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

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

The land and sea country, which the NLC supports Traditional Owners to manage, is some of the most intact and biologically diverse in Australia. It includes places such as Kakadu National Park, the Ganalanga Mindibirrina, Wardaman and South East Arnhem Land Aboriginal Protected Areas (IPAs), which are all globally significant in their own right.

Through the Aboriginal Rangers and Aboriginal Protected Area programs, National Parks Joint Management partnerships, land and sea management-based enterprise and research partnerships, the Caring for Country team employed 86 permanent Aboriginal staff, and an additional 150 casual staff were engaged in 2019-20. Supporting this effort is a small team of Darwin-based staff who provide IT, data management, reporting, training, and youth and women’s engagement functions.

Our approach - working together

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples recognise that Aboriginal people are intrinsically entwined with water and land.

It is a key objective of the NLC to assist Traditional Owners to manage land and sea country in a sustainable manner, guided by the values and aspirations of custodians of Aboriginal law and culture. These principles underpin the operations of the Branch, which actively supports Traditional Owners to establish grass-roots land and sea management initiatives across the network of remote Homelands, outstations and community centres.


During the reporting period, the Caring for Country Branch:

  • Grew the Learning on Country investment to support 15 sites
  • Grew the Traditional Owner portfolio of carbon projects and complimentary fee for
  • service work
  • Secured significant project capital from the Northern Territory Government’s Aboriginal Ranger Grants Program
  • Worked with the NT Government and other key program partners to commence the Aboriginal Ranger’s compliance pilot project
  • Completed significant Ranger base upgrades at Ngukurr and Woodycupildiya
  • Hosted the former Department of Agriculture and Water Resources funded Northern Australian Ranger forum in August 2019
  • Secured a substantial training investment from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).

Importantly, the Branch continued to provide additional jobs and career progression opportunities for Aboriginal people across the NLC region.

Aboriginal Rangers

Ranger programs are the practical expression of many of the Caring for Country aspirations of Traditional Owners. The Branch now directly supports 11 individual Ranger groups, plus one other via subcontract, and three IPAs. Through the NIAA Aboriginal Ranger Grants and the Aboriginal Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) Real Jobs programs, the NLC was funded to support the direct employment of up to 70 full-time equivalent (FTE) Aboriginal Rangers, 12 coordinators, cultural advisers, two Aboriginal administration trainees and program support staff. While full and part-time workers constitute the majority of our workforce, a significant number of Traditional Owners (more than 150) were engaged as casual staff to support the Ranger groups during peak workloads or to provide cultural advice. Supplemented by savanna burning carbon abatement projects and other fee-for-service sources, the 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.

Ranger groups continue to lead in fee for service 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, Water and the Environment (DAWE).

NLC Ranger groups and IPA managers have continued to deliver on their commitments and lead the country, particularly in the areas of research, management and related innovation. At present Ranger groups and IPA managers 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 the involvement with school groups.

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

Key achievements for the NLC hosted Ranger groups this year have included:

  • Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the 2019 Kenbi Ranger Forum brought Aboriginal Ranger groups together from across the tropical north. The event, hosted by the Kenbi Traditional Owners on the Cox Peninsula, proved highly successful with around 400 participants. In addition to the invaluable networking and information sharing, productive workshops were run by our program partners to help land and sea Rangers learn new land and sea management skills and manage biosecurity threats
  • Indian Island Field Station – through support from the NT Government Aboriginal Ranger Grants program, a field station has been constructed on Indian Island within the Kenbi Aboriginal Land Trust. This base will act as an important facility for monitoring biodiversity and conducting sea patrols that form part of the Kenbi Ranger work plan
  • Grassy weeds fee-for-service work – the Kenbi Rangers were sub-contracted by Akron Group to undertake roadside weed spraying in the Darwin Daly region.
Malak Malak:
  • Through support from the NT Government Department of Primary Industries (NT Fisheries), the Malak Malak Traditional Owners were funded to develop their 10-year Malak Malak Healthy Country Plan. This plan will be used as an important tool to continue to guide the work of the Malak Malak Rangers, as well as inform the various program partners about the threats to the values of the Malak Malak ALT and support needed to address them
  • Sheila White was appointed as the Assistant Coordinator with the Malak Malak Ranger Group
  • The Malak Malak Rangers continue to achieve significant outcomes with their control of gamba grass and mimosa, which are listed as Weeds of National Significance.
  • Phase 2 of Port Keats/Daly Region Savanna Fire/Carbon Abatement Project: the operational phase of this project has now commenced resulting in more organised and resourced fire management
  • Mimosa management: the Wudicuppildyerr Rangers continue to treat mimosa pigra infestations in the Docherty/Moyle floodplains.
  • In 2019, the Wagiman Traditional Owners formed a Ranger advisory group to help guide and communicate Ranger activities on the Wagiman and Upper Daly Aboriginal Land Trusts
  • Phase 1 of the Wagiman Savanna Fire Management/carbon Abatement Project has been signed off. This will see consultations, a feasibility study and the establishment of a business plan for future carbon related activities
  • A junior Ranger program continues to evolve in a collaboration involving the Wagiman Rangers, EON Foundation and the Pine Creek Primary School.
Garawa and Waanyi Garawa

The Garawa and Waanyi Garawa Ranger groups manage more than 16,000km2 of Waanyi and Garawa country. The Rangers continue to implement extensive fire management and weed management programs. Aerial and ground burning work has been carried out to optimise biodiversity and defend against wildfire. The Rangers have taken part in scientific carbon-measuring and analysis with a view of capacity building and positioning Ranger groups and other Traditional Owners in the carbon marketplace. The Ranger group has also commenced cultural documentation work in relation to traditional knowledge in their work area.

