefits of such listing.

Some progress

There has been some progress. Australia received enormous international credit for modifying, in 1994, the original Uluru-Kata Tjuta nomination to recognise living Aboriginal culture. But the real turnaround has been when Aboriginal people have directed these processes themselves.

After years of work, Gunditjmara people succeeded in having the site of Budj Bim on Aboriginal land in southwest Victoria, placed on Australia’s Tentative World Heritage List. The site includes a remarkable system of eel traps around Lake Condah. Elements of these traps date back over 6,500 years. This is the first step in the long process of gaining World Heritage recognition.

Remains of a 1,700 year old stone house at Budj Bim, Victoria.
denisbin/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Recently the World Heritage Committee established a forum for Indigenous peoples – in the making since the early 2000s. With the issue now so firmly on the international agenda, Australia will come under intense scrutiny to lift its game regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander World Heritage. How might that be done?

Indigenous heritage now

World Heritage sites are assessed against ten criteria across natural and cultural values. Originally highly Eurocentric, these criteria have gradually widened to become more inclusive, especially of Indigenous people.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta has long been held up as the paragon of this shift. It was originally listed as World Heritage in 1987, solely for its environmental characteristics. It was relisted in 1994 to include Aboriginal values, recognising the importance of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to the Traditional Owners, the Anangu people. Today, the area is recognised for being one of the most ancient human landscapes in the world, including its spiritual dimensions.

Rock art at Uluru.
Shutterstock



Read more:
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Unlike Uluru-Kata Tjuta, and, later, Kakadu, the Tasmanian Wilderness and Willandra are recognised for their archaeological and rock-art sites, rather than for their living heritage. Willandra, for instance, celebrates archaeological evidence that demonstrates an Aboriginal presence more than 40,000 years ago, in what was then a lush environment quite unlike the present semi-arid conditions.

Such archaeological and rock-art sites are unquestionably important for the extraordinary history they contain, and Aboriginal people have a particular attachment to them as evidence of their ancient and continuing connection with their land. They are actively involved in management of these places for that very reason.

Yet the cultural value of these sites remains defined by non-Aboriginal archaeologists, rather than Aboriginal belief systems or political aspirations.

The Tasmanian Wilderness is recognised for being one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. It also includes evidence in limestone caves of Aboriginal occupation up to 35,000 years ago. Yet the listing fails to identify or formally recognise the relationship between that area – particularly the hand-stencil, rock-art sites – and Tasmanian Aboriginal people today.




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Outdated process

We are investigating what World Heritage might better deliver to Indigenous people. One of our major cases is the popular tourist destination of K’Gari (Fraser Island), given a World Heritage listing for its natural heritage in 1992. Some members of the local Butchulla community want Aboriginal heritage included in the listing.

Many archaeological and Butchulla story sites at K’gari are unquestionably unique to the Butchulla people and have great significance for the community today. Takky Wooroo (Indian Head), the rocky headland that anchors the vast sand island in place, is one well-known example.

Takky Wooroo (Indian Head) anchors the vast sand island of K’Gari (Fraser Island).
Shutterstock

However the Butchulla face hurdles in having this heritage recognised. The first is proving that their heritage is “better” than examples of Aboriginal heritage elsewhere. The second is demonstrating a continuous connection to it.

Both of these criteria are central to the World Heritage process, but are legacies of an outdated approach to Aboriginal culture. The process lumps diverse Aboriginal people into one group, when we know that Australia was home to hundreds of different peoples.

While the connection of the Butchulla to their heritage has already been recognised under Native Title, we would never assume that European cultures must remain unchanged since 1700 to be recognised as heritage.

How to do better

Our research is consistently finding that Aboriginal people are deeply sceptical about the benefits of World Heritage listing, despite efforts by State and Commonwealth governments to ensure Aboriginal input.

One concern is that World Heritage is seen as universal, something for all people. But some Aboriginal people see this as diminishing their very particular attachment to places, such as the remains of Mungo Man at the Willandra Lakes, an ancestor of deep personal and community significance.

‘Mungo Man’ was repatriated to the Willandra Lakes, where the remains were found, in 2017.
PERRY DUFFIN

What can we do better? It is simple. All future heritage sites should canvass Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement early in the nomination process, even those where there is no obvious Aboriginal link to the site. This process is already retrospectively underway for Australia’s natural sites
and in 2012, it meant the Indigenous heritage values of Queensland’s Wet Tropics were recognised at a national level, which is vital to having them recognised internationally.

We should also support Indigenous people to make their own nominations. This is what’s happening at Budj Bim. While non-Indigenous archaeologists are helping with the nomination, it is being driven by local Aboriginal people. They have linked the archaeological value to both ancestral stories, and to the Gunditjmara’s continuing efforts to maintain and protect their heritage today.




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The detective work behind the Budj Bim eel traps World Heritage bid


What other possible sites are there?

There are a great range of other amazing sites that we know are “out there”. Take the famed “Dreaming tracks” and “songlines” that criss-cross the continent, for instance. Tracing the travels of ancestral beings, they encode the locations of living places and sacred spaces, mapping the disposition of resources across the landscape and through seasonal cycles.




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They encompass some of the nation’s most dramatic natural features as well as camping places, sources of water, food and other resources, art sites and Indigenous sacred places, thus combining natural and cultural, tangible and intangible, and ancestral as well as living heritage.

With suitable protection of secret-sacred information, as well as the routes themselves and the specific sites they incorporate, Aboriginal songlines and the routes of ancestor-heroes in Torres Strait could be a future World Heritage nomination. A number are already on various state government heritage lists.

Similar nominations are appearing in other parts of the world, such as the recently-listed mixed site of Pimachiowin Aki, co-developed by the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) peoples “in the heart of Canada’s boreal forest” – not least because of precedents set by Australia over the years.The Conversation

Ian Lilley, Professor in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, The University of Queensland and Celmara Pocock, Associate Professor, School of Arts and Communication, University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.