Learning by doing: The Yugul Mangi Rangers and ecologists conduct two-way biodiversity research in remote Arnhem Land with ALA support

Learning by doing: The Yugul Mangi Rangers and ecologists conduct two-way biodiversity research in remote Arnhem Land with ALA support

** This post has been written and produced by the Yugul Mangi Rangers of south-east Arnhem Land, with Emilie Ens and Mitchell Scott (Macquarie University, Sydney).

Photo of Andy Lukaman Peters explaining to Benjamin Wilfred about the bush food and medicine plants near Lake Katherine

Andy Lukaman Peters explaining to Benjamin Wilfred about the bush food and medicine plants near Lake Katherine

The Aboriginal Yugul Mangi Rangers (a group of 5 men and 4 women) are working together with Emilie Ens and Mitchell Scott, ecologists from Macquarie University, to document species occurring in one of the lesser known parts of the country – south eastern Arnhem Land. The project will enter Western and Indigenous scientific knowledge into the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) and produce a two-way Indigenous engagement case study to encourage more Indigenous content.

This new project focuses on how our team are working together using Indigenous knowledge and Western survey methods, known as a two-way approach, to record species distributed throughout the proposed SE Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). SE Arnhem Land is one of Australia’s least known locations to Western science – many areas have never been surveyed before by biologists and is likely to contain new species. By gaining a better understanding of species presence/absence in the proposed IPA, including threatened and endangered species, the Rangers and Traditional Owners can make informed decisions about fire management and feral animals. Ultimately, we are contributing to Australia’s bigger goal of Caring for Country, but we need to find out what is there first!

We are working together on this project with the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). The ALA is combining species distribution data from museums, herbaria and research groups from around Australia. We are interested in sharing some traditional Aboriginal names and stories of plants and animals from SE Arnhem Land with other Australians, and the ALA is a great place to record and access this information.

Image of the location of Ngukurr in the Northern Territory, Australia

Location of Ngukurr in the Northern Territory, Australia

Image of south east Arnhem Land proposed IPA area

South east Arnhem Land proposed IPA area

This project is very important for our community – we aim to take people out on their ancestral clan estates (their Country) and engage the young and old in the Caring for Country work. The Yugul Mangi Rangers are from Ngukurr – a town of 1000 people (95% Aboriginal) located on the Roper River, at the southern border of Arnhem Land. Families of the surrounding 7 clans (Marra, Ngandi, Ngalakgan, Nunggubuyu, Alawa, Ritharrngu, Wandarrang) reside in Ngukurr and each clan has its own traditional language.  In the early pastoral days, there was a lot of fighting over land in this area. When the missionaries came to the area (from 1908), all the clans came to live at the old mission settlement because it was safer there. But this meant that people lost some connection to their ancestral clan estates and many of their stories, ceremonies and songs.

This change saw people also being discouraged from speaking their traditional language at school and in the work place. The effect of this early European contact period saw the development of Roper River Kriol. Kriol is a recognised language adapted from English and influenced by traditional languages. Roper River Kriol is now the most widely spoken of all Aboriginal languages in Australia. After the floods in 1940 people moved to the new town settlement called Ngukurr.

Photo of the town of Ngukurr

The town of Ngukurr

Photo of Cherry Daniels (first Yugul Mangi Ranger co-ordinator, Senior Ngandi woman and IPA Cultural Advisor) with Edna Nelson (Yugul Mangi Ranger).

Cherry Daniels (first Yugul Mangi Ranger co-ordinator, Senior Ngandi woman and IPA Cultural Advisor) with Edna Nelson (Yugul Mangi Ranger)

 

“Why do I have these [Ranger] logos on my shirt? One logo is on my heart, because Rangers care about their Country. I have two logos on my shoulders, because we carry our Country on our shoulders. The logos are also on our arms because we look after our Country like it’s our baby.”

What do we want to achieve with this two-way biodiversity research project? We want to engage the Ngukurr community. We want to employ local casual workers. We want to work with the school, and take kids and families back out on Country. At the end of this year-long ALA funded project, we aim to put together a case-study that demonstrates how Ranger groups and munanga (Kriol for non-Aboriginal) scientists can work together to care for Country and study Country using cross-cultural methods. This project is very important to us as we want to stay connected to our land and culture. This project helps us do that for us and future generations.

Photo of Julie Roy, Rose Munur, Edith Bush, Toni-Anne Roy and Carmelina Ngalmi setting up motion sensor cameras next to a billabong at Mission Gorge.

Julie Roy, Rose Munur, Edith Bush, Toni-Anne Roy and Carmelina Ngalmi setting up motion sensor cameras next to a billabong at Mission Gorge.

Our blog posts and the case study will be published on the ALA website, and at the Ngukurr Shop, School and Language Centre. Check out future blogs to see what we’ve been up to.

Upcoming Blog Posts: Surveys on Country; and finding the near threatened and elusive Leichardt’s grasshopper!

Yugul Mangi Rangers include: Clarry Rogers (Co-ordinator), Winston Thompson (Senior Ranger), Simon Ponto, Benjamin Wilfred, Kelvin Rogers, Julie Roy (Senior Ranger), Rose Munur, Carmelina Ngalmi and Pollyanne Ponto. yugulmangi.rangers2@gmail.com

Emilie Ens and Mitchell Scott are Ecologists from Macquarie University, Sydney. emilie.ens@mq.edu.au  mitchell.scott@mq.edu.au