Some highlights from 2019-20 for the Waanyi Garawa and Garawa Rangers include:

  • Successful biodiversity survey and culture camp hosted by the Garawa Rangers at lower Quaker Creek on the Garawa ALT in July 2019, in partnership with Bush Heritage Australia. Since 2012, Bush Heritage Australia has been working with Garawa and Waanyi Traditional Owners for the management and health of their country. In 2016, Bush Heritage began assisting with wildlife survey and culture camps as a means of supporting Traditional Owners and their Rangers to better understand what is happening with the plants and animals on their land, and as an opportunity for families to camp together on country and share knowledge about the land and its plants and animals. The first three of these camps were held on the Ganalanga-Mindibirrina Aboriginal Protected Area (Nicholson River). The Garawa Rangers from Robinson River helped with the camps and had asked for similar camps on the Garawa Aboriginal Land Trust (Robinson River). In response to these requests, Bush Heritage worked with Garawa Rangers and the Northern Land Council to support Garawa Traditional Owners and their families to undertake a wildlife survey and culture camp in 2019
  • The Garawa Ranger Group also began the process of Healthy Country Planning 2019, completing the first workshop of this process with Traditional Owners, with further workshops to be planned. This process also assisted in establishing the Garawa Rangers Advisory Committee, where Traditional Owners nominated representatives from the four clan groups of the Land Trust as committee members and proxies. The Garawa Rangers plan to meet with this committee twice a year to provide updates and information, and gain valuable advice and direction from the Traditional Owners towards Ranger activities
  • The Garawa Rangers and Traditional Owners have now entered into phase II of their Savannah Fire Management project in partnership with NAILSMA and the Aboriginal Land and Sea Corporation.
The Timber Creek Rangers

The Timber Creek Rangers are an ILSC Real Jobs Program-funded Ranger group working out of a small town in the large Victoria River District. Based at the northern end of Judbarra/Gregory National Park and surrounded by beautiful plateaus, gullies and rivers, the Timber Creek Rangers engage with numerous land management contracts, helping to protect their lands from the ravages of fire and feral animals.

Two highlights from 2019-20 for the Timber Creek Rangers include:

  • A successful annual sawfish survey conducted in August 2019. In partnership with CSIRO, the Timber Creek Rangers captured the endangered large tooth sawfish (Pristis pristis), one of the most endangered species in the world. CSIRO scientists joined the Rangers for the 14-day survey on the Victoria River. This partnership has produced valuable data on the populations and health of the species, as well as provided the Rangers with the training to conduct their own surveys and monitoring along the river
  • Timber Creek Rangers also attended two of the three on-country camps in 2019 for the phase I Savannah Fire Management Project of the Judbarra/Gregory National Park. One camp was in Barnangaya/East Gregory and the other at Bullita. The camps were in partnership with the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, Parks and Wildlife, the NLC Caring for Country Branch, the Wardaman IPA Rangers and the Timber Creek Rangers. The Timber Creek Rangers assisted with logistics for the meetings, including transport, site clean-up and collecting fire wood. They also participated in the workshops and presented to the wider group. The camps were a great opportunity to work more closely with partners and build relationships. The Timber Creek Rangers are eager to continue their involvement in this project and work more closely with Parks and Wildife and neighbouring Ranger groups. Since the camps in 2019, the Rangers attended fire unit training with the Wardaman and Wagiman Rangers at the Charles Darwin University’s Katherine campus in March 2020, learning essential safety and burning skills and techniques to prepare them for the next stage of the project.
  • Successful completion of the fisheries contract, building the group’s capacity through the development of eight permanent staff, five casuals and Traditional Owners, who all worked together to complete this work
  • Eslyn Wauchope, Acting Coordinator of Garngi Rangers, travelled to New Zealand to meet the Maori women of the Te Rarawa Iwi. This was a chance to share knowledge about how Aboriginal women are involved in land management, conservation and cultural revitalisation
  • The Rangers have been working hard to limit the spread of mimosa across the island’s floodplain.
  • The Rangers have been working with children from the school as part of the junior Rangers program. This has happened every fortnight and lots of time has been spent out in the field in bilingual learning and Aboriginal knowledge transfer
  • Roy Winungju completed his coxswain’s licence, which now enables the group to get back out on their waters to conduct patrols and look after some of their more remote country, including sea country
  • The Rangers successfully completed NT Fisheries contracted patrols and all the possible DAWE scheduled biodiversity activities prior to COVID-19 impacts and closure of community borders.
Yugul Mangi
  • The LoC program has started and the Rangers have been working with children from the school every fortnight. They have also taken the children camping to help with some of their field work, including two different biodiversity surveys
  • The Rangers, in collaboration with cultural advisers and a film producer, hired a helicopter and travelled to a remote part of the IPA to conduct a rock art survey. The Rangers discovered three caves that were not previously known and documented their findings
  • Two female Rangers travelled to Darwin for the Women’s Leadership Training Course. The focus was on building capacity in activities associated with higher duties, and developing confidence to move into leadership roles.
Numbulwar Numburindi
  • Three Rangers and two casual Rangers completed their coxswain’s training
  • In collaboration with the Yugul Mangi Rangers, the Numburindi Rangers camped at Wanmari for a week and treated a significant outbreak of mimosa on the Phelp River. This was done using newly acquired ATVs with the help of a helicopter. Weeds Branch helped with this work
  • Also in collaboration with the Yugul Mangi Rangers, the early fire season burning program was completed, despite the difficult COVID-19 community isolation requirements
  • Rangers completed all Fisheries NT and Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) contract requirements possible, although some activities were deferred due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Indigenous Protected Area

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) is a globally recognised, Aboriginal-developed way for people to care for country in the long term and participate in the National Reserve System. As at 30 June 2020, nationally there are 76 Aboriginal Protected Areas, which make up more than 47% of Australia’s National Reserve System. IPAs combine traditional and contemporary knowledge into a framework to leverage partnerships with conservation and commercial organisations to assist in providing employment, education and training opportunities for Aboriginal people.

