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Letters from Arnhem Land to the Treasurer

When the mob at Warddeken Land Management in northwest Arnhem Land heard about the Country Needs People action to tell the Treasurer to double funding for Indigenous rangers, they knew they had a story the Treasurer couldn’t ignore.

They decided to draft emails of their own to the Treasurer, telling him just how much Indigenous land and sea management programs had changed their lives.

What emerged were moving, compelling stories, laced with connection to country and the importance of family; first-person stories that couldn’t be denied. 

Here is what they wrote:

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I’m 28 years old and have lived on the Arnhem Land Plateau my entire life. I was taught about this country by my grandfather and grandmother; both of them grew up walking across the stone country and knew all there is to know about the plants, animals, sacred sites, rock art, culture and lore of our home. 

My grandfather, Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek AO, taught all us young people about caring for country and the right ceremonial practices that are an essential part of managing land.

He has passed away now but he was alive to see the declaration of the Warddeken IPA in 2009 and was so happy because he knew it meant that we, the younger generations, could continue to look after our land through our work as rangers.

It was only two months after the declaration of our IPA that he passed away - it was almost like he was waiting to make sure our future and the future of the country he loved so much was secure. 

I have a two-year-old daughter who lives with my wife and I at Kabulwarnamyo, the headquarters for the Warddeken IPA. I hope she can grow up learning about her country in the same way I did. For this to happen we need the federal government to continue their support for Working on Country and Indigenous Protected Areas and I say this to them: please continue to support these programs – they have helped our communities grow strong and healthy, just like our old people were.

- Gavin Namarnyilk

 

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I was born in the bush in 1940. I grew up here, got married and walked with my husband and our families all through the Stone Country of West Arnhem Land. I know all the places here. I know all the plants. I know all the animals.

This ranger program and our IPA make me proud.

I work for Warddeken as an expert cultural consultant and I advise rangers how to do their jobs the right way: customary burning, where to look for certain species of special rock country animals, and that sort of thing.

I also make sure Warddeken ranger work takes into account sacred sites and we are keeping our ancestors happy.

You can see the results of rangers applying their customary knowledge to land management. Where I live at Kabulwarnamyo, the community has developed. It has become a big centre with work available for people and its influence is spreading out to other communities across the Arnhem Plateau as we continue to grow. Now the younger people are living and working here.

I want to see this program continue; it allows young people to continue what our old people before us passed down to us. 

- Mary Kolkkiwarra (letter translated from Kunwinjku)

 

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I have been a ranger with Warddeken Land Management since I was 16 years old and have lived on the country my rangers manage for my whole life. I have been working as a ranger now for fourteen years.

My job as a ranger allows me to live on my country at Kabulwarnamyo Outstation and it gives me meaningful work.

I see my families and peers in bigger townships doing nothing, just getting sit down money and drinking their lives away. Maybe I would be doing this myself if I didn’t have my job as a ranger.

I am raising my son on his own country now, just like I was raised, and every day I see him learning more and growing stronger. He is only three but he already wants to be a ranger too.

I would like to share with you one message in particular: working as a ranger is about respect. Respect for our ancestors; for our elders; for our culture; for our country; for ourselves and for our children. Respect is the key to Aboriginal people and our communities staying strong. 

I ask you please to continue funding the Working on Country and Indigenous Protected Areas programs, they have already made such a difference to our lives and we don’t know what our future will hold if the funding is cut. I am asking you this not just for our own ranger group, but also for other ranger groups across the country.

- Ray Nadjamerrek

 

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I would like to share with you my own story about how the Working on Country and Indigenous Protected Area programs have changed my life, and the lives of my family and community, for the better.

Ranger programs are a foundation that gives us the facility to deal with new and difficult knowledge from the outside world. Our country sees us and we put our scent on it; the essence of each individual goes into that place. This is our thinking, our way. That's what our old people tell us.
Working as a ranger brings a sense of identity to us as Aboriginal people, which allows us to be healthier in body, mind and spirit.

All the techniques of how to live in our country, which is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in Australia, have been left for us to use by our old people. Through our ranger program we have added this customary knowledge to what non-Aboriginal people know about managing land. 

We put our elders knowledge into managing our IPA, whether it be things such as fire management, cultural rock art recording, monitoring native animal species and reducing the impact of feral animals and weeds. Our old people walked everywhere caring for country and now as rangers we are doing the same thing. 

This program of land management is a movement, and I think the government should be proud of the way they have supported us to undertake this movement. They trusted us and believed in the IPA and WoC programs and I think we have done a great job of producing the outcomes they wanted - for our own people and for the rest of the Australian people. 

It would be a terrible shame to see this growing movement, one that is lifting our people up, stopped if funding is not continued into the future. Ranger programs are a movement that could continue to grow if more funding was committed and I know it would help other communities grow to be strong like ours has.

I hope you take the time to listen to our stories. We would also like to extend an invitation to both of you to visit us in the Stone Country of West Arnhem Land one day, to see for yourselves the positive impact ranger programs have on country, culture and communities.

- Terrah Diliyoung Guymala

 

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My name is Elizabeth Nabarlambarl from the Djordi clan and I would like to share my experience as a woman working as a ranger for Warddeken Land Management in the Stone Country of West Arnhem Land, NT. 

Working as a ranger with support from IPA and WoC has allowed me to use customary Aboriginal knowledge on a day-to-day basis, and our people desperately need to practice these fragile cultural practices that are about to disappear. Once they are gone they will be lost forever, however through ranger work we have an ongoing chance to prevent this.

Our language (Kunwinjku) is important in land management. We are working with schools and teaching our children their language as part of our ranger work. This is what we have been doing across the Warddeken IPA - applying our knowledge to manage our country in the best way possible.

In the past things have not been so good. There has been no meaningful work and not enough money to buy food. We didn't have enough money on unemployment benefits and it also made us feel no good in our hearts. But now we are working with Warddeken and we can make a living earning money by living on our own land and looking after it - we have been lucky that with support from the government we have made this a job; learning properly from our old people and working in land management.

We are working as rangers, making a living and earning money, and teaching our culture to children. This makes us feel good, strong and proud. 

I think that things are looking up. Every year it is getting sweeter and sweeter. Warddeken rangers are now looking after country and we are seeing things improve, for the country and for the communities.

Please continue to fund these programs that bring happiness, strength and meaning to our lives. Please do this not just for us at Warddeken, but also for other Aboriginal people across the country. 

- Elizabeth Nabarlambarl

 

The public response to the Country Needs People email action has been outstanding, with more than 700 people emailing the Federal Treasurer in support of Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas. Send an email today!

 

Thank you to Warddeken Land Management for undertaking and sharing this initiative.

 

 

Photo of Gavin: credit Rowland Taylor 

Photo of Elizabeth: credit Dominic O’Brien