Aboriginal land management: grasswrens

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Aboriginal land management: grasswrens
From: Denise Goodfellow <>
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2015 01:32:45 +0930
Re Sean’s comments re the effect of closures of Aboriginal settlements - I’d 
like to add that everyone is involved in protecting country, not just rangers; 
from little kids, barely more than toddlers, to old ladies - all do their bit.  
However,  for years it has become more difficult for elders to keep outstations 

Some may remember my posts on the Baby Dreaming project  of western Arnhem Land 
some years ago.  For the uninitiated I helped start this little tourism project 
at the request of  Kunwinjku relatives who were trying to keep their young 
people on the country.  They hosted/guided mainly American couples, but also a 
group from the Australian Museum.  That was a life-changer for many - dozens 
from neighbouring outstations turned up one night to meet the visitors and play 
with the kids. 

I remember reporting on the Chatline that they had even decided to ban hunting 
on one of their best billabongs so that birdwatchers could use it - 26 elders 
of the Nganjmirras, Maralngurras, Burunallis, and other key families, were 
involved.  This was a momentous decision that was probably lost on anyone not 
familiar with the area or those people.

However, our project was undermined not only by Government cutbacks, but by 
unrealistic policy demands, and what appeared to be a campaign aimed  either at 
keeping Kunwinjku out of birdwatching tourism, or at me personally, possibly 

Not long after I took two office-bearers from COTA out to meet Isiaah Burunalli 
of Mamadewerrie, who told them that elders from 14-15 outstations were fighting 
to keep their stations going in the face of government cutbacks.  Unfortunately 
a board change at COTA meant that the focus moved away from remote area people 
like these elders. 

I don’t know about the indigenous ranger program, but I can say that several 
indigenous rangers at Parks & Wildlife, have resigned over the way they have 
been treated.  Some, like Graeme Kenyon, TO for the Fogg Dam area were looking 
after their own country.  I intervened with the Minister, but really it’s a 
case of changing the culture surrounding land management:  And not only the 
culture, but the linear thinking that permeates most aspects of Western 

Fortunately, unlike many of the ex-rangers, Graeme is not lost to the system in 
that he’s now on the Board of Management, Kakadu.   HIs wife, Lynette, still a 
ranger, is battling on.  

Oh, and years ago I tried to sell avitourism to  remote NT country towns and 
cattle stations, based on its value to similar US settlements.  There was no 
interest - indeed I got the “staple economy” type of argument (we’ve got 
cattle, gold, mass tourism, etc -we don’t need to diversify).   Such places 
might be more interested now.  For example they might begin to care for 
grasswren habitat, if they see it could bring in some income that is more 
sustainable than cattle.  

Denise Lawungkurr  Goodfellow
PO Box 71
Darwin River, NT, Australia 0841
043 8650 835

PhD candidate, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Founding Member: Ecotourism Australia
Nominated by Earthfoot for Condé Nast’s International  Ecotourism Award, 2004.

With every introduction of a plant or animal that goes feral this continent 
becomes a little less unique, a little less Australian.

On 1 Apr 2015, at 9:20 pm, SeanDooley <> wrote:

> G'day all,
> Chris Baxter's request for Geoff Jones' contact details has reminded me that
> I was going to post about the March issue of Australian Birdlife. 
> It should have arrived in all BirdLife members' letterboxes by now and for
> those in NSW and Victoria who are not members, it is now available in
> selected newsagents over the next few weeks.
> We are running a special on the plight of the grasswrens featuring some
> incredibly good photos by a number of brillaint photographers such as Graeme
> Chapman, Chris Tzaros and of course Geoff, whose stunning pair of Kalkadoon
> Grasswrens grace the cover. 
> For all but the hardcore birder, grasswrens often suffer from a case of 'out
> of sight, out of mind' so we are really trying to spread the word that these
> quintessentially Outback birds are in serious trouble- 8 of the 11 currently
> recognised species have populations that are considered endangered or
> extinct. Yet we rarely hear about them. The grasswrens happen to be
> emblematic of many of the problems facing our Outback and tropical wildlife,
> being threatened primarily by innapropraite fire regimes which are a problem
> in themselves but also exacerbate other threats such as predation by feral
> pests such as cats and foxes. Hopefully by alerting people to the state of
> our grasswrens we can draw attention to campaigns trying to protect the
> ecology of remote Australia such as BirdLife's Important Bird Areas in
> Danger program and Pew Environment's Outback campaign. The threatened
> closure of remote Indigenous communities could further exacerbate the
> decline of our wildlife, especially if it was to affect schemes such as the
> Indigenous Ranger Programs which are starting to have a positive impact in
> certain areas (e.g. for White-throated Grasswrens in Arnhem Land).
> And if you need any other reason to get a copy of Australian Birdlife, we
> also have some very cool articles on Colombia's birds, the translocation of
> Cocos Buff-banded Rails and Tim Low writing about what the recent bird
> genome project means for how we view the bird evoluntionary tree. 
> I didn't put "advertisment' at the top of this email as I figure most of you
> are already subscribers but for those of you who aren't BirdLife members, I
> thought it was a special issue worth mentioning. 
> Keep on twitchin'
> Sean Dooley
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