In collaboration with the Traditional Owners, the NLC manages three Aboriginal Protected Areas (IPAs) – the Wardaman IPA (declared in 2014), the Ganalanga Mindibirrina IPA (declared in 2016) and the South-East Arnhem Land IPA (declared in 2017).

Wardaman IPA

Wardaman country lies within the Victoria River and Upper Daly catchments, west of Katherine. The Wardaman IPA covers approximately 224,718 hectares of country rich in cultural heritage. More than 200 recorded rock art sites with around 6000 individual paintings and 41,000 engravings have been recorded. The Lightning Brothers at Yiwarlarlayi on Delamere Station is the best known Wardaman rock art site. Six art site complexes are considered of national significance and have been registered with the Australian Heritage Commission. The natural landscape, including hills, waterholes, billabongs, springs, water courses, rock outcrops, mineral outcrops, soil, sand, trees and other vegetation, are also culturally significant sites.

The Wardaman IPA has a management emphasis on cultural values. In partnership with the NTG, via its innovative Ranger Grant program, the NLC supports Traditional Owners in maintaining these sites. This includes slashing long grass to create fire breaks, as well as fence repairs and other active conservation measures.

During 2019-20, management highlights included:

  • In partnership with the NTG, the Wardaman Rangers continued training in water monitoring. For example, on a monthly basis during the dry season, the Rangers have been testing their springs, which naturally occur on the IPA. This work is producing regular data on the water quality of the IPA and is an important tool for the monitoring of healthy country
  • The commencement of phase 1 of the Savannah Fire Management Project. With the support of Bushfires NT, the Rangers and Traditional Owners began to implement an early season fire program, integrating with training and planning already built upon with neighbouring groups. These included Wagiman and Timber Creek Rangers and Judbarra Gregory National Park
  • The Wardaman Women’s Country Camp was held at the Giwining (Flora River) Nature Park in August 2019. Women, youths and children spent their time fishing, bushwalking, and exploring the Flora River and Djarrung Spring, telling stories, conducting language lessons, painting and dancing. This was the second annual Wardaman women’s camp. It enabled women, youth and children to take part in Ranger activities and get people back out on country
  • Commencement of an external mid-review of the IPA’s 2014-24 Plan of Management, including the planning for workshops with Traditional Owners scheduled for 2020-21.

Ganalanga Mindibirrina IPA

The Ganalanga Mindibirrina Aboriginal Protected Area, covering 11,000 square kilometres in the South Western Gulf of the Borroloola Barkly Region, is the Homeland of the Waanyi and Garawa people. It encompasses most of the Nicolson Basin and is divided by the locally renowned China Wall. The IPA is relatively untouched and has been declared a category six, Managed Resource Protected Area, by the International Union of Conservation of Nature. Its management is guided by the Indigenous Protected Area Plan of Management 2015-20.

The IPA has outstations to the north and south of China Wall, some of which are lived in and others that are visited throughout the year. The Plan of Management includes living on country, teaching the next generation culture and language through leaning and ceremonies, and developing ideas for sustainable employment within their IPA Homelands. Getting back out on country allows for stronger connection to the land and the opportunity to develop ideas that may lead to opportunities to earn incomes.

Burning to ensure a healthy country is important on the IPA and reduces the chance of late wildfire harming fragile ecosystems. Late fires are a significant threat to the outstations, neighbouring pastoral leases and livestock. The aim for Ganalanga Mindibirrina is to conduct yearly prescribed burns that are controlled and monitored.

Over the past year limited fire fuel load reduction work has been undertaken to reduce the intensity and minimise the threat of late wildfire to country and neighbouring land and cattle stations. It is anticipated that after the next committee meeting annual work plans for regular fire management and support of carbon farming initiatives will develop.

There are several common feral animal species on the IPA, including horses, cattle, pigs, donkeys and cane toads. Cattle and feral animal surveys have been undertaken and during 2019-20 further funding has been awarded to enable comparative surveys to take place. It is anticipated that the evidence gained will generate a large animal management plan.

The Waanyi Garawa Ranger Group employed an assistant coordinator in 2020, with the position being primarily focused on women and youth engagement. The IPA continues to support and encourage female Rangers to work on the IPA and we are committed to further developing employment opportunities and variety. Women Rangers participate in all the duties required of any Ranger, including sacred site care and management, public awareness, animal surveys, trapping, weed spraying and removal.

Governance workshops and training for the IPA’s Advisory Committee was a focus for the members and proxies in 2019. Capacity and leadership building and mentoring younger generations will continue to be a pivotal focus.

South East Arnhem Land IPA

At nearly 20,000 square kilometres, the South East Arnhem Land IPA spans most of south-east Arnhem Land, along the far western Gulf of Carpentaria from Blue Mud Bay to the mouth of the Roper River; where tidal flats meet vast coastal plains backed by rugged sandstone uplands. The vegetation is predominately open eucalypt woodlands with paperbark and monsoon rainforests along waterways or in moister pockets. In the north, tall eucalypt woodlands occur on the deepest soils, while a mosaic of native grasslands, vine thickets, samphire and mangroves characterise the coastal lowlands.

