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Northern Territory Rangers bringing Arafura swamp back from the brink

Northern Territory Rangers bringing Arafura swamp back from the brink
November 12, 2017

Rangers in the Northern Territory are working tirelessly to bring Arnhem Land’s largest freshwater ecosystem back to life, after years of damage caused by feral animals and intrusive weeds.

The Arafura Swamp, one of the largest freshwater ecosystems in the Northern Territory, spanning across 1.2 million hectares has been described as a "supermarket" by the mob that live there, rich with bush tucker.

Ranger Marley Djandirri Dalparri explains "I was grown up here, just here in the swamp, and my dad and mum told me how to catch longneck turtle, how to cook and use the bush oven, and how to cook like water lilies."

Dalparri’s colleague Peter Djigirr added "this part is where we’ve got all them food here, hunting for magpie geese, and there’s egg, turtle, all sorts of tucker we’ve got, that’s why we need this swamp."

Now the Arafura Swamp Rangers have teamed up with Bush Heritage and launched a 10-year Healthy Country Plan - to protect culture, knowledge and the vital ecosystem’s health.

Otto Campion Bulmaniya, Land Manager at Arafura Swamp Ranger Aboriginal Corporation, advises "not only country we’re talking about bringing country to healthy again but we’re also talking about we want to bring healthy people. Healthy people means health, education, walking and talking on country, we practice it while we on country and we can build up that skill in both way, land management conservation. And we might be looking at social cultural and thinking a way of how we can move forward to start being independent and looking after ourselves.

"Arafura Swamp it’s really important it’s got big story and catchment people feed the swamp through the songlines through the language groups, all different language groups, and we have own responsibility through the speaking."

The Healthy Country plan is the work of more than 30 different clan groups, and six different ranger groups, using their traditional knowledge of the bush and country to restore the land back to good health.

Ranger Paul Bunbuynu explains that it’s a big task, not just because of the scale, but also because of the many challenges, stating "mimosa, the problem with mimosa, we go there and check all the grassland, kept coming back and coming back, this mimosa is at the Mary River and taking over the floodplains."

Djigirr added “some people, white people, they come and destroy all the native tucker bush tucker, we don’t want to go to shop all the time and eat food there, sometimes we don’t have money to buy, more better we just go here and eat free one, that’s why we need this place for.

"They damaged everything with pig and buffalo and everything and it’s sick, our land is sick and we’re sick."

The Rangers’ plan - which includes extensive weeding, burning, feral animal control and protection of sacred sites, is already yielding results.

Djigirr continued “we go out and we look after my land, shoot buffalo and pig and make it less, drop down number. We tell mustering mob if they come mustering - make it less, and it’s getting better this land.”

Their conservation efforts are also seeing the swamps 300,000 waterbirds and seven threatened species start to thrive once again.

Dalparri added “changing all the animals, now it’s coming back from the past, and now it’s coming back. Now it’s healthy country now."

Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation Chief Executive Dominic Nicholls praises this traditional knowledge, advising “there’s a huge wealth of information that exists in the Indigenous knowledge space and often is either ignored or overlooked and it’s to the detriment of all of us, what our current western scientists can learn - the opportunities are huge.

“I guess the best evidence of this would be in our fire management program, where the real success of fire management in Arnhem land has been a result of that western science and that Indigenous knowledge coming together and working together and really generously sharing with each other and creating a formula that really works.”

It’s knowledge that’s been passed down through generations, and is still being passed on today.

The Arafura Swamp is located in Arnhem Land, 550 kilometres east of Darwin.

Elliana Lawford, Source: NITV News

Images courtesy of the Arafura Swamp Ranger Aboriginal Corporation.

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