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Funding boost expands Junior Ranger program to 50 new sites

Giovanni Torre -

The Federal government announced on Thursday that it is expanding the Junior Ranger program, offering on-Country learning to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students across Australia.

The $50 million funding boost means thousands of First Nations primary and secondary students will now be able to access the Junior Rangers program at 50 new sites.

The program is "designed to boost school attendance and engagement, while providing students with practical skills in land and water management, presenting opportunities to pursue future careers as Indigenous Rangers", the government said in a statement.

The Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council and Ngiyambandigay Wajaarr Aboriginal Corporation on the south-east of New South Wales are among the first organisations to join the expanded program. The government said working with Bega High School, Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council will support young people to re-engage with education, pairing job-ready training with on-Country learning.

The project will build on existing partnerships with NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, VET providers, local Elders and cultural knowledge holders to provide career development pathways for students that lead to employment, including land and cultural asset management.

On the mid north coast of NSW, the Ngiyambandigay Wajaarr Aboriginal Corporation will also join the program, supporting at least 100 First Nations students.

Schools including Gumbaynggirr Giingana Freedom, Bellingen High, Gillwinga Public and Woolgoolga High will offer courses, including Certificate II in Conservation Land Management

The Junior Ranger program is already in operation at 25 sites, run by the Northern Land Council (NT); Kalyuku Ninti - Puntuku Ngurra Limited (WA); Kimberley Land Council (WA); Nature Foundation Limited (SA); and Yuku-Baja-Muliku Landowner and Reserves Limited (QLD).

The programs have improved attendance and retention rates demonstrating the success of locally-led on-Country learning.

Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Leanne Atkinson said the new initiative "means we can get kids re-engaged with education in a way that leads to real employment opportunities and rewarding careers".

"We're merging technology like drones with ancient cultural practices, including cultural burning," she said.

"While this is a win for the environment it also opens the door to new and engaging educational opportunities that allow First Nations youth to invest and give back to their community."

Ngiyambandigay Wajaarr Aboriginal Corporation Director Nathan Brennan said the group was "proud to provide our young people with the opportunity to work as Junior Rangers".

"It's humbling to see our young people make strong connections with Elders, Country and our sites of cultural significance – all while building the job skills and knowledge they need to embark on rewarding careers," he said.

"Through these valuable opportunities, we're creating the next generation of leaders who will carry on our culture, speak our language, and protect our country long after we have left this world."

The Junior Ranger program is scheduled to be available in more than 75 locations by 2028.

Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the program "is showing great success, with 100 percent of First Nations students in the second half of last year remaining in school".

"We're building on that success by expanding the program to deliver on-Country learning and community-led mentoring, while opening pathways to future employment as Indigenous Rangers," she said.

"This is just one of this Government's investments in closing the gap, because we know that every child deserves an education, the chance to experience and embrace their rich cultural heritage and the opportunity to reach their full potential."

Ngiyambandigay Wajaarr Aboriginal Corporation Junior Ranger Trainee Leyland Roberts said: "I feel really privileged and proud to be fulfilling my responsibility as an Aboriginal person to connect and look after the country as a Junior Ranger, as well as be a role model in my community."

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