The IPA is managed by an advisory committee of senior elders from the Ngukurr and Numbulwar communities. The South-East Arnhem Land IPA consists of the traditional estates of over 20 clans, who speak of themselves as Yugul. Their country comprises a patchwork of homelands with 20 established outstations, each belonging to a particular family group or clan. All Homelands are associated with significant cultural sites and all are enormously important, as they reflect the pattern of traditional land use and ownership. Homelands are places where ceremonies occur, bush tucker is collected or hunted and where history, stories and traditional ways are passed on to the children.

Sea country is particularly important. As the basis for livelihoods, it plays a key part of culture with Dreamtime ancestors creating marine sites and features just as they did on the land.

The South-East Arnhem Land IPA is jointly managed by the Yugul Mangi and Numbulwar Numburindi Rangers based in Ngukurr and Numbulwar respectively. The Rangers work on behalf of Traditional Owners of the Ritharrngu, Rembarrnga, Ngandi, Ngalakgan, Warndarrang, Yugul and Nunggubuyu peoples.

Management highlights in 2019-20 include:

  • An IPA Advisory Committee meeting and informal meetings with Traditional Owners throughout the year. The committee is uniquely representative of regional clans, language groups and the townships of Ngukurr and Numbulwar. Initially established to make decisions in relation to IPA management, the role of the SEAL IPA advisory committee has quickly expanded. Members continued their program of governance training and are now managing annual budgets in excess of $2 million and an ever-widening array of issues. The SEAL IPA Advisory Committee has also made decisions on funding a community planning and development project using carbon funds
  • SEAL IPA Advisory Committee began the planning process to extend their sea country footprint. Traditional Owners are concerned with trespassing and having rights over their land and waters, and the health of their sea country. Concerns include over-fishing, over-hunting, unwanted visitors, protecting song lines and cultural sites, pollution, sea-bed mining, ghost nets and climate change. Caring for sacred sites, saltwater culture, dugong and turtles, fish and shellfish, privacy, clean water and livelihoods are of fundamental importance to the Traditional Owners. The planning process will continue in 2020-21
  • Both Yugul Mangi and Numbulwar Numburindi Rangers undertake regular river and sea patrols as part of their work with NT Fisheries for monitoring fishing compliance, recording suspicious activity and educating visitors about fishing regulations. Fisheries officers visit Numbulwar and Ngukurr twice a year to do compliance training with the Rangers. The Rangers also retrieve ghost nets and marine debris from the water and beaches. Ghost nets are commercial fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned or discarded at sea
  • The Yugul Mangi and Numbulwar Numburindi Rangers continue to undertake intensive fire management across the SEAL IPA. Since 2016, fire management has improved in SEAL IPA by reducing the total area that is burnt each year, shifting the seasonality of burning from late dry season to early dry season, increasing the patchiness of fires, increasing the area that is considered long unburnt and reducing the greenhouse gases released from burning. The Yugul Mangi Rangers and Traditional Owners developed the Yugul Mangi Faiya En Sisen Kelenda (Yugul Mangi Fire and Seasons Calendar) in collaboration with the University of New England, which uses biocultural indicators to guide fire management. Forty biocultural indicators were identified and included in the calendar, alongside important bush tucker resources, weather conditions and savanna burning recommendations. The Rangers presented at the Ecological Society of Australia conference in Hobart in November 2019 and the North Australia Savanna Fire Forum in Darwin in February 2020
  • The Yugul Mangi Rangers undertook a rock art survey at Burrungu. They recorded three new rock art sites, which were cleared of vegetation and surveyed. A short film about the rock art surveys was produced by the NTG following on from previous rock art surveys undertaken under the Aboriginal Ranger Grant Program
  • The Rangers continue to undertake extensive weed management, including managing a Mimosa pigra infestation on the Phelp River, with assistance from the NT Weeds Branch.

Learning on Country Program

Policy Context


The Learning on Country Program (LoC Program) is a significant community driven initiative that commenced in 2012-13 with four East Arnhem Land communities. With a teaching and learning partnership between community schools and local Ranger groups underway, the program successfully works across 15 remote communities spread throughout the Top End. The partnership is supported by strong governance arrangements, which ensure the activities are informed by and meet the dual pedagogical expectations of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators.

Since its inception, this approach has seen the LoC Program align itself with key Australian Government policies such as Healthy Country, Healthy People, which has enabled the education schedules and the overarching agreement held between the Commonwealth and Territory governments to address key areas of Aboriginal disadvantage under the Commonwealth’s Closing the Gap framework.

The LoC Program methodology is consistent with and delivers on the Closing the Gap Refresh. This recognises that shared decision making with Aboriginal people, from the design to evaluation of programs, is working towards reducing the social gradient in health between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

The program is also strongly aligned with the Northern Territory’s key Aboriginal Affairs strategy, Everyone Together, which recognises “building, supporting and investing in strong Aboriginal governance is necessary to ensuring local people drive local solutions”.

Northern Land Council

The NLC views the LoC Program as a flagship program in the implementation of the CFC’s Workforce Development strategy by providing clear professional development pathways and better succession planning for NLC (and independent) Aboriginal Ranger groups. The strategy includes subsidiary strategies for engaging women and young people. Expanding the Ranger programs and growing the recruitment and retention of women and young people are key outcomes of the NLC’s Strategic Plan 2016-20.

Program Context

Integrating culture and curricula, the LoC Program provides a hands-on approach in the educational, training and employment pathway, using a combination of each community’s natural and cultural resource management and education resources. Incorporating the LoC Program into the school culture provides a successful community driven education option with local benefits and significant policy outcomes.

