The deserts of Australia are filling up with pest animals, camels, donkeys, horses. Like a plague of giant rabbits, the camels are eating out the mulga, the bean trees and trashing the waterholes. Here’s Susan(na) Nakamarra’s Nelson’s painting of her country, Ngapakunypa, north-west of Tennant Creek.
Susan Nakamarra Nelson, “Wild animals”, Julalikari Arts , Tennant Creek 2007.
Picture in private collection.
These days, wildernesses can’t stay pristine without some help – stopping the advance of cane toads, starlings, feral weeds, European carp…, managing fires, monitoring threatened species. It’s really about occupying the country. Deserts need people.
And people need money. No one in Australia today can survive outside the money economy – if they don’t have a job or are not on welfare, then they’ll rely on family members who do, or beg or steal. So, how to get money is a large problem for Indigenous people living in remote areas like the deserts of Central Australia and the tropical scrub of Arnhem Land and the Kimberly.
One potential source of jobs is in the Indigenous ranger programmes. Potentially, these could involve remote communities with younger people doing the physical work, and older people passing on their knowledge of the natural history of the area (Traditional/Indigenous Ecological Knowledge). Involving local communities who have a longterm relationship with the country concerned is a lot cheaper than bringing in outsiders, training them up, and helping them adjust to life out bush. Life in remote communities is becoming more environmentally friendly as solar technology is cutting down on the use of diesel generators.
Here’s an array at a remote community of about 700 people, which is said to supply about half the community’s daytime power needs.
At the moment, funding for the Indigenous ranger programs relies on tax-payers and the Government understanding the importance of this work, and the cost-effectiveness of employing Indigenous people to do it. The benefits are long-term, but require long-term funding, which is something Governments hate.
It’s important that the programs are effective – otherwise the tax-payers will jack up and not fund them. In an ideal world, young people would start ranger training knowing that there is long-term commitment to the work, and to proper funding of the work. Their training would be staged, so they weren’t repeating the same old same old. They’d be trained by teams of older people with Indigenous ecological knowledge and skills, and scientists. Indigenous languages would be at the heart of the work. This would be great, as many younger people are not learning their languages and the Indigenous ecological knowledge which goes with the classifications and labelling imposed by a language.
In an ideal world.
Australia’s at a turning point however. The Government wants Indigenous people to move out of remote communities. They’d prefer rangers to work from big towns, and occasionally drive something like 400 kilometres to do some burning, rather than live in a small community and do it on a more regular basis.
To get Indigenous people to decide to move, the Government’s engaging in “focal resource management”. And so they’re fencing off the money waterhole (no work-for-the-dole on small remote communities, no CDEP). They’re putting little baits of money (mobility allowance for moving to areas with jobs). And they’ve set up trap-yards to prevent people going back to remote communities (no welfare for 6-8 weeks if you go back to an area with no jobs).
Ironically, this is happening just as other Government members are urging for the population of the north on climate change grounds.
Julalikari Arts, like many other Aboriginal arts groups, will suffer from the closure of CDEP – see a position paper here [.pdf]