Caring for country: Australian natural and cultural resource management
Article first published online: 26 JAN 2012
© 2011 Ecological Society of Australia
Ecological Management & Restoration
Special Issue: Indigenous land and sea management in remote Australia (Guest edited by Dr Emilie Ens)
Volume 13, Issue 1, page 1, January 2012
How to Cite
Ens, E. and McDonald, T. (2012), Caring for country: Australian natural and cultural resource management. Ecological Management & Restoration, 13: 1. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00633.x
- Issue published online: 26 JAN 2012
- Article first published online: 26 JAN 2012
This issue presents work and ideas from a diverse range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous practitioners, researchers and collaborators who work in central and northern Australia in a range of environments, from local to regional scales. Most articles in this issue were initially delivered at the 2010 Ecological Society of Australia conference symposium titled ‘Combining Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge for land management solutions’. Relatively high Indigenous participation was supported by the inaugural ESA Indigenous travel grant scheme. Contributors were then invited to formally develop papers for submission to this issue and calls for other articles were made to broaden the scope and for inclusivity.
The symposium and this special issue were designed to give Indigenous practitioners and their non-Indigenous collaborators the space to explore and present theorisations (e.g. Barbour et al. this issue; Vaarzon-Morel and Edwards this issue) methodological frameworks (e.g. Hoffmann et al. this issue; Moorcroft et al. this issue; Fitzsimons et al. this issue), opportunities (e.g. Ens et al. this issue; Yen this issue) and case studies detailing successes, failures, lessons and ideas (e.g. Preuss & Dixon, Muhic et al., Grice et al., Brennan et al., Woodward et al., Wallis et al., Weston et al., this issue). All these contributions centre around the theme of how to enhance and guide future work to maximise on-ground impact of projects and investment in Indigenous natural and cultural resource management (NCRM). In the synthesis article at the end of the issue, the guest editorial team have drawn out key messages and insights presented by the authors.
Most articles draw on Indigenous knowledge and the Western disciplines of anthropology, social science and ecology. Many also cover planning, management and policy issues, making them largely cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary. The issue, therefore, presents a unique compilation of examples and ideas on how mainstream Australian NCRM can be developed to be more inclusive and respectful of Indigenous Australians, their worldview and preferred methods through recognition of the valuable contributions they have made and can continue to make to the holistic and innovative management of country.
Readers of EMR will find that many of the themes in this issue resonate with themes touched on by the journal in its first 10 years of publication. Of note is the call for central and northern Australian land managers to heed lessons from degradation already experienced in the south (Blanch 2008) as decline of species is already evident (Woinarski & McDonald 2011). Meanwhile, extinction pressures on Indigenous culture continue to amplify. Herein lies an opportunity for the coupling of environmental and cultural conservation objectives for enhanced on-ground environmental, cultural and Indigenous socio-economic outcomes, particularly in remote Australia, where a large proportion of land is owned by Indigenous people (Altman & Whitehead 2003). Similar calls for combined environmental and social initiatives have been made by United Nations and other International biodiversity and human rights organisations (see synthesis paper, this issue). As described throughout the issue, Indigenous groups in the centre and north have also recognised this opportunity and are increasingly using combinations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge and methods to rebuild social and ecological resilience. This situation is also mirrored in southern Australia, where some similar and some different socio-political and environmental challenges exist and are being overcome using cross-cultural knowledge and methods (see website http://www.emrprojectsummaries.org).
Many of the papers in this issue highlight the importance of Indigenous connection to country and the ramifications for Indigenous well-being and cultural survival. The profound nature of such connection is not to be underestimated given that culture in Australian Indigenous societies is so tightly interwoven with particular species, places and natural processes; and actively managing such entities can help communities pass on knowledge, identity and culture upon which much community health and function depends. The benefits of reconnecting nature and culture in a healing context, however, are not confined to Indigenous people. In a world searching for solutions, there is much all societies can learn and apply from the Indigenous initiatives presented in the pages of this issue.
- 2003) Caring for Country and Sustainable Indigenous Development: Opportunities, Constraints and Innovation. CAEPR Working Paper 20. Australian National University, Canberra. and (
- 2008) Steps to a sustainable Northern Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration 9, 110–115. (
- 2011) Grappling with the unthinkable: Small mammal extinctions spreading to northern Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration 12, 6–12. and (