After six years of negotiations, Yolngu traditional owners agreed in 2006 to the first stage of incorporating a parcel of their high conservation and culturally significant land into Australia’s national reserve system as an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). Similar to other park rangers, the Yirralka Rangers plan and implement conservation actions, but their activities also provide significant added benefits to the Yolngu people.
Since inception, the Yirralka Rangers have focused on the ‘two toolbox’ bicultural approach providing rangers with the western skills and science needed to augment traditional knowledge in the face of new invasive threats from buffaloes, pigs and weeds through to climate change. Education and training is seen as integral to Yolngu people remaining on country, achieving self-sufficiency and self-determination, as well as building healthy and safe communities.
Activities undertaken by the Yirralka Rangers within the IPA include maintaining and enhancing biodiversity on land and at sea, protecting cultural sites, developing alternative sources of income and building Yolngu people’s skills and capacity. While delivering clear environmental benefits, the role of the Yirralka Rangers goes beyond the physical to the nurturing of spiritual components, so essential to a Yolngu person’s relationship with their land.
Yolngu people can see the sense in ranger work in both keeping country and in keeping them on country. With its emphasis on lifting the education and training capacity of homeland residents, ranger work provides both a role model and a career path in a region where economic independence remains elusive.