The women: Rangers from Ngukurr (Northern Territory)

Their Project: Developing a Ngukurr Bush Campus (a two-way learning centre)

"I am the first person from Ngukurr to attend university straight from school in over 30 years. I’d like to see other young people from my community have the opportunity to go to university, as I do now. It is very important to me, because I want them to achieve a better education and become role models like myself for the next generation."

Melissa Wurramarrba, Yugul Mangi Women Rangers

Melissa Wurramarrba. Photo: Grady Timmons TNC

The setting

Northern Australia is one of the planet’s last great natural areas. From the Kimberley to Cape York, the area covers tropical forests, river and the world's largest intact tropical savanna. It’s a region of high biodiversity. It's home to more than half of Australia’s bird species, including the colourful Gouldian finch, the emerald dove and the northern masked owl. The area is also home to around one third of Australia's reptile and mammal species, including the iconic northern quoll!

For more than 50,000 years, Indigenous Australians have shaped this landscape using traditional land management practices. When Europeans arrived, cultural practices were suppressed and vast tracts of land became depopulated. This has lead to large wild fires and invasive species that threaten ancient cultures and precious wildlife.

Thankfully, Indigenous Ranger programs are changing this trend.

Our work with women in Australia

Aboriginal women hold special knowledge that is vital to caring for country. Women have particular knowledge of certain bush foods, plants, burning and women’s cultural sites; and they have social skills important to community involvement and decision-making. Yet, until recently, Indigenous ranger programs have been dominated by male rangers. While groups are starting to recognise the need to have more women involved, many barriers remain:

  • Limited financial support for women's ranger groups.
  • Difficulty accessing resources and shared learning/experiences from other women's ranger groups.
  • Loss of vital Traditional Knowledge as older people pass away, with an urgent need to pass this knowledge along to younger generations; and
  • The work of women rangers is often less recognised or formalised than that of their male counterparts.

The Nature Conservancy works with women from the Ngukurr to address these issues by:

  • Supporting the role of women and girls in land management, community leadership, and decision making.
  • Helping maintain and pass along Traditional Knowledge of certain bush foods, plants and cultural practices.
  • Providing opportunities for women to spend time on their Country and be more involved in land management.
  • Providing opportunities for community development projects and training.

THE Women's PROJECT

Developing a Ngukurr Bush Campus, a two-way learning centre on Country, which will run short courses at University level on a range of topics using both Indigenous and Western content. As 21 year old Melissa Wurramarrba told us, "It is empowering to be a woman ranger. We used to stay at home, but being a ranger has opened up a new world—we’re taking steps to make our communities more sustainable.”