‘Clean Him Up…Make Him Look Like He Was Before’: Australian Aboriginal Management of Wetlands with Implications for Conservation, Restoration and Multiple Evidence Base Negotiations

Abstract

Historical and contemporary Indigenous wetland management influences wetland ecological character and conservation in ways not well recognised by western science and mainstream natural resource management. For example, the Australian government funds Aboriginal-led management of traditional lands, but Aboriginal knowledge is rarely enabled to critique, enrich or provide alternatives to conventional wetland management theory and practice. Emerging processes like the Multiple Evidence Base approach aim to foster synergies across different knowledge systems to enrich understanding of, and solutions for, environmental challenges. A starting point for such negotiations is the mobilisation of each knowledge base to foster mutual comprehension of shared knowledge around a subject. To assist in mobilising Aboriginal knowledge around wetland ecosystem management, we offer a case study of related Aboriginal beliefs, knowledge and practice. Based on oral histories and ongoing expressions, wetland management practices undertaken by two Kimberley Aboriginal groups in northern Western Australia form this article’s focus. We describe how and why these groups manage or rehabilitate wetlands, reflecting on ecosystem generation and conservation, and convergences or divergences with western science. We also identify barriers to the mobilisation of Aboriginal knowledge systems within contemporary land management programs, and opportunities to better foster Multiple Evidence Base negotiations.

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Data Availability

Data includes Aboriginal Cultural and Intellectual Property of the Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul peoples, published with their consent, and is not publicly available.

Notes

  1. 1.

    We use the term Indigenous when referring to Indigenous groups outside of Australia or when referring collectively to all Indigenous peoples around the world, and the term Aboriginal when referring to Aboriginal Australian people of mainland Australia.

  2. 2.

    Ramsar defines wetlands as “marshes, peatlands, floodplains, rivers and lakes, and coastal areas such as saltmarshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds, but also coral reefs and other marine areas no deeper than six metres at low tide, as well as human-made wetlands such as waste-water treatment ponds and reservoirs.” (Ramsar Convention Secretariat 2013).

  3. 3.

    Traditional owner is defined by a peak Kimberley Indigenous body, the Kimberley Land Council (KLC), as “…those Kimberley Aboriginal people who have, in accordance with their Aboriginal tradition, a social, ancestral, economic and spiritual affiliation with, and responsibilities for, all or any part of the lands and waters in the Kimberley, and Aboriginal Cultural and Intellectual Property, as recognised by their Native Title Claim Group or Native Title Holding Group” (see http://www.klc.org.au/news-media/research-facilitation).

  4. 4.

    Feral cattle refers to cattle that remain living in ‘wild’ populations in the region post closure of the Beagle Bay cattle station in the 1990s.

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Acknowledgements

The language and information contained in this publication includes Aboriginal Cultural and Intellectual Property of the Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul peoples, published with their consent. We wish to thank the Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul individuals and families involved for their generous contributions of knowledge, time and access to traditional lands they provided throughout this research. We are grateful to all of the Bardi Jawi Rangers, Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers and Nyul Nyul Rangers for their assistance in conducting the research, and to the ranger coordinators, managers and cultural advisors for their valuable support including Kevin George, Ingrid Elmitt, Phillip McCarthy, Daniel Oades, Damon Pyke, Mark Rothery and Debbie Sibosado. Thank you to Beau Austin and Richard Davis for providing comments on early drafts of this article. At the time of the study the first author was a recipient of an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and a University of Western Australia top-up scholarship.

Funding

At the time of the study the first author was a recipient of an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and a University of Western Australia top-up scholarship.

Participants were paid for their time through casual wages funded by the Indigenous Ranger and IPA programs.

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Authors

Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design, including MP, PC, RD, ST, BS, ZC, DC, KG, PM, BA, ER and JC. MP and ER performed data collection. MP performed data analysis, with BS, ZC, DC, KG, PM, BA and ER also contributing. The first draft of the manuscript was written by MP and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michelle L. Pyke.

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The authors declare that they have no known conflicts of interest or competing interests.

Ethics Approval

University of Western Australia (RA/4/1/6504), Bardi Jawi Niimidiman Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, Nyul Nyul Ranger Cultural Advisory Committee.

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Consent forms were signed by all participants as per UWA ethics approval.

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All authors have agreed with the content and consent to publication.

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Pyke, M.L., Close, P.G., Dobbs, R.J. et al. ‘Clean Him Up…Make Him Look Like He Was Before’: Australian Aboriginal Management of Wetlands with Implications for Conservation, Restoration and Multiple Evidence Base Negotiations. Wetlands 41, 28 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-021-01410-z

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Keywords

  • Cross-cultural ecology
  • Indigenous ecological knowledge
  • Northern Australia
  • Traditional resource management
  • Wetland management