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Caring for Country Branch

The NLC’s Caring for Country Branch helps Traditional Owners plan for the health of their country and report on the effectiveness of their efforts. We do this using a “two-way” land and sea management philosophy, which combines the best of traditional knowledge and contemporary science.

Traditional Owners in the NLC region have responsibility for 210,000 km² of land and 2072 km² of water, which contain some of the most intact, biologically diverse and culturally rich savanna and marine environments in the world.

Through Ranger and Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) Programs, National Park Joint Management, related enterprise, training and newly developed program areas, including Learning on Country (LoC), the NLC Caring for Country Branch directly employs more than 130 Indigenous land managers. Supporting this effort is a small team of Darwin-based staff who provide program management, administration, IT, data management, reporting, training, youth and women’s engagement functions.

It is a key objective of the NLC to help Traditional Owners manage land and sea country in a sustainable manner, guided by the values and aspirations of custodians of Indigenous law and culture.

These principles underpin the operations of the Branch, which actively supports Traditional Owners to establish grassroots land and sea management initiatives across the network of remote homelands, stations and community centres.

During the reporting period, the caring for Country Branch:

  • Grew the Learning on Country investment from six sites to 12;
  • Grew the Traditional Owner portfolio of carbon projects and complementary fee-for-service work;
  • Secured significant project capital from the NT Government’s inactive Ranger Grants Program;
  • Worked with the NT Government to reform the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act to help secure powers for Indigenous rangers:
  • Was awarded the contract to host the Northern Australian Ranger forum in August 2019: and
  • Secured a substantial compliance and related training investment from the Australian Government.

Importantly, the Branch continued to invest in jobs and opportunity for Aboriginal people, especially young people, across the NLC region.

Learning on Country


The Australian Government’s National Indigenous Australian Agency (NIAA) funds the Learning on Country Program (LoC Program), which is managed through the Caring for Country Branch in the Northern Land Council.

Formally established in 2012, the LoC Program funded four sites in east Arnhem Land (Maningrida, Yirrikala Homelands, Yirrikala, and Galiwin’ku) to undertake culture, land and caring for country activities as an approach to engaging and retaining students in education.

Between 2013 and 2018, the program expanded, increasing the number of participating sites from four to nine, adding two sites at Groote Eylandt (Anurugu and Umbakumba), and one each from Milingimbi, Raminging and Gapuwiyak (also known as LoC1).

In 2018, the Caring for Country Branch ran a process, on behalf of the then Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to expand the program. Minister Scullion approved six new sites (known as LoC2) at Beswick, Barunga, Borroloola, Gunbalanya, Ngukurr, and Numbulwar.

Learning on Country crew at the Barunga Festival

Key to the success of the LoC Program is the collaboration between remote community schools and Aboriginal Ranger groups to deliver community identified outcomes by bringing together the school curriculum and on-country activities.

The LoC Program delivers a culturally responsive, secondary school curriculum that integrates Indigenous knowledge and western knowledge systems, with particular reference to natural resource and cultural management.

Northern Land Council visual map location of established and new learning on country sites.
Location of established and new Learning on Country Sites


The LoC Program was previously managed through the Northern Territory Department of Education (NT DoE) and there is now a strong partnership between the Caring for Country Branch and the NT DoE. This relationship is informed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and supported though the involvement of staff from both organisations in cross-agency working groups focussed around curriculum development and training delivery.

LoC site governance arrangements ensure communities guide and control program delivery and outcomes.

Arrangements at each site include MoUs between the school and the ranger organisation, locally-based LoC coordinator and a local LoC Committee (LLoCC’s) comprised of representatives from the school (principal), the ranger group (coordinator) and their respective cultural advisors.

Strategic program guidance is provided by the LoC Steering Committee, with representatives drawn from each of the sites.

The meeting format includes an information-sharing forum, a Steering Committee meeting to consider program progress and provide guidance on future directions, and a Practitioner’s Workshop focussed on particular aspects of program delivery and LoC Coordinator.

The meetings are supported by a dedicated secretariat function provided by the NLC.

Program Objectives and Outcomes

The LoC Program is funded though National Indigenous Australia Agency’s (NAII) Indigenous Advancement Strategy under two streams – the Children and Schooling Program (LoC1) and the Remote Australia Strategies Program (LoC2).

LoC is a culturally relevant, school-based, Indigenous Ranger-facilitated program aimed at linking Australian curriculum subjects with field-based experiential learning and data collection.

The key objectives of the LoC program (LoC1 and LoC2) are to:

  • Increase inter-generational transmission of Indigenous knowledge and customary practice.
  • Development of strong partnerships between Ranger groups, schools and local community to deliver a culturally responsive secondary school curriculum
  • Increased school attendance, and
  • Improved student learning outcomes.

