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Rangers in place: the wider Indigenous community benefits of Yirralka Rangers in Blue Mud Bay, northeast Arnhem Land - Final report

Barber, Marcus (2015). Rangers in place: the wider Indigenous community benefits of Yirralka Rangers in Blue Mud Bay, northeast Arnhem Land - Final report<br />. Darwin, NT: Charles Darwin University.

Document type: Research Report
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Author Barber, Marcus
Title of Report Rangers in place: the wider Indigenous community benefits of Yirralka Rangers in Blue Mud Bay, northeast Arnhem Land - Final report
Publication Date 2015
ISBN 978-1-4863-0491-2   (check CDU catalogue open catalogue search in new window)
Publisher Charles Darwin University
Place of Publication Darwin, NT
Total Pages 94
Field of Research 300800 Environmental Sciences
Abstract The Indigenous cultural and natural resource management (ICNRM) sector has grown rapidly in Australia, particularly in the north of the continent. ICNRM programs are generally focused on activities that are classed as ‘environmental’ by funding sources. Yet there is emerging evidence that the programs, and the activities they undertake, generate a range of health, economic, social and cultural benefits additional to the main environmental outcomes. Such evidence demonstrates why the ICNRM sector is so popular amongst Indigenous people. The economic significance of the sector is substantial, even when taking into account that Australia has a social security system that provides for otherwise unemployed or under-employed Indigenous people. There is also evidence that the sociopolitical recognition of ownership and management rights and of the knowledge and skills in ‘caring for country’ accruing from such programs, may be as important to many program participants as the direct economic benefits. The wider non-environmental benefits of ICNRM appear to be both diverse and significant.

This report examines a case study of how those benefits may accrue within an Indigenous community, and the implications of that for wider systems of benefit classification. It uses a mixed methods approach - an extensive literature review is combined with the case-study involving both qualitative research and collaborative film production. This research aimed to identify a diverse array of potential community benefits through in-depth engagement with a case study where, based on the program circumstances, good prospects existed to identify such benefits. This study did not aim to generate a quantitatively representative account of benefits across a particular ranger program, or indeed across the sector as a whole. Rather, it aimed for in-depth research that complements other recent studies, notably a larger scale, predominantly survey-based review of the social benefits of the Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) program (URBIS 2012).

The case study selected is in Blue Mud Bay, an area of the Laynhapuy IPA in northeast Arnhem Land. The Laynhapuy IPA is managed by Yirralka Rangers, an ICNRM program that is highly regionalised (decentralised) in comparison with many other programs. This makes it particularly useful for examining non-environmental benefits that accrue at the scale of the local Indigenous community. In addition, Baniyala, the Blue Mud Bay homeland on which the research focused, is considered locally as the origin point of the entire program. This means that considerable thinking has occurred in that location about the underlying purposes, ongoing operations, and wider effects of ranger efforts.

The case study was investigated using a combination of individual and group interviews, site visits, workshops, and the collaborative production of a film. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with ranger program staff, their immediate families, community elders, and wider homeland residents. Questions focused on key topics relating to the program – underlying principles and purposes, desirable activities, domestic and wider community consequences, existing challenges, and future aspirations.

The film involved a formal collaboration between CSIRO, Yirralka Rangers, and The Mulka Project, a local multimedia organisation that is part of the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre. It focused on:
• placing the ranger program in its wider community and cultural context;
• representing a suite of key activities the rangers engage in - site protection, visitor management,
  business development, etc.;
• and demonstrating the benefits derived from the program.

The film complements the data presented here, and provides a key means for achieving both community and wider public impact from this research.

In terms of benefit classification, Section 2 of the report contains the results of the literature review,
and demonstrates that significant benefits have been identified by a range of studies. Key benefits
• biophysical and mental health outcomes grouped under the broader category of wellbeing;
• social benefits such as educational engagement, crime reduction, and improved family structure;
• cultural benefits such as intergenerational knowledge transmission and the mitigation of racism;
• economic and livelihood benefits across the market, customary, and state components of regional

These areas of benefit are clearly identifiable from the existing literature, but current evidence for them remains insufficient. The survey and the field data gathered here also suggest that an additional category - political benefits - is under-reported in existing reviews on benefits and may be useful in benefit classification. This category would also enable better articulation with the literature on the governance implications of ICNRM.

The qualitative field data was iteratively categorised and analysed using NVivo software. The results of this analysis appear in Section 3. The analysis adopts the broader benefit categories identified in the literature review, but extended these in ways appropriate to the field data. Significant data supported the major benefit categories already identified - health and wellbeing, social, cultural, economic, and political respectively.

These broad categories were further divided into subcategories appropriate to the field data. Health and wellbeing encompassed two subclassifications, emphasising biophysical and psychological aspects respectively. Cultural benefits were subdivided into: compatibility between program and cultural objectives; knowledge acquisition and sharing; and support for customary age and gender roles. Social benefits were identified as: homeland residence; formal education and training; broader horizons; and future aspirations. Economic benefits were identified as: income; employment stability; career progression and employment mobility; and business development. Political benefits were identified as: governance; leadership; succession; and independence. The subcategories are locally applicable instances and examples of the main benefit categories that would be expected to occur more broadly.

Section 4 considers key factors which may influence (i.e. augment or minimise) the nature and degree of wider benefits to an Indigenous community generated by an ICNRM program. Again using Yirralka Rangers at Baniyala as the case study, key factors identified include: program size and structure; resource levels and resource distribution; activity selection; compatible values and priorities; motivation; and communication. The section uses a combination of logical inference and field data examples to demonstrate how particular factors may preferentially influence particular categories of benefit, or particular subcategories of benefit within the main categories. In doing so, Section 4 lays preliminary foundations for management, increasing both the awareness of particular benefits and how policy, funding, and management decisions may impact on those benefits.

Section 5 provides a concluding discussion that summarises key points and provides some preliminary
recommendations arising from the work. These include recommendations to:

• foster policies, procedures, and management structures that explicitly take account of the full range
  of benefits derived from ICNRM programs;
• support the ongoing strategic regionalisation/decentralisation of ICNRM programs where diversified
  residential location is culturally desirable and logistically possible;
• adopt funding, resourcing, and program monitoring models that recognise the resourcing needs
  and additional benefits of regionalised ICNRM programs;
• support structured opportunities for ranger mobility within the sector to assist sectoral knowledge
  sharing and individual career development;
• enable ongoing support and incentive structures for collaborations between local ICNRM
  organisations and other relevant local agencies (e.g. arts and media, education, health);
• conduct additional research focused on:
-- the synthesis and standardisation of benefit categories;
-- the development consistent methods and metrics for benefit assessment based on these
-- field studies demonstrating causal rather than correlative relationships in the assessment of
-- research engagement with the broader literature on:
~~ further human interactions with natural environments
~~ ecosystem services and PES
~~ the wider benefits of NRM programs
Additional Notes This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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