Aboriginal partnerships

Last updated 09 Nov 2017 

Warddeken Ranger Devita Hodgson and colleagues prepare a back-burn to control wildfire. Photo by Peter Cooke
Warddeken Ranger Devita Hodgson and colleagues prepare a back-burn to control wildfire. Photo by Peter Cooke
Aboriginal Australians have lived on the land for millennia, developing a strong commitment to look after it, as well as accumulating generations of traditional knowledge about the ecology. Whenever we buy land we seek to engage with the Traditional Owners of our reserves to ensure they maintain access and a connection to Country. We value their insight, cultural perspective and collaboration.

We also invest in partnering with Aboriginal groups who are themselves landowners – often of vast estates. We help with developing and implementing Healthy Country Plans that seek to achieve conservation goals while creating jobs and livelihood on Country to ensure the viability of long-term conservation work.

This kind of approach has broken new ground. Our 10-year agreement with the Wunambal Gaambera people was the first long-term partnership of its kind in Australia for any conservation organisation. Since then many have followed.

The relationship that traditional owners have with the land is as forever as it gets. Their ancestors and their future generations are all a part of that country. There is no other place.

- Emma Ignjic, our Aboriginal Programs Officer for Northern Australia

Our 24 active Aboriginal partnerships now encompass 4.9 million hectares of land being protected for conservation.


Arafura Swamp

Photo by Emma Ignic.

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 surrounding catchment includes extensive savannah woodlands, rainforests, rocky escarpments and spectacular coastlines.

The Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation (ASRAC) has launched their 10-year Healthy Country Plan, with support from Bush Heritage Australia, to protect Aboriginal culture, knowledge and ecosystem health across 1.2 million hectares. The healthy country plan is centred on building sustained employment and community involvement on country. The aim of the plan is to protect biodiversity and culture in Aboriginal homelands, including Arafura Swamp, savannah woodlands, rainforests, rocky escarpments and spectacular coastal landscapes. 

The Chair of ASRAC, Otto Bulmaniya Campion, said people from more than 30 clans and families, across 13 language groups, were consulted in creating the plan. “For our people, land, culture and country are never separate. Bringing many partners together to protect our law and culture is really important,” said Otto. “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.” 

More on our Arafura Swamp partnership.

Wunambal Gaambera

Uungu rangers

Uungu (Wunambal Gaambera) rangers map cultural and environmental assets, and record their management activities. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

On the far north-west coast of the Kimberley are the land and waters of the Wunambal Gaambera people.

"This place is very special. It has an amazing coastline and lots of endemic species," says Bush Heritage's Tom Vigilante. Tom works with traditional landowners to manage the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan.

Together with Bush Heritage, supporters like you and a dedicated local team of full-time rangers, they ensure that the open woodlands, lush pockets of rainforests and freshwater rivers remain in healthy condition for the animals in the area.

Flatback Turtles continue to breed around the offshore islands and populations of endangered native animals like the Black Grass Wren, Scaly Tail Possum and the Monjon (the world’s smallest rock wallaby) are flourishing.

Traditional Owners are working hard to look after these culturally important species. More on our Wunambal Gaambera partnership.


The Arnhem Plateau is a region of spectacular stone and gorge country north and east of Kakadu National Park. It's richly biodiverse, having been geologically stable for millions of years. It has numerous diverse refuges that protect plants and animals from fires and climate shifts.

The plateau has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, and Traditional Owners represent one of the oldest ongoing civilisations on earth. Thousands of spectacular rock art galleries, occupation shelters and other sites of archaeological significance represent a cultural record stretching back over millennia.

In 2008 the Bininj Kunwok clans of western Arnhem Land came together to found Warddeken Land Management Limited. We've worked in partnership with Warddeken since 2007 (when they were known as as the Manwurrk Rangers) to support the development and implementation of a conservation management plan, which was a vital step towards the declaration of the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area in 2009.

In 2014, Warddeken Indigenous Rangers joined scientists and Bush Heritage staff to survey the little-known an-binik jungles of West Arnhem Land. This video tells the story (The Age also ran a piece).

More on our Warddeken partnership. See also:


Spotted Cus Cus. Photo by Chans and Judy Beste

Spotted Cus Cus. Photo by Chans and Judy Beste.

Since 2006 we've worked with the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation on an over‑arching Cape York Caring for Country Strategy. This included assessments and planning work with clans in the Coen sub‑region.

