Indigenous rangers facing 'nervous wait' over funding


The federal government's Indigenous ranger program employs more than 700 workers across the country, but the scheme is under threat.

At the annual ranger camp outside of Alice Springs, Dione Kelly is getting a lesson in snake catching.

It's a good skill to have, he says, as he comes across the slithery reptiles about once a fortnight.

“We’ll use it a lot out bush, and even in our workplace, in the sheds,” he tells SBS News. “Our ranger shed, it’s like a hotspot for snakes.”

Mr Kelly is an Indigenous ranger with the Central Land Council in the north Tanami region of the Northern Territory. Snake catching is just a small part of his diverse role.

Snake catching
Snake catching: One part of a diverse role.
Rhiannon Elston / SBS News

Across the country, more than 100 ranger groups care for some of the most rugged and isolated parts of the country.

The work is paid and varies depending on the landscape, but it commonly includes tackling feral animals, managing invasive species and monitoring native wildlife.

Contract concerns

The Indigenous ranger program has been running since 2007 and Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has said funding will continue through to at least 2020 - but that is yet to be formally confirmed.

Currently, there is no funding commitment for the program beyond June 2018.

Sophia Walter from the Country Needs People campaign, an alliance of 36 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and the Pew Charitable Trust, has called on the minister to urgently deliver the promised funding extension.

“We know ranger groups around the country are getting nervous with contracts ending in just two months,” she says.

“Ranger groups risk losing staff, Indigenous organisations have leases to sign, and the ability to have long-term planning for caring for country is limited.

"The government did a good thing by saying they’d extend contracts, but now need to recognise the success of the Indigenous rangers by urgently delivering long-term contracts.”

Traditional techniques 

Barbara Petrick from the Arltarpilta Ineye ranger group says getting to work on the land means she can apply traditional knowledge taught to her by her grandparents.

“We now have a way to pass on the information that was passed on to us,” she says.

“We share our ideas and we come up with ideas about how to protect an area that is very hard to protect.”

Australian National University associate professor Raymond Lovett says his new research indicates the program also brings improved health outcomes for workers.

“There are independent health and wellbeing benefits to a ranger job, over and above employment,” he says.

“We think that the contributions of the kind of work that rangers do ... things that Aboriginal people generally talk about when they talk about connection to country ... [it] makes them feel really good.

“It’s a job where people really get to care about what they do, and, you know, not everyone can say that.”

Ms Petrick agrees; ranger work is more than just a job.

“The feeling we get from it, it’s just healing. No words can ever describe how we feel when we go out and work on our land.”

Rhiannon Elston travelled to Alice Springs with assistance from the Central Land Council.

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