The LoC Program harnesses extant community capacity to extend and formalise existing activities that already incorporate Aboriginal and western knowledge systems. This arrangement provides students with an opportunity to literally learn on country under a combination of knowledgeable senior Traditional Owners, community Rangers, VET trainers and teachers. They will achieve educational qualifications from the two knowledge systems using both the bush and the school, linked by cultural and curriculum teachers to ensure learning requisites from the two knowledge systems are appropriately applied.

The objectives of the LoC Program, as articulated in the funding agreement, are:

  • Increase in inter-generational transmission of Aboriginal 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
  • Improved student learning.

The LoC Program operates through a partnership arrangement between the community school and the local Ranger group, and is supported by a Local Learning on Country Committee (LLoCC) and an in situ LOC coordinator. An LoC Steering Committee provides cultural and strategic guidance to the program. Biannual LoC forums, which include site presentations, a steering committee meeting and practitioner workshops, occur alternately in Nhulunbuy and Darwin, and are attended by up to 70 participants.


The LoC Program continues to grow across the communities. Since initial inception in 2012-13, the program has grown from four to nine communities, including Maningrida, Galiwin’ku, Yirrkala and Laynhapuy Homelands Ramingining, Milingimbi, Gapuwiyak, Umbakumba and Angurugu.

The nine community sites highlight the success achieved in Aboriginal student participation. Employment outcomes show that 70% of students enrolled in middle and senior school took part in LOC activities; Aboriginal employment totals 63% of the overall program employment (91 women and 96 men); and Aboriginal staff worked 9336 hours in the preparation and delivery of LoC Program activities.

At the beginning of the 2020 school year, all six of the new communities, Ngukurr, Numbulwar, Borroloola, Gunbalanya, Beswick and Barunga, were online and delivering activities. With the addition of these communities, it was expected the program would grow to support about 1000 students.

Program site reporting (January to June 2020) on the key performance indicators for 14 LoC sites highlights the success achieved in Aboriginal student participation and employment outcomes – more than 1200 remote Aboriginal students took part in LOC activities; about 300 Aboriginal staff worked 11,796 hours in the preparation and delivery of LoC Program activities; and 130 remote Aboriginal students enrolled into VETiS based training.

Importantly, the LoC Program’s pathway to employment supports internships/traineeships with Ranger groups in some locations. Future funding focuses on expanding this arrangement to all sites, where possible, and building an Aboriginal LoC assistant coordinator and coordinator cohort. Additionally, the NLC is working towards being an employer of choice and intends to expand its own workforce development approach to include trainee opportunities in its Darwin and regional offices.

Case Study - Learning on Country

Learning on Country Program transition into full-time Ranger work: the graduates

Bawinanga Djelk Internship program, growing the next generation of Rangers through LoC

The Learning on Country Program is unique in that it defines a pathway to employment in Aboriginal land and sea management, thereby growing the next generation of Rangers and traditional custodians to work and care for their country.

Maningrida, where the Bawinanga Djelk Ranger internship program supports LoC students’ transition into full-time Ranger work, provides an excellent example.

Cedric Ankin celebrated his year 12 graduation at Maningrida – he is now employed as an intern with the Bawinanga Djelk Rangers.

Grestina Wilson, the daughter of long-time senior Ranger Greg Wilson, is in her senior year at Maningrida School where she is undertaking the internship program with the Women Rangers. Her passion has always been caring for country.

A supported and well-resourced environment encouraged Cedric and Grestina to commence the program in middle school. In that time, both completed Certificate One Conservation and Land Management (CLM) and with good use of a mentoring program, led to the commencement of Certificate Two CLM and internships with Bawinanga Djelk.

Other students include Jonah Ryan, who over the previous two years completed the Certificate Two, plus senior first aid, and obtained a driver’s licence.

The LoC Program is administrated across 15 remote Aboriginal community schools, allowing nearly 1000 people to partner and participate with local Ranger groups.

The primary aims of the program are to increase student attendance, retention and participation rates; learnings on culturally relevant and experiential content; literacy and numeracy levels while strongly encouraging critical thinking skills; and strengthen the positive pathway to employment and community leadership.

Aboriginal Ranger Compliance Project

The newly established Aboriginal Ranger Compliance Support Project aims to ensure that Aboriginal Ranger groups across the NLC regions are appropriately trained, resourced and supported to undertake targeted compliance activities on their traditional land and sea estates, safely and effectively.

The project is purposely designed to provide compliance support to 12 Ranger groups, their operational areas, relevant Aboriginal Protected Areas and the surrounding Aboriginal Land Trusts.

The support project activities are set to:

  • Establish Aboriginal Ranger Compliance Support team
  • Set up a compliance support desk
  • Undertake the development of the NLC Compliance Policy and Procedures Manual
  • Provide Aboriginal Ranger compliance training and support
  • Instigate individual Operational Area Compliance Plans for NLC Ranger groups
  • Develop an incident/case management database contextualised for Ranger group needs.

A suitable platform for discussion and review of the project outcomes and related matters has been developed in the form of the Aboriginal Ranger Compliance Working Group, which consists of partnering agencies such as NT Fisheries, NT Water Police Section, Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, Parks and Wildlife, NIAA, Land Councils and independent Ranger groups.

The development of the project was financially secured in November 2019 by NIAA and the Commonwealth Government. It comes as a follow-on from a comprehensive review of the NLC’s Ranger project.

