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Arafura Swamp Partnership




1.2 million ha / 12,000 km²


450km east of Darwin

Gurruwiling (Arafura Swamp) is the largest freshwater ecosystem in Arnhem Land and one of the largest contiguous paperbark swamps in Australia.

It features large areas of paperbark forest, numerous lagoons, grass and sedgeland plains, floating mat communities, sandstone hills, sinkholes and springs. The swamp is fringed by extensive woodlands along with numerous patches of rainforest.

The Goyder River flows into the swamp from the Mitchel Ranges to the south, along with numerous small streams.

Overflow to the Arafura Sea occurs via the Glyde River winding its way north.

The Mitchell Ranges feature rock art and refugia where species are able to persist during climatic extremes. To the north the coastal landscapes include beaches, mangroves, reefs and islands.

The swamp, its catchment and adjacent sea country support over a thousand species of plants and hundreds of fish, bird, mammal, reptile and other animal species. Its large and diverse wetland habitats support as many as 300,000 birds at any one time.

Photo by Emma Ignjic.

The Traditional Owners

Arafura Swamp and its catchment and adjacent sea country are rich cultural landscapes where language, ceremonies, art, knowledge and responsibilities continue to be strong.

Arnhem Land is home to roughly 16,000 Traditional Owners — the Bi in the west (including the Nawarddeken Bi groups of the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area), the Yolngu people east of Arafura Swamp (including speakers of the Yolngu languages Djinang, Djinba, Djambarrpingu, Ganhalpuyngu, Mandhalpuyngu, Ritharrngu, Wagilak) and the Rembarrnga-speaking Bi Ngong of the swamp and its catchment.

 Photo David Hancock.

Yolngu and Bi people are interconnected by a complex kinship system that governs fundamental aspects of life. Their entire world is divided into two parts: Dhuwa and Yirritja. Each person belongs to one of these; as do animals, plants, places and cultural practises. An individual’s relationships with and responsibilities to other people and to everything in nature depends on whether they are Dhuwa or Yirritja.

Arnhem Land, including Arafura Swamp and its catchments, is entirely owned by Aboriginal people and held in trust by the Northern Land Council. Today 37% of the region is protected as part of Australia’s National Reserve System. Significant areas are designated as Indigenous Protected Areas and are managed, in part, for conservation.

What we’re doing

Our partnership with the Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation (ASRAC) has been developing since they invited us to offer support in 2014. ASRAC is made up of ranger groups co-ordinated from a hub in the township of Ramingining. Satellite ranger bases operate on homelands across the region.

Ranger work and land and sea management programs provide opportunities for training and a decent income while people carry out traditional responsibilities to care for their Country. The ranger groups are committed land and sea managers, successful innovators and leaders in savanna fire management.

Lighting cool fires prevents damaging wildfires from sweeping through swamp and surrounding savanna.

We’re supporting ASRAC as it develops governance and administrative capacity. With Charles Darwin University and the Northern Land Council we’ve worked extensively with ASRAC and local communities as they developed a Healthy Country Plan to guide work in the region through to 2027.

“We’ve been inviting Bush Heritage to visit our Country, we feel very happy, giving us time to talk face-to-face and do the field trips. The bush trips are very important to us, giving us the opportunity to express ourselves, supporting the rangers and the local families.”

– Otto Campion, Senior Ranger / ASRAC Chair

Healthy Country Planning.

The Healthy Country Plan

ASRAC launched its 10-year Healthy Country Plan in 2017. The plan is focussed on building sustained employment and community involvement on Country as ASRAC protects biodiversity and culture across its homelands. 

“For our people, land, culture and country are never separate. Bringing many partners together to protect our law and culture is really important... This land is our supermarket and our university. We never take too much, just a little, and then leave some behind. Our people are surviving on this land so we must protect it.”

– Otto Campion

Where to from here?

Our joint priorities are to:

  • support implementation of the Healthy Country Plan;
  • increase our support for monitoring, evaluating and adapting the Plan;
  • support ASRAC to develop corporate systems and business plans to strengthen governance and management.

Stories from Arafura Swamp

BLOG 06/03/2020

Developing a digital keeping place

We spent the week with the Arafura Swamp rangers and Yolngu and Bi Traditional Owners starting to build their digital keeping place (database) to help manage, protect and utilise the wealth of knowledge people have for Country.

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BLOG 26/08/2019

Using iMovie to tell stories of Country

Arafura Swamp Indigenous Rangers are telling about their work with video they capture on smartphones and tablets. After adding descriptive subtitles, voiceovers and music, they can finish their reports in an hour or two. The ease and speed of production and the degree of artistic control over the content would have been impossible only a few years ago.

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BUSHTRACKS 06/06/2019

My happy place (Mali Djarrbal)

Djïḻpin is the Goyder River, which flows to feed the Arafura Swamp and then the saltwater. If you bring your eyes and see what it looks like, you will feel the country with your mind and soul.

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BLOG 10/04/2019

Monitoring in the Arafura Swamp

Imagine a room of 20 people, speaking many different languages, talking about Country. There's laughter and movement. Stories are told and connections made. Key ideas are written on sticky notes and arranged on floors and walls. New, collective stories emerge.

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BLOG 31/10/2018

Biodiversity survey at Malnyangarnak

How do you handle an aggressive snake? How do you dig a pitfall trap in ground baked solid by the Northern Territory dry season? And how do you make the perfect cup of camp tea? These were just some of the challenges encountered in an exciting week spent surveying biodiversity around Malnyangarnak outstation with the Arafura Swamp Women Rangers.

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BUSHTRACKS 27/03/2018

The Arafura Swamp Rangers

Bush Heritage and Traditional Owners are proudly working together to return the Arafura Swamp region to good health. Stretching across 70,000 hectares of Arnhem Land is one of northern Australia’s largest freshwater ecosystems, the Arafura Swamp or Gurruwiling.

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BLOG 05/05/2017

Busy times at the Arafura Swamp

A busy week was had last week with the rangers from the Arafura Swamp as part of the Bush Heritage partnership with Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation​ (ASRAC). In particular the Wanga Djakamirr Rangers, who are the sea rangers for much of the coastline around the swamp, undertook their first patrol for many years checking turtles and marine debris on the beaches of Howard and Banyan Island.

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Th Goyder River.


Arafura Swamp Partnership

We're supporting the Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation as it develops governance and administrative capacity. We've worked extensively on helping to develop a Healthy Country Plan for the region.

Read More
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