The Thamarrurr Rangers took home the 2019 Indigenous Land Management Award at the annual Northern Territory Landcare Awards in Darwin on Thursday.

Hosted by Territory Natural Resource Management (TNRM), who also coordinated the nomination process, the awards aim to celebrate the achievements and contributions of groups and individuals in areas of environment, sustainable farming and natural resource management.

The Thamarrurr Rangers are based in the Wadeye community, near the NT and WA border, and were established in 2001 by Traditional Owners to address natural and cultural resource management.

Thamarrurr Ranger, Peter Sheldon, said the award was very uplifting for the team and an opportunity to connect with other ranger groups.

“All the ranger groups are very isolated, we’re dotted in different parts of the Territory, so we don’t see each other much or work together often,” Mr Sheldon said.

“We got to connect to the network, and the highlight of this is that there is a network out there that know what we are doing way out bush is recognised and noticed – our partners in Darwin and Canberra notice that and it’s really reassuring.”

Mr Sheldon said that there are opportunities for ranger groups to expand through Federal and Territory Government programs and by working with private companies.

“It’s beginning to [be] noticed that Indigenous Rangers play a very important role in working for gas companies, mines or cattle stations. We work with fisheries – there isn’t anyone out where we are so we must keep an eye on the commercial and recreational fisherman, we monitor that,” Mr Sheldon said.

The team works across more than 18,000 square kilometres of country including 240 kilometres of NT coastline stretching from Cape Scott into the Fitzmaurice River. This region is homed to 20 clan groups, and the rangers work closely with Traditional Owners.

Many of the rangers within the team who are Indigenous are locally employed and have Traditional Owners within their families.

Thamarrurr Ranger, Maureen Simon said Traditional Owners within communities have direction over what occurs on their country.

“We take the Traditional Owners out on country, and we get permission to go out and do work,” Ms Simon said.

Work for the team includes traditional and scientific techniques for looking after sacred and cultural sites, fire management, wildlife research and sustainable harvest.

“We do things like removing debris from the beach, picking up rubbish, we do spraying and we go out onto floodplain country. We offer recycling to community too, people bring in bottles and cans and we give them a price for it,” Ms Simon said.

Caring for such a vast area of land, the rangers often travel for days to get to different areas of country.

“We are very remote, sometimes it takes a day to drive to get out to a particular place – you have to drive out and camp, be there for a couple of days,” Mr Sheldon said.

“There are no campsites or anything, you have to find a creek, some freshwater, you have to take food with you, or catch or find food.”

One of the leading successes for the Thamarrurr Rangers is the extensive female representation within their team, who have recently attended the NT Women’s Healthy Country Forum on Arnhem Land.

“We have a huge and stable women’s team who have been in their roles for a long time. Maureen has been the leader all that time, a lot of other groups are looking to the Thamarrurr Rangers saying, ‘If they can do it, so can we,’” Mr Sheldon said.

“In other land management spaces, it is quite masculine. In Indigenous land management, there is that mix – and that makes sense. The community is half women and they play a huge role in community.”

“You’re neglecting half of what cultural land management is if you don’t have women able to access that space.”

Although leading the way, Ms Simon hopes to see more women in ranger roles, but recognises the struggles for young females to do so.

“I do think that women teams should be bigger,” Ms Simon said.

“I go out and talk to so many girls, talk to them in community and in their homes. I talk to the young people. I think what is making it hard for them is balancing, particularly being a young married couple and having a baby to look after – it makes life hard.”Thamarrurr Rangers, along with other NT Landcare Award winners will continue to the National Landcare Awards in 2020.

“We’d like to thank Landcare and TNRM for their support over the years. It’s a very dynamic space right now there is a lot of growth and a lot of exciting stuff happening around the Territory,” Mr Sheldon said.

“It’s a great space to be working in everyday – one of the best jobs in a remote community. It’s an awesome award to get now, it is becoming a competitive field, ranger groups are doing great work in the top end and it’s really special to be recognised as one of the leaders.”

By Rachael Knowles