The LoC Program links Australian curriculum subjects with culturally field-based experiential learning and data collection.

The project targets remote Indigenous students and disengaged youth eligible to enrol for those years. It provides leadership opportunities for young Indigenous people under a combination of knowledgeable senior Traditional Owners, community rangers, VET trainers and teachers.

Learning on Country visitors, Barunga Festival

The table on the next page shows schools, ranger groups and approximate student numbers taking part in LoC Program activities.






Angurugu/ Milyakburra Schools

Anindilyakwa/Land Council Ranger Group



Umbakumba/ Alyangula Schools

Anindilyakwa/Land Council Ranger Group



Lake Evella School

Yirralka Ranger Group

193 (whole school)


Maningrida Community Education College

Djelk Bawinanga Ranger group



Milingimbi School

Crocodile Island Ranger Group

61 (whole school)


Ramingining School

ASRAC Ranger Group



Yirrkala School

Dhimurru Ranger Group



Yirrkala Homelands Schools

Yirralka Ranger Group

111 (whole school)


Shepherdson College

Marthakal Ranger Group

166 (whole school)


Ngukurr Community Education Centre

Yugul Mangi Corporation Ranger Group



Gunbalanya Community

Njanjma and Adjumallari Ranger Groups

200 (whole School)


Borroloola Community School

Waanyi Garawa, Garawa and Lianthawirriyarra Ranger Groups



Numbulwar School

Numburindi Numbulwar Ranger Group



Wugularr School Barunga CEC

Jawoyn Aboriginal Corporation


The LoC Program is highly regarded by school students, school staff and ranger groups because it combines cultural, educational and vocational outcomes to provide genuine employment pathways for young Indigenous people, particularly in the land and sea management sector. Reported LoC1 results for January to June 2019 show that:

  • Approximately 706 Indigenous students participated in LoC Program activities
  • 91 Indigenous women and 96 Indigenous men were employed to support the delivery of LoC activities (school and field-based activities)
  • Indigenous employment comprises 63% of the overall employment in the program
  • Indigenous staff worked a total of 9336 hours in the preparation and delivery of the LoC Program activities.

LoC2 sites are in the process of finalising their establishment activities, such as planning and recruitment processes. Some sites have already commenced delivering LoC Program activities. Early indications are that there will be about 305 Indigenous and non-Indigenous students participating in the LoC2 program.

Keeping in mind the small number of nonIndigenous student participating in the LoC Program, it is estimated LoC Program activity participation will exceed 1000 students at the commencement of the 2020 school year

L-R Rickisha Redford-Bohme, Diani Brian, Jonah Ryan & Normalina Olsen on the Learning on Country Pathway from School to Ranger

NLC Support

When the Caring for Country Branch assumed responsibility for the LoC Program in mid-June 2018 there were 9 sites. At the request of the then Minister for Indigenous Affairs the number of sites was expanded to 15. Since June 2018 the Caring for Country Branch has:

  • Expanded the program from 9 sites to 16 sites
  • Negotiated new contracts across 16 sites
  • Drafted an MoU between the Caring for Country Branch and the NT DoE
  • Site based MoUs and Operational Plans in place at 10 of the 16 sites with the remainder are under development
  • Designed and implemented streamlined activity and financial reporting processes
  • Provided sites with budget support for Local LoC Committee and Steering Committee meeting attendance
  • Held two 3-day LoC Program Forums bringing together the Local LoC Committees, the LoC Coordinators and the Steering Committee members
  • Held 2 Practitioner Workshops focussing on LoC Coordinator professional development - “Roles and Responsibilities of the LoC Coordinator” and “Integrating Culture and Curriculum”
  • Established a SharePoint communication platform “TEAMS” to facilitate communication and information sharing between the administrative team and sites.
  • Identified a Secretariat function to support the Steering Committee’s business delivery.
  • Established Working Groups between the Caring for Country Branch and the NT DoE re curriculum development and training provision.

Learning on Country – Case Study

Maningrida Learning on Country Program - A snap-shot of success

The Maningrida Learning on Country Program was first funded in 2013 as one of the four original LoC Program sites, along with Yirrkala, Yirrkala Laynhapuy Homelands and Galiwinku. As one of the larger remote Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land, Maningrida has a wellresourced Community Education Centre and their local Djelk Bawinanga Ranger group, established in 1991, is one of the larger employment providers in the community.

The LoC Program model is a partnership between the community school and the ranger group to deliver community outcomes. The strength of this partnership, together with the delivery of an embedded Vocational Education and Training (VET) program, is fundamental to Maningrida’s approach.

