Wed, Dec 05, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Canberra takes break from infighting to celebrate Australia’s Indigenous rangers

The Guardian

It was about the time Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was moving to save Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly’s pre-selection, that a bipartisan barbecue began in the Australian Parliament House to mark a far less-reported story.

The gathering of Aboriginal rangers from some of the most remote places in the country stood in sharp relief to the infighting that unfolded on most news networks from the nation’s parliament.

In a windy eastern courtyard, Liberal, National, Labor, independent and minor party members gathered with rangers for a very Australian celebration of snags and pavlova to celebrate 20 years of Indigenous protected areas (IPAs), which now cover 67 million hectares of Australia’s land and sea.

IPAs refer to country owned or managed by Indigenous groups, which serve as protected areas for biodiversity conservation, with funding from the government. IPAs work in conjunction with the Indigenous ranger program, Country Needs People.

Some of the individual areas are nearly twice the size of Tasmania and the interconnected areas in the middle of continent form the biggest terrestrial protected area in the world.

Gathapura Mununggurr is a senior ranger for the Dhimurru IPA, one of the oldest protected areas, which covers 550,000 hectares of Yolngu land and sea in northeast Arnhem Land.

Mununggurr said his life has changed since he took on the Dhimurru job, moving into the town of Nhulunbuy from his little community.

He is one of 13 rangers, carrying out environmental work, checking travelers’ and shooters’ permits, controlling feral animals and weeds, conducting cool-season burning, protecting the sea from illegal fishers and maintaining contact with community and learning from his elders.

“That’s what I love, living at home, that’s why when people ask me the question, what’s the best [place] in the world you can go, I say my home,” Mununggurr said. “I’m always thinking about home.”

“I feel comfortable, I am enjoying looking after the country and what people need and I go to the outstations, homelands, see different people, hear different language, people come together for ceremony, sing about ceremony. That’s important for me,” he said.

He has seen big changes over his decade in the job as a result of climate change and human consumption.

“The bush has been changing [with climate] because fruit has been fruiting in the wrong season and some of the animals are hatching on different months, the cycle has changed,” he said.

“It makes it different, confused. We always ask older people because they have the local knowledge. If they go with us out in country, they see the nature, it is talking to them and they say it is changing,” he added.

Mununggurr was also concerned at the sharp rise in trash washing up on the shores of Arnhem land and he and the rangers have cleared the coastline, with the help of the ocean conservation group, Sea Shepherd.

“There is a lot of marine debris coming into our shores, not used be like that. It’s coming from storms, Asian countries, Australians chucking their nets,” he said. “In 4km there were 7 tonnes of rubbish — bottles, lighters, nets, thongs.”

Velda Winunguj, a board member of Dhimurru, said the rangers’ jobs are important not just to provide a career path for young people, but for the important cultural, environmental and social values.

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