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Thamarrurr Rangers' no rubbish on country campaign

Thamarrurr Rangers have been working to clean and protect their vast coastline through a number of creative actions.

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Nimbi Man - a winning artwork from a community event about getting creative with rubbish

Rubbish is a relatively new problem on remote Indigenous communities. Waste products from food, clothing, tools and other items have traditionally come from the land and been recycled back into the land e.g. seeds from fruits, animal bones, timber offcuts. In contemporary communities there is a huge amount of packaging and waste products that cannot be recycled back into the land e.g. plastics, metals. This creates a new problem of managing this waste in a remote area where “rubbish” is unfamiliar and its impacts on the environment have not been well considered.

Most, if not all, waste products in remote communities end up in landfill or become “rubbish”, lying around the community, and being carried by wind and rain to the surrounding land and sea country. This rubbish can directly affect the health of people and wildlife, contributing to an unhygienic environment and harming / killing birds, turtle, sea life, etc. by eating the rubbish or getting tangled up in it. Waste products can also leach chemicals into our environment, indirectly affecting wildlife and food sources. Additionally, waste products from surrounding regions and ships travel on ocean currents e.g. plastic packaging, large fishing nets, and end up on relatively pristine beaches in remote communities.  

Recycling waste products is also a significant challenge on remote communities due to distance, difficulty of access, excessive costs, lack of technical support and/or facilities, and the issue of community awareness.  This means that recyclable waste is put into landfill, potential employment and income opportunities are missed and local community services continue to struggle to manage the waste problem.

Thamarrurr Rangers have been working to clean and protect their vast coastline for many years. This includes regular patrols by boat, car and foot, and collection of rubbish from beaches, mangroves, inlets and islands in the Thamarrurr Region. The Rangers document the rubbish collected through the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) database, coordinated by Tangaroa Blue, and are also involved in the Ghost Nets Australia program.  

In 2015, Thamarrurr Rangers invited Tangaroa Blue to visit and support Rangers and the Community to improve our marine debris work and look at other strategies for managing waste. In May 2015 Heidi Taylor from Tangaroa Blue visited Wadeye and supported the Rangers to improve our marine debris work, including further training in the AMDI database. In addition, Heidi supported the Rangers to run a Community meeting about waste reduction, and develop a Source Reduction Plan (SRP) (Appendix 1).  The Thamarrurr SRP notes the desire for a coordinated approach to find solutions for improved waste management and a cleaner Community and Country. Two main strategies were identified to start with: 1. A rubbish art competition to raise awareness about the impacts of rubbish on Country; and 2. More bins on Country, particularly at the barge landing and popular picnic areas. Other issues were also discussed, including raising Community awareness through the local BRACS television station and opportunities for recycling.

Over the past year, Thamarrurr Rangers and the Community have been working on the SRP and other actions to help raise Community awareness and reduce waste in the Region. These actions are:

  • Continue regular marine debris collections by Rangers along the Thamarrurr coastline, improved sorting and classification of rubbish, and improved data collection and entry into AMDI database. In 2015, ~450 kg of rubbish was removed from 14 sites along the coastline by the Rangers , ~60% of this rubbish was plastic bottles and other plastic items, ~20% cans, tins and other metals, as well as over 20 ghost nets, fishing lines, etc.
  • More bins on Country – the Rangers have placed over 15 bins at strategic sites in the Thamarrurr Region where people go camping, fishing, etc, including the Barge landing and several outstations. These bins have been made from old drums and are signed “Nanthi Rubbish ka Dupak Ngarra Bin” (Put Your Rubbish in the Bin). The Rangers check and empty the bins regularly. 
  • A Community ‘Rubbish Art Competition’ to raise awareness about the harmful impacts of rubbish on the land, sea and wildlife, and encourage the Community to think about managing waste. Key meetings were held between Rangers, Traditional Owners and organisations in Wadeye to help facilitate the Competition. Posters were developed by Rangers in English and Murrin Patha, and displayed around town (Appendix 2a). Using meetings, emails and community announcements, Rangers asked everyone to get involved by collecting rubbish and making something beautiful from it.  Donations were garnered from various places (ENI gas plant, local shop, Women’s Centre, Tangaroa Blue, NTFL) and there were entries from the school, crèche, women’s centre, rangers, as well as many individuals.  The art entries were displayed at the Wadeye Festival in August 2015 and winners were judged by a Community voting system. The event was a great success and is planned to be conducted annually in conjunction with the Wadeye Festival.  See Appendix 2b - Rubbish Art Competition Report, and Appendix 2c - Art Competition Booklet, for further information and photos. 
  • Ranger Exchange to share their experience and further learn about marine debris and the impacts of rubbish along coastlines in other areas of Australia. In September 2015, four women rangers from our team were invited to Mapoon, North Queensland by Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers and Tangaroa Blue Foundation to join a beach clean-up event. Travelling by themselves from Wadeye, to Darwin, Cairns, Weipa and Mapoon, they joined in a week long beach clean-up, further developed their thinking about marine debris, and shared their experiences with other volunteers from all over the world who are passionate about looking after land and sea country. See Appendix 3a for report of this trip, and Appendix 3b an article from the Cape York NRM newsletter. 
  • A Rubbish Movie! Following on from the Rubbish Art Competition, with their continued enthusiasm about raising awareness of the impacts of rubbish on Country, the Thamarrurr Rangers decided to make a short movie using some of the art pieces.  We put together footage and photos to help spread the message “No Rubbish on Country” in their own language (Please note this video will be part of our ‘Story’ but is too large for email and will be provided at later date). The Rangers hope to develop more short movies in 2016, and share these with school kids and other groups in the Community.
  • Starting a recycling project.  In late 2015 our women’s ranger team discussed ideas on how to develop recycling in the Community and contacted many local and external organisations to discuss some of the possibilities. The Rangers decided to start with the items that were covered by the container deposit scheme (plastic bottles, aluminium cans and tetra packs), as it is an existing scheme in Darwin they can feed into and get a return from, as well as these items being the main form of rubbish at Wadeye (~70% of rubbish collected by Rangers and Shire). Numerous Community organisations were eager to assist with getting the project started. The local CDP (Community Development Project) made steel frames for the recycling bags through welding training for job participants, the West Daly Shire agreed to supplement their existing rubbish collection with separating recyclables and delivering to Ranger Base, and the local shop, takeaway, crèche, school, aged care, airport and other organisations volunteered to use the recycling frames and bags to collect items. The Rangers then sort the recycling into the 3 categories and arrange shipment to Darwin. Thanks to Murin Freight Company, we are able to ship recyclables back to Darwin and bring back empty bulker bags at no charge. The Rangers and Shire have an agreement with Bevcon Recycling in Darwin to collect recyclables from the barge at no charge and provide the refund. Proceeds are placed into a joint account and will be used to further the project.  See Appendix 4a for a recycling poster developed by the Rangers, and Appendix 4b for an article displayed on the Tangaroa Blue website.

The Thamarrurr Rangers are eager to further develop the recycling project in 2016 through engaging directly with local households, families and kids. The idea is that people will be able to bring down their empty cans, plastic bottles and tetra packs (anything with the 10c refund marking) to the Ranger Base each Friday afternoon 1-4pm, and the Rangers will count, sort and pay people directly. To achieve this we will require several elements including information to be spread throughout the community for education and awareness raising, a dedicated ranger for counting and payments, and greater funding to support additional work loads and costs for the project. The Rangers are also considering other forms of recycling including car batteries, other metals, paper and cardboard. There are many possibilities…

Article courtesy of Thamarrur Rangers.