To Save Outback, Traditional Owners Draw on Past and Present

To Save Outback, Traditional Owners Draw on Past and Present

Arnhem land leader calls on Australia's politicians to back hybrid approach to conservation

Australian Outback

Rarrtjiwuy Melanie Herdman, chair of Dhimurru Aboriginal Corp. The work of her organisation is one of 12 case studies Pew features as champions of Outback land management in its new report, “My Country, Our Outback.”

© Kerry Trapnell

“If they don’t support us, we’re not going to be able to maintain this land.” Rarrtjiwuy Melanie Herdman, a 27-year-old Traditional Owner, is talking about Australia’s politicians and about the Outback, specifically Arnhem Land in the country’s far north, where Herdman has lived since birth.

“Our elders had the vision of making sure that this land they once lived off would stay exactly the same for us as it was for them, and we also want that for our kids and the next generations,” says the mother of two, who is from the Galpu clan.

My Country, Our Outback

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  • 12 voices of hope and change

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Australia’s Outback is under threat. The region spans 5.6 million square kilometres (2.2 million square miles), an area that would encompass more than half of the United States or Europe. Arnhem Land, with a rugged interior and stunning, remote coastline along the Arafura Sea, accounts for just under 100,000 square kilometres (nearly 40,000 square miles). While the Outback is one of the world’s few remaining vast natural areas—with landscapes stretching from scorching desert and rolling grasslands to lush forests and tropical beaches—many parts of the region are being ravaged by invasive plants and animals, and wildfires. To counter these destructive forces, the Outback needs more—not fewer—people living on and managing the land. 

The fate of the Outback could have international consequences, and The Pew Charitable Trusts is working with a broad range of stakeholders, including Indigenous people, scientists, conservation organisations, industry, and government agencies to conserve these critical natural landscapes and marine habitats. It is the work of many of these people, and their connection to country, that Pew explores in detail in its new report, “My Country, Our Outback: Voices From the Land on Hope and Change in Australia’s Heartland.”

This is vital research because the Outback, more than anywhere in Australia, represents an opportunity to leverage ancient and modern knowledge for improvements that will benefit all Australians. 

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