The inclusion of Conservation and Land Management (CLM) training aligns directly with the ranger program partnership and the ambition of many middle and senior students to transition into ranger employment.

The incorporation of the two-tool boxes learning systems, Traditional knowledge and western science was supported and delivered by senior rangers and cultural knowledge holders. The experiential oncountry learning activities were brought back into the classroom and integrated with curriculum and VET-based training.

Members of Maningrida School and the Djelk Bawinanga Ranger group with Year 12 LoCP participants at their Cert II CLM graduation
The relevance of the learning content ensured a clearer connection to literacy and numeracy outcomes. Classroom attendance increased notably on “LoC” days.

As VET qualifications contribute toward student NTCET graduation, students were also enrolled in units of the Certificate III Indigenous Land Management (ILM) course, which was delivered as on-country cultural camps spearheaded by senior Traditional Owners. The ILM course provided the space for cultural learning, delivered in language and in accordance with cultural protocols, thereby accrediting the teaching of cultural knowledge in an academic context.

Testament to the success of this approach is that in 2018, eight students graduated, having completed the Certificate II CLM qualification over a two-year period. Completions of the Certificate II CLM and Certificate III ILM contributed significantly to the NTCET graduation of 10 Year 12 students.

The achievement was widely celebrated as one of the largest graduating cohorts the school had seen for many years and reflected the strength of the partnership and commitment of teachers, rangers and Traditional Owners to the LoC Program. All shared proudly in this achievement.

The students from this cohort subsequently transitioned into the Djelk Bawinanga Rangers Internship program. They were paid part-time wages for their ranger duties and the remainder of the week were back at school to continue working toward the completion of their Year 12 NTCET.

The Djelk internship resulted in full-time employment with the ranger group for five of the graduates, which proclaimed the next generation of empowered young rangers working and caring for their country


Ranger programs are the practical expression of many of the Caring for Country aspirations of Traditional Owners. Collectively, the programs protect and care for more than 104,000 square kilometres of land – more than five times the size of Kakadu National Park – and extensive areas of coastline to the benefit of all Australians.

In 2018/19, through the Working on Country Program, the NLC was funded to support the direct employment of up to 57 fulltime equivalent (FTE) Indigenous rangers, nine coordinators, cultural advisers, an Indigenous Administration trainee and some program support staff. Under this program, supplemented by other feefor-service sources, we were also able to employ additional casual employees.

The Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) also provided funding to support up to 12 FTE Indigenous rangers, three coordinators and a program coordinator across three ranger groups: Kenbi on the Cox Peninsula, Yantjarrwu in the Daly region and Timber Creek in the Victoria River region.

This year saw the Ramingining rangers (Wanka Djakamirr, Gurruwiling and Arafura Swamp Catchment) reach a significant milestone by gaining their independence and transferring operations to the Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation (ASRAC).

L-R Lewis Raymond and Roderick Harvey from Timber Creek Rangers undertaking bird surveys

Timber Creek Ranger Kenny Allyson undertaking bird surveys

As a result, the Branch now directly supports 12 individual ranger groups, plus one other via subcontract, and three IPAs.

Despite a lack of increase in Commonwealth funding, we continue to seek growth. A concrete example of this our partnership with Seafarms and Native Title Holders under the Legune Indigenous Land Use Agreement. This initiative underpins the planning and oncountry work necessary for the development of a new ranger group and represents an important new private partnership model.

Ranger groups continue to lead in fee-forservice activities and cost-recovery programs, supported through government agencies, such as the Department of Primary Industry and Resources (NT Fisheries) and biosecurity surveillance activities for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR).

While full-time workers constitute the majority of our workforce, a significant number of Traditional Owners were engaged as casual staff to support the ranger groups during peak workloads or to provide cultural advice. Our network of casual rangers is an important means for people to work on their country, often through contributing to peak dry season fire management, culture camps and training opportunities. For all participants, but young people and women in particular, casual work provides the opportunity to experience ranger work.

It also provides the NLC and others with a pool of experienced and engaged land managers from which to draw full-time workers.

NLC ranger groups have continued to deliver on their commitments and lead the country, particularly in the areas of research, management and related innovation. Ranger groups are involved in a vast array of land and sea management programs, including fire management/early dry season burning, weed management, land and sea biodiversity surveys, marine debris collections, fisheries compliance patrols, sacred site management and knowledge transfer through involvement with school groups.

Key achievements for ranger groups this year include:

  • The Kenbi Rangers will host the north Australia Ranger Forum in August 2019.
  • The award of significant commercial fee-for-service work to the rangers in the Darwin/Daly/Wagait region.
  • The commencement of Healthy Country Planning at Bulgul and Wudicyeleder.
  • Timber Creek Rangers participation in a trial carbon project at Jutbarr National Park.