Caring for Country
Rangers form a key part of the NLC’s Caring for Country unit
Aboriginal people have a special relationship to land that is different to the majority of non-Aboriginals. It is not a commodity to be bought and sold. This relationship has survived intact despite the destructive impact of European settlement, which began in earnest in northern Australia 100 years ago.
In 1995 the Northern Land Council created the Caring for Country Unit to help Aboriginal landowners deal with the new land and sea management challenges they faced and to consider commercial enterprises promising environmentally sustainable development. The establishment of Aboriginal ranger groups has been a central part of the Unit's work.
Caring for Country plays a key role in land and sea management - including fire management and feral weed and animal control - across the Top End, and has been active in preserving traditional knowledge for future generations of Aboriginal people. Its success in forging funding partnerships with external organisations has allowed it to progressively expand the scale of its activities to the point where it is now one of the largest operating units within the NLC.
The Northern Land Council’s Caring for Country unit is involved in all aspects of re-establishing and maintaining traditional connections to the land while dealing with the myriad issues that have arisen since the advent of European settlers.
As well as the practical need to take action quickly to deal with severe and immediate threats such as the weed Mimosa pigra, other issues include dust suppression action in community areas, management of tourist/recreation areas, wildlife protection programs, control of feral animals and fire management.
The Caring for Country Unit works closely with traditional landowners and managers and has been instrumental in setting up a network of Aboriginal Ranger groups which now number more than 20 across the Top End. Intensive consultation and coordination underpins these ranger programs, allowing Aboriginal people to determine how the programs are carried out.
A number of programs incorporate joint research with government and other agencies, often paving the way for traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and contemporary scientific knowledge to be used side by side to combat environmental problems and find solutions.
Caring for Country has also been conscious of the need to integrate women into land management activities. Most ranger groups now have active participation from women rangers who include themselves in all aspects of the ranger work from spraying weeds to protecting sacred sites. Women have also been enthusiastic participants in the development of family culture groups for all age groups conducted in the school holidays.
The rangers' year culminates in the annual Rangers' Conference, held during the Dry Season, which allows each group to share knowledge and experiences with other groups and to forge action plans for the year ahead.
While women are strong participants in the Rangers' Conference, the women rangers also organise their own Ngalmuka Land Management Conference each year during the dry season.