For most Indigenous families in regional and remote communities across Australia, the thought of having to send off their young ones to the city for a better chance at life, for education and employment opportunities, is heartbreaking.
Physical separation does not only disrupt kinship, it impairs the transfer of cultural knowledge from generation to generation.
A recently established Indigenous ranger program in the Ningaloo coastal area that has brought back a handful of Aboriginal workers to country is welcome news.
About four Indigenous rangers are currently training with the Western Australian Parks and Wild Life department in Exmouth, enabling them to reconnect to their land and their culture.
The department takes care of the Ningaloo coast, home to the world heritage listed Ningaloo Marine Park.
Ningaloo reef stretches for approximately 300 kilometres; it boasts more than 500 tropical fish species and more than 200 species of coral. It's one of the only places in the world where you can swim up close and personal with whale sharks.
Cody Farrell is a young Baiyungu man from the Ningaloo area. He is ecstatic to be back home on country as an Indigenous ranger trainee, after having worked in the Pilbara and living in the city. He joined the department in October last year.
“It fulfills me, it’s the greatest feeling I’m ever gonna feel,” he tells The Point.
“I’ve chased money, I’ve done mining, I’ve got many trades behind me, it never really fulfilled me I guess.”
Mr Farrell helps maintain the land and sea and says the joy of being back home is indescribable.
“The program [has] brought me back to my belonging, my land. Without this position, I would've never come back," he says.
“It fills my heart being back here. Otherwise, I’d feel distance being away from my home, my land.”
Traditional Owners involvement is vital
Todd Quartermaine is the Senior Operations Officer with the Parks and Wildlife Department. He says it's critical to for Traditional Owners to be part of the department, sharing their knowledge with the rest of the staff.
“Traditional Owners have been utilised and managing this coast for thousands of years, and they’re still actively doing so today,” he tells The Point.
Mr Quatermaine feels working in land management provides locals with a great example of how to marry traditional knowledge with modern life.
“I think it's great for the family to see that, to see people making a career of managing their country and seeing what people have been doing for a long time.”
Mr Quartermaine says Traditional Owner input is most vital when it comes to the monitoring of the marine turtle, due to the local Aboriginal connection to the animal.
“Traditional Owners working closely with Parks and Wildlife Services is central to managing the environment, it’s all interlinked to managing the environment, and its central to lore and culture for all Traditional Owners.”
Ethan Cooyou is a Baiyungu man and another of the Indigenous rangers who started at the Exmouth office seven years ago.
Just like in Cody's case, the job with the department brought Ethan back to his country.
“The good thing about working with Parks and Wildlife is every day is different,” he tells The Point.
“You can jump up and plan to do something and the next thing, then something changes and you go down the coast and do something completely different.”
Mr Cooyou says one of the great things about the program is that it takes the responsibility off the old people and makes the younger generation have to step up to the place to look after the country.
However, sometimes remote location isolation can be hard on the rangers.
“I don’t have my family here. But as a man, I think that is my duty to work here, keep my community up and bring my family back. That’s the main reason why I’m here,” Cody says.
Tom Nagle, the Operations Officer of Joint Management with Parks and Wildlife, says one of the biggest environmental challenges rangers face is the sheer size and accessibility of the Ningaloo Reef — the largest fringing coral reef in Australia.
“The reef is so close to the shore, a family in a four-wheel drive can reach it and enjoy it,” Mr Nagle explains.
“It’s really spread out area, hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of different access points…“ if you think about the great barrier reef, how far offshore it is, that accessibility is a real barrier to people,” he says.
The Ningaloo has strictly restricted areas and fishing policies to ensure the reef and all its marine life is preserved to the best of the department’s ability.
“So we [have a] sanctioning zone where there’s ‘no take’ and recreational zones [where access is] only allowed for recreational fishing. Then [we have] general use zones that allow for commercial, recreational and other activities,” Mr Nagle explains.
In June 2011, the Ningaloo Coast was placed on the World Heritage List due to it’s ‘outstanding universal value’.
Mr Nagle says the area’s natural, cultural, historical, and ecological values are also other reasons why it’s been listed.
The recognition provides an additional layer of protection for the area, which young Indigenous rangers hope to preserve for generations to come.
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