Australian approaches for managing ‘country’ using Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge


  • Emilie J. Ens,

  • Max Finlayson,

  • Karissa Preuss,

  • Sue Jackson,

  • Sarah Holcombe

Emilie Ens is an ecologist with the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia; Tel: +61 2 6125 0672; Email: Max Finlayson is Professor for Ecology and Biodiversity with the Institute for Land, Water and Society (Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia; Tel: +61 260519779; Email: Karissa Preuss formerly worked for the Central Land Council and is now a postgraduate research student with The Fenner School of Environment and Society (The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia; Tel: +61 412 206 491; Email: Sue Jackson is a Principal Research Scientist with the CSIRO’s Division of Ecosystem Sciences at the Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre (CSIRO, Berrimah, NT 0828, Australia; Tel: +61 8 8944 8415; Email: Sarah Holcombe is a Senior Research Officer at the Healing Foundation (The Healing Foundation, L2 55 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston, ACT 2604, Australia; Tel: +61 2 6124 4400; Email:


Summary  This paper synthesises the lessons learnt and challenges encountered when applying Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge and methods in natural and cultural resource management (NCRM) in northern and central Australia. We primarily draw on the papers within this special issue of Ecological Management & Restoration, which originated largely from the Indigenous land management symposium at the 2010 Ecological Society of Australia conference. Many of the papers and therefore this article discuss practical experiences that offer insight for enhanced on-ground cross-cultural NCRM and can inform broader thinking and theoretical critiques. A wider literature is also drawn upon to substantiate the points and broaden the scope of the synthesis. Four key themes for consideration in collaborative cross-cultural NCRM are discussed. They are as follows: 1. The differences in environmental philosophy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures which profoundly shape perceptions of environmental management; 2. Cross-cultural awareness of Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge and methods; 3. The mechanics of two-way approaches to ecological research and managing country (NCRM as perceived by Indigenous people) and 4. Operational challenges for Indigenous NCRM organisations. To conclude, we point out five broad principles for managing country using Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge: (i) Recognise the validity of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmental philosophies; (ii) Create more opportunities for improved cross-cultural understanding, respect and collaborations; (iii) Involve Indigenous people and their knowledge and interests at all stages of the Indigenous NCRM project or research (including planning, design, implementation, communication and evaluation); (iv) Ensure that time and continuity of effort and resources are available (to undertake participatory processes and for trust-building and innovation) and (v) Establish high-level political support through legal and policy frameworks to maintain continuity of government commitment to Indigenous NCRM.