Savanna Burning Carbon Abatement

A number of NLC Ranger groups, Indigenous Protected Area managers and Traditional Owners are involved in registered carbon abatement projects, using the early dry season savanna fire methodology. In 2019-20, a number of new participants trialed these approaches as part of Aboriginal Land and Sea Corporation Savanna Fire Management (SFM) Program. While much of this work was preparatory, we expect some groups to begin registering new projects in 2021-22.

South East Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project

There is an s19 agreement with the ALFA (NT) to undertake carbon farming across the South East Arnhem Land Aboriginal Protected Area. It is made up of the South East Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (SEALFA) and the South East Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Stage 2 (SEALFA2) projects, which use strategic fire management through the savanna burning methodology to reduce the fire-generated emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. The projects use strategic early dry season burning to reduce the total area that is burnt each year and to shift the seasonality of burning from late dry season to early dry season. Fire is a major focus of the Yugul Mangi and Numbulwar Numburindi Rangers’ work. Funding from carbon credits earned through this project has gone to buying new vehicles and equipment for two Ranger groups and running culture camps, a community identified priority.

Garawa Aboriginal Land Trust Fire Abatement Project

The Garawa Savanna Fire project, located near Robinson River and managed by the Garawa Rangers in partnership with NAILSMA, entered its first full year of production. Despite some unexpected late season fires, the project passed its first project audit in June 2020 and continues to improve. This project and several others in the region are funded under the ILSC Savanna Fire Management (SFM) Program, which provides funding for coordination, training, start-up and early operational costs for new projects on Aboriginal Lands in the NT’s Top End.

Judbarra-Gregory National Park Project

The Savanna Fire Management Project for Judbarra-Gregory National Park completed its phase 1 consultations in 2019.

Consultations were held in Barnangaya/East Gregory, Bullita and Paperbark Yard over the school holidays, which allowed and encouraged participation from youth, elders and Traditional Owners. Follow-up consultations with Traditional Owners were also held to allow those who were unable to attend to be heard.

The stakeholders are looking forward in spending time looking after country through fire management, and caring for the rich cultural and biological resources of the park. The project rollout is expected in 2021.

Other projects in the NLC region funded for development under this program in 2020-21 include a larger Western Top End project involving Traditional Owners from the Wardaman IPA and the Wagiman Aboriginal Land Trust.

National Park Joint Management

The NLC has a statutory responsibility to protect and advocate for the interests of Traditional Owners of land, water and sea within its jurisdiction. This includes estates leased by the Commonwealth and Territory governments and included in the national reserve estate for conservation of natural and cultural values and tourism purposes. Nearly half of the NT’s national parks and conservation reserves in the NLC region are Aboriginal owned and jointly managed. The NLC works closely with Traditional Owners and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission and Parks Australia to support and deliver joint management.

Jointly managed parks are a major resource for the NT and Traditional Owners. Opportunities in joint management can be significant but require adequate resources. Traditional Owners continued to work to build relationships and partnerships with governments and community and industry.

The NLC is focused on assisting Traditional Owners to:

  • Engage more effectively with Parks and Wildlife Commission NT and Parks Australia by providing third-party technical advice and advocacy
  • Make informed decisions relating to natural and cultural resource use and management
  • Assess the social, cultural, environmental and economic implications of legislation and proposals affecting parks and reserves
  • Protect and enhance traditional law and cultural practices
  • Pursue employment and business development opportunities.

Kakadu National Park

The NLC continued to have a strong focus on representing the interests of the Traditional Owners of the land in the use and management of Kakadu National Park in 2019-20. The NLC supported Traditional Owner involvement in park management decision-making processes through the Kakadu Board of Management and in ensuring effective consultation with Traditional Owners as required in the lease agreements held by the Australian Government through the Director of National Parks.

Throughout 2019-20, the NLC worked closely with Parks Australia to review the consultation guidelines and make necessary amendments to ensure that Traditional Owners will continue to be consulted and involved in all aspects of the use and management of land in Kakadu.

Carbon projects in Kakadu:

  • In July 2019, the Director of National Parks and the Jawoyn Traditional Owners entered into the first carbon abatement agreement for the southern region of Kakadu National Park, known as the Wurrk Carbon Project
  • The Traditional Owners in the southern region of Kakadu established a steering committee to oversee the implementation of the Wurrk Carbon Project. The committee held their first meeting in February 2020 to start making decisions on fire management activities aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

The NLC will continue to work with park management and Traditional Owners to establish carbon projects in other areas of Kakadu National Park.

Kakadu National Environmental Science Program

The National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Aboriginal Research Coordinator (ARC) has become a major role in facilitating partnerships between researchers and Traditional Owners. In 2019-20, the NESP program had a particular focus on Aboriginal land management and working with Traditional Owners on the development of healthy country indicators. Sites across Kakadu were selected to undertake research on land management approaches that incorporated Aboriginal and management practices.

The Kakadu steering committee held two meetings and identified and supported the partnership between NESP, Traditional Owners and Microsoft in recording and collecting data on specific projects. This information is, therefore, accessible to other scientists and researchers working in partnership with Traditional Owners in future land management activities.

Nardab site - weed and fire control East Alligator district

The NESP Healthy Indicators projects have seen the reforming of the wetlands, the return of wildlife to the floodplain and the control of para grass (Urochloa mutica), which is a significant weed. The sharing of Aboriginal knowledge and scientific monitoring methods have also led to improved local fauna and flora.

Anlarr (Nourlangie Camp) monitoring Healthy Indicators in the Jim Jim district

Kakadu Rangers have developed a good working relationship with NESP and Traditional Owners in assisting with the fire management and monitoring of the sites. To ensure that the country stayed healthy, Parks Australia also committed to weed spraying and clearing of the area.

