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Conservation a path to reconciliation

Published 30 May 2019 by Kelly Retief

For Reconciliation Week 2019, we sat down with Bush Heritage staff member Kelly Retief to talk about her role as Aboriginal Partnerships Program Manager in Northern Australia.

Hi Kelly, you are Bush Heritage’s new Aboriginal Partnerships Program Manager for Queensland and the Northern Territory. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and the sort of work you're doing up there in Darwin?

The core function of my role as the Aboriginal Partnerships Program Manager for the North is to support and strengthen relationships with our Aboriginal partners across central Arnhem Land and Cape York. This entails facilitating Aboriginal engagement on country through supporting activities like culture camps where Traditional Owners and countrymen are able to spend time together, reconnecting with their families, culture and land.

Of course, another important part of my work is to help support local governance arrangements for managing Country, working according to the Traditional Owners’ vision, which often blends contemporary land management options like savanna burning for carbon with traditional ways of managing Country to support conservation, cultural and social-economic outcomes.

Is your background in the Aboriginal Partnerships space? If not, what has your career consisted of until now, and how did you come to take this role with Bush Heritage?

My background is in Indigenous community-based natural resource management. I’ve been privileged to work together with many Indigenous communities and groups across South Africa and Australia on developing nature-based, sustainable livelihood options that draw on science and traditional knowledge, and aim to find synergies between contemporary and customary land management approaches with these mixed economies.

Working in conservation in South Africa for several years, and within the environmental research sector in Australia, before joining Bush Heritage, has shaped my knowledge base, cultural and life experiences. My new role at Bush Heritage brings together all these elements to create new opportunities for building relationships and caring for our environment and our people into the future.     

The theme for Reconciliation Week 2019 is ‘Grounded in truth, walk together with change’. How do you see this theme in light of your role at Bush Heritage?

National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to reflect on our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute towards reconciliation.

Drawing on lessons from the Truth and Reconciliation process held in South Africa, my country of birth, after the end of apartheid, it's the acknowledgement of truth, however painful and emotional as it relates to cultural and racial discrimination, past and present, that paves the way for true healing, and kickstarts a process of moving forward.

As part of the Aboriginal Partnerships Team, I'm proud of the relationships we have, and continue to build with our Aboriginal partners, that are based on mutual respect and understanding. Through these partnerships, I believe conservation can provide a pathway towards reconciliation through working together towards a shared and overlapping vision for the future of our country, culture and families in Australia.

We can't rewrite the past, but we can learn from our mistakes, and collaboratively work towards building a better future, with Healthy Country Planning and Bush Heritage’s conservation planning toolkit providing the necessary scaffolding to rebuild and re-envision.

What are you most looking forward to working on within the Bush Heritage Aboriginal Partnerships Program this year?

I’m most excited about being a member of this inspiring team, and hope to contribute towards growing and strengthening the Aboriginal Partnerships Program to support its long-term sustainability and continued embeddedness within the work we do at Bush Heritage Australia.  

Lastly, how will you be marking Reconciliation Week this year?

Work as usual. I'll be meeting up with a couple of our Aboriginal partners to discuss our existing partnerships, and identify what we're doing well and where we could do things better.

Bush Heritage Aboriginal Partnerships Program Manager, North, Kelly Retief. Bush Heritage Aboriginal Partnerships Program Manager, North, Kelly Retief.
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