The participating clans – the Kaandju, Umpila, Lama Lama and Ayapathu own vast estates, which include the KULLA (an acronym for the clan names) National Park.

In 2012 the Umpila Pama Malngkanichi Healthy Country Plan was developed. Planning sessions identified the Rocky Lake area as an important site that hadn’t been accessed in some time. Baseline monitoring became a priority and over four weeks in 2014 Umpila rangers, Bush Heritage staff and ecologists journeyed to Rocky Lake to record a wealth of species.

More on the Umpila Rocky Lake survey.


Glen spots a Golden Shouldered Parrot nest! Photo Allana Brown.

Glen Kulka, Olkola Land Manager, spots a Golden-shouldered Parrot nest. Photo Allana Brown.

Olkola country in central Cape York is an unusual and beautiful place. “It’s strange Country” says Olkola Chairperson, Mike Ross, referring to the spring mounds, which bubble up rocks and secrets from 3km underground; to the glowing white hills that appear from nowhere and to the little parrots that live in giant ant beds.

The small team of Olkola rangers have over 800,000 ha to manage encompassing endless savannah grasslands, melaleuca swamps, open eucalypt woodlands, creeks, rivers and lagoons. Bush Heritage is proudly partnering with them to support healthy country planning and conservation management work.

One key conservation target is the Golden-shouldered Parrot (Psephotus chrysopterygius). This iconic and beautiful, small species of parrot is the Olkola totem, which means there's significant cultural responsibility to protect the endangered bird. Also known as the 'ant bed parrot', it waits until the end of the wet season when termite mounds are soft from rain and digs out a nest chamber to lay eggs.

More on the Olkola and Golden Shouldered Parrot.


Birriliburu ranger Nikita Farmer holds a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus). Photo by Vanessa WestcottBirriliburu ranger Nikita Farmer holds a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus). Photo Vanessa Westcott.

Since the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) was established in 2013, we've been fostering a partnership with the traditional owners – the Martu people – and the Central Desert Native Title Services Land and Community Team.

The Martu people were granted native title to 136,000 square kilometres of their country in 2002, the largest native title determination in Australian history at the time.

One of the initiatives they quickly established was an Indigenous ranger program employing locals from Wiluna and surrounding areas.

The rangers lead a number of land management activities, including reinstating traditional fire patterns, threatened species monitoring and baseline fauna surveys.

We've been proudly supporting this team since 2013, using two-way learning with science skills, particularly in regards to fire ecology.

More on our work with the Birriliburu.


The main pool at Windjana gorge on Bunuba country.

Windjana gorge on Bunuba country.

Bunuba country is in the central-west Kimberley (WA) surrounding the township of Fitzroy Crossing and including Giekie Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge National Parks. Bunuba people are custodians of the nationally significant Jandamarra story

The Bunuba people’s Native Title rights were recognised after a 13-year process in 2012 – they hold exclusive rights to 3,500 square kilometres of land north of Fitzroy Crossing.

On invitation from community leaders in Fitzroy Crossing we've launched a partnership with the Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) to help complete their Jalangurru Muwayi (Healthy Country) Plan

The Department of Parks and Wildlife will continue to support and fund the Bunuba Rangers to help manage nine significant central west Kimberley conservation reserves established on Bunuba country.

Guided walks in Bunuba country

Experience the wonders of the Kimberley and see the impact Aboriginal ranger programs are having in this part of Australia on a Kimberley Country Guided Walk.


Rock shelter on Mawonga country. Photo Lawrence Clarke.

Rock shelter on Mawonga country. Photo Lawrence Clarke.

Mawonga is a 22,350-hectare property in central-western NSW, 95km north of Hillston. For Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan people it's a significant part of their traditional ngurrampaa (Country).

Mawonga Station protects significant cultural and natural heritage and adjoins both the Yathong and Nombinnie Nature Reserves. In combination this represents one of the largest reserves of mallee in NSW (over 190,000ha). Mawonga is also located in the Cobar Peneplain bioregion – a landscape that's under-represented in Australia's National Reserve System.

In 2009, the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan Traditional Owners, through their representative organisation the Winangakirri Aboriginal Corporation, had Mawonga purchased on their behalf with funds from both the Commonwealth Government National Reserve System program and the Indigenous Land Corporation.

They're working in partnership with a range of organisations. Bush Heritage is one of these – we've helped with the property purchase, ecological assessments and developing their management plan.

More on our work at Mawonga.