The area is responding well and the maintenance of weeds has resulted in a healthier population of native yams.

Koolpin Gorge

The youth and older Traditional Owners assisted NESP in setting up a number of surveillance cameras and sound monitors around Koolpin Gorge to monitor wildlife. The youth were provided training in drone operation and other monitoring devices. One of the key projects was to evaluate the benefits to country of early dry season burning.

NT Parks Joint Management

Caring for Country supports joint management in eight NT parks: Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, Mary River National Park, Adelaide River Conservation Reserve, Tjuwaliyn Nature Reserve, Umbrawarra Nature Reserve, Giwining National Park, Judbarra National Park and Barranyi National Park.

The Caring for Country Branch continued to support Joint Management Committee meetings between staff from the Parks and Wildlife Commission and Traditional Owners.

Key highlights include:

  •   Nomination of a new Garig Gunak Barlu board member for the Madjunbalmi clan group and an out-of-session board meeting being held in April 2020. Land claim negotiations are being facilitated by NLC Legal Branch
  •   Consultation with Legal and Anthropology branches to develop a strategy to renew membership regarding joint management for the Mary River Committee
  •   The Adelaide River Committee met in December 2019. A scheduled meeting in April was deferred due to COVID-19 restrictions and sorry business but is being rescheduled for 2020-21
  •   The branch supported a two-day Judburra Committee meeting in October 2019. The scheduled meeting for March was deferred due to COVID-19 restrictions. Collaborations to finalise the visitor centre and cultural induction package is continuing
  •   The Giwining Committee met in August 2019 in Katherine with support from Caring for Country staff, with the March meeting was also deferred.

Caring for Country and NLC Legal Branch staff are working with Parks and Wildlife Commission NT and Traditional Owners to negotiate future management arrangements for Tjuwaliyn, Umbrawarra and Barranyi, including proposals for sole management by Traditional Owners. Negotiations that were delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions will continue in next year’s work plan.

Information Technology - Data Collection, Mapping and Reporting

The Caring for Country Branch provides on-site and remote ICT training and support to all NLC

Ranger groups including:

  • Documentation of Ranger group ICT needs and budget preparation
  • Providing training in the use of ICT equipment, including MS Teams, GIS/Mapping Software and other data management tools, such as Garmin Base Camp, Garmin Virb Edit, GeoSetter and Google Earth
  • Production of videos and other educational materials about Ranger projects
  • Providing general day-to-day ICT support and troubleshooting
  • Assisting with the collection and management of data and preparation of reports, including KMZ Google Earth reports.

The NLC receives funding from NIAA for two dedicated information, communication and technology (ICT) officer positions. The first part of 2019-20 was dedicated to the migration of all Ranger bases onto the NLC network. Until then, each computer was connected in a standalone mode to the internet and had to be maintained independently. New technology in internet router, coupled by the NLC network upgrade, has enabled the migration to occur and by mid-December 2019 all computers were connected to the NLC network.

The second part of 2019-20 (January 2020), before the arrival of COVID-19 in the Territory and the lockdown, continued to focus on the support and training of Rangers in data collection, file management and reporting. Re-enforcing the first wave of training and support organised the year before around the IT Data Collection, Mapping and Reporting Curriculum was a priority.

The curriculum gives the Rangers a better understanding of all processes involved in data collection and data management. Digital literacy has also been incorporated in the training program to address the skills gap for Rangers not familiar with IT hardware and software. The IT Data Collection, Mapping and Reporting Curriculum gives Rangers a pathway to learn the skills required to provide accurate and comprehensible reports to the Caring for Country Branch, Traditional Owners and to their community.

The arrival of COVID-19 in Australia in March changed our priorities towards remote support and training, and the deployment of video conferencing capabilities was required while the remote communities were on lockdown. The previous installation of MS Teams the previous year made the video conferencing deployment straight forward as it is fully integrated within MS Teams. Webcam, microphones and speakers were sent to all Ranger bases and video conferencing meetings became the norm. Daily video conferencing was easy and provided a critical communication channel during this difficult time. Remote training of Rangers became standard using video conferencing software and Desktop remote control programs, such as TeamViewer.

Visual image of the IT Data Collection and Management, Mapping and Reporting map


The revised Ranger career structure is a result of wide consultations with Caring for Country support staff, Ranger coordinators and the NLC People Services team. The proposed structure maintains the Conservation and Land Management (CLM) pathway towards a Certificate 2, 3 and 4 qualification. The new structure incorporates compulsory work health and safety (WH&S) and CLM training for entry-level Rangers and provides multiple optional pathways for diversification (responsible Ranger roles). The proposed structure is outlined below.

Visual chart of Caring for Country Rangers key structure achievement path.
Training structure

Key to the structure is that it achieves an alignment with:

  • Aboriginal Ranger workforce expectations: the CLM pathway has been maintained in the structure as it enables Rangers to undertake training in critical conservation and land management skills. All Rangers are expected to successfully complete a certificate two qualification in CLM before progressing into other positions
  • Industry and partner requirements: new optional training pathways have been incorporated, such as compliance, biosecurity and business administration. The suggested pathways are not limited in number and new pathways may be added if there is a demand
  • Ranger aspirations: not all Rangers want to progress into leadership positions. The new optional pathways will help expose Rangers to diverse career options in other industry sectors, such as local government, fire and emergency services, and fisheries compliance
  • NLC business requirements: by making WH&S training compulsory as employees start in the Ranger workforce, good practices will be embedded at the foundational level. The creation of a career path in safety will also aid the NLC to more effectively streamline good WH&S practices in Ranger operations. The creation of a pathway in business will also enable NLC support staff to eventually delegate administration and other business tasks to the Ranger group level, thus minimising reliance on support staff and building resilience and independence of Ranger groups.

