The land of West and Central Arnhem land is diverse and challenging, ancient and culturally rich, dating back 50,000 years. In 2010, the traditional owners of the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas combined to create a Trust that has connected philanthropy to programs that have shaped women’s employment, cultural heritage management, education on Country, conservation and environmental outcomes. Part of that has been the Warddeken Daluk (Women’s) Ranger program, supported by the Klein Family Foundation, that has seen ranger hours worked by women more than double in the first two years of the project. The Karrkad Kanjdji Trust – a reference to the Kuwarddewardde or Arnhem Land Plateau – is the recipient of the Indigenous Philanthropy award.
The daluk rangers’ work is about protecting nature and cultural heritage. It is known as the stone country, where conditions are harsh and feral animals, wildfires and invasive weeds are just some of the issues. In addition, the rangers work on maintaining cultural sites. But the transformative power of the program has been to recognise, and then tap in to, the cultural knowledge that is often gender-specific and only held by female elders. Traditional owners knew that unless there was a way of passing on that knowledge, there was a risk it would be lost forever.
Three years ago, the ranger program started and with the Klein Family Foundation’s support, a Daluk Ranger Co-ordinator was appointed. KKT CEO Stacey Irving says the philanthropic approach was a response to previous inconsistent and short-term funding. Now, there is some predictability and consistency to the funding.
The program was so successful it met its target two years ahead of schedule. Ranger women’s hours increased from 18 per cent to 40 per cent, and over three years, more than 60 Indigenous women have been employed on a casual basis.
Daluk ranger Lorraine Namanrnyilk says: “Women together is a good way to work…we have a lot of fun – we talk about culture, our family, the country we work in and our relationship to it.”
“This is the best job that I’ve had, and I want to keep learning more and getting more work done.”
Stacey says there are now about 120 rangers on duty across the region, evenly divided between women and men. The age range is from late teens to elders. A critical part of the program is the role women rangers play in the Warddeken Mayh Species recovery project.
The project is an attempt to redress the absence of traditional land management techniques that disappeared after traditional owners were dispossessed of parts of West Arnhem Land during the last century. The consequence has been a proliferation of wildfires, feral animals and invasive weeds that have had a significant impact on the native small mammal population.
Many of the daluk rangers work with an ecologist on setting up survey sites and then input information from photographs into a bilingual database that enables reports and findings to be circulated in Kunwinjku (local language) to the traditional owners.
The database is extensive. There were more than 800,000 photographs taken last year, which has enabled detection of 28 of the 31 threatened species in the area. Now there is evidence that the endangered Northern Quoll (djabbo), the White-throated Grass-wren (yirlinkirrkkirr) and the Northern Brown Bandicoot (yok) are still in the area. The data analysis has also provided an opportunity for the first time to document Indigenous names for each of the species, to help build linguistic capacity.
One of the initiatives supporting the Daluk program is the bi-cultural school at Kabulwarnamyo in west Arnhem Land that provides education from primary school to Year 7. Many rangers have young families who can’t always provide schooling for their children when they work in the bush. Or they had to leave their ranger careers to move their families closer to schools, where work might not have been available.
The school is called the Nawarddeken Academy and has a tent roof, a core group of 12 students, qualified teachers and teaching assistants who are traditional owners. “The nearest full-time government school is a five-hour drive away and the road is inaccessible in the wet,” Stacey says. “It means many of the mums – and dads – can go to work and still have their kids in school.”
The three-year daluk ranger pilot program has ended but it will continue to expand to more than one community, once again supported by the Klein Family Foundation.
This award is presented in partnership with Ninti One.