The CFC Training & Workforce Development team is aiming for the new career structure to be rolled out in 2021. The initial focus will be on ensuring that all Rangers will meet the requirements of the WH&S induction envisioned in the new workforce structure:

All steps in the career progression of Rangers will be benchmarked. Training delivery will also move towards a block delivery approach in February and October each year. This will free up Ranger teams to focus on core land and sea management activities during the busy months of the year and leverage greater efficiencies in training delivery. The Ranger Workforce Development Strategy will be designed to provide a consistent Caring for Country Branch approach to workforce development and progression, while recognising the need for individual teams to tailor strategies and actions for different local circumstances and needs.

Women’s and Youth engagement

Implementation of the Women’s Employment Strategy

The past year saw a strong recruitment effort across the Caring for Country Branch. As a are held by women, and all NLC Ranger groups now employ women Rangers. Furthermore, more than 90% of Ranger of groups saw comparable levels of participation from women and men in training opportunities. This progress is on track towards half of the 2021 targets set out in the Women’s Employment Strategy (WES), detailed in the table below.

The WES targets that require more attention are the employment of Aboriginal women in leadership roles, women Rangers access to vehicles and female representation in the governance of Ranger programs. The Caring for Country Branch will improve outcomes towards these targets by increasing the number of Aboriginal leadership positions across Ranger groups through our Career Pathways Program, updating fleet, and building local governance bodies to oversee Ranger work.

Development of the Youth Engagement Strategy

NLC Ranger groups work for people with a diversity of cultures and histories, and operate under widely different circumstances. Yet all Ranger groups identify teaching the upcoming generations of custodians how they are connected to country and each other as a core aspiration. Rangers are already working hard towards this, whether it be in helping youth, children and families spend time on country, supporting their languages and cultures being taught in school, or by employing young people as Rangers. NLC Rangers have raised the following key priorities for the Caring for Country Branch to support to their youth engagement:


WES onset 2018

June 2019

50% of Rangers employed by the NLC are women

26% of permanent positions

22% of FTE

40% of permanent positions

38% of FTE

Women Rangers are represented in every NLC Ranger group

10 of 15 groups employ women

13 of 13 groups employ women

All NLC Ranger groups employ Indigenous women in one or more leadership roles (e.g. coordinators, assistant coordinators, or senior Rangers)

4 of 15 groups

4 of 13 groups

All women Rangers have access to the full range of training opportunities

5 of 15 groups

12 of 13 groups

All groups have a dedicated women’s vehicle

3 of 15 groups

3 of 13 groups

All groups have an advisory group with 50% female representation

4 of 15 groups

1 of 13 groups

  • Uphold customary governance of youth engagement on country NLC Ranger groups work on behalf of the Traditional Owners of the country they care for and recommend that plans and decisions about youth engagement on country be made with its custodians.
  • Recognise and support Rangers’ existing youth engagement efforts Rather than imposing new tasks on programs, NLC Rangers request that resources and time are allocated towards Traditional Owners-driven youth engagement work they are already undertaking. Youth engagement, therefore, needs to be recognised as a legitimate part of Ranger work, so it can be budgeted for and prioritised in planning.
  • Hold Rangers youth engagement partners accountable to clear terms of reference Collaborations with schools and other youth programs have fallen through in the past when participating staff members leave the community or when there are irreconcilable differences in expectations. Asking schools and other organisations to take responsibility for partnerships and commit to them long-term could make these valuable collaborations more sustainable.
  • Ensure children participating in Ranger activities are safe NLC Rangers recommend that children participating in Ranger activities are supervised by a responsible adult, such as parent, guardian, teacher, or sport and recreation supervisor, at all times and are transported in a vehicle with adequate safety restraints.
  • Provide mentorship to young Rangers When a Ranger faces hardship, it can affect the whole Ranger group. NLC senior Rangers and coordinators report deep concern for their younger colleagues and difficulty assisting them with serious personal issues on top of their already heavy workload. Senior Rangers and coordinators have requested professional assistance in mentoring young Rangers. In response to these priorities identified by NLC Rangers, the Caring for Country Branch has developed the youth engagement targets detailed in the table below. The branch can achieve these targets through the roles and responsibilities proposed in the Youth Engagement Strategy.

Targets for 2021

June 2019


All Ranger groups employ custodians to evaluate and prioritise youth engagement activities during work planning

4 of 13 Ranger groups employed custodians to evaluate and prioritise youth engagement activities in the 2018-19 work plans

9 of 13 Ranger groups employ custodians to evaluate and prioritise youth engagement activities during work planning

All Ranger groups have a comprehensive list of youth engagement activities included in their 2020-21 work plans

4 of 13 Ranger groups have a comprehensive list of youth engagement activities included in their 2018-19 work plans

10 of 13 Ranger groups have a comprehensive list of youth engagement activities included in their 2019-20 work plans

All youth engagement partnerships with the NTG or other organisations have formal terms of reference

2 of 10 of partnerships between Ranger groups and NTG or other organisations have formal terms of reference

5 of 10 of partnerships between Ranger groups and NTG or other organisations have formal terms of reference

All Rangers and their coordinators have a valid Ochre card number on file with NLC

14 of 87 Rangers and their coordinators have a valid Ochre card number on file with the NLC

65 of 87 Rangers and their coordinators have a valid Ochre card number on file with the NLC

All Ranger groups are serviced by a professional social worker

No NLC Ranger groups are serviced by a professional social worker

All Ranger groups are serviced by a professional social worker