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Indigenous rangers spread the word

BETWEEN this week and next, Phillip McCarthy will swap 30-degree heat, bushfires and dugongs for the spruce and pines of Canada's vast Boreal forest in sub-zero temperatures.

Mr McCarthy, a 25-year-old Bardi Jawi indigenous ranger from the Kimberley, is one of the pioneering delegation taking the knowledge of Australia's Aboriginal land management to the world.

The federal government says the tour next week to meet first nations chiefs in Canada will kick-start a global network of indigenous land and sea managers.

Mr McCarthy, who with eight other rangers looks after a vast tract of land and coastline at Australia's western top end, said he hoped to share their systems of fire and weed management, feral animal eradication, biodiversity surveys, dugong and turtle tracking, and education of the younger generations.

''We try and educate our people about 'good' and 'bad' fire,'' he said. ''Fire has just been devastating [for us].

''We do things like weed eradication, we do big [flora and fauna] surveys.''


The Commonwealth's ''working on country'' program now involves about 680 indigenous rangers nationwide who use traditional knowledge of the land and sea, developed over tens of thousands of years, to conserve and protect about 1.5 million square kilometres of wilderness.

Much of the work is done in indigenous protected areas, large parcels of land that are generally owned by indigenous people and voluntarily set aside by the local owners for conservation, much like a national park.

Patrick O'Leary, who organised next week's tour through Pew Environment Group, said Australia's indigenous land managers had much in common with their Canadian counterparts - both were surviving in remote areas and both had experienced entrenched socio-economic disadvantage.

''What we recognise is, while there's a lot of good stuff in Canada, they don't have that extensive on-ground management at the local level,'' he said.

Indigenous rangers from the Kimberley and the Northern Territory will join government officials on a tour that will take them from feral camel country to within 400 kilometres of the Arctic Circle.

Mr McCarthy said he had packed plenty of cold weather gear.

''I'm coming from a very dry, humid area where the average temperature's about 30 degrees,'' he said. ''I heard it's going to be raining and very snowy there.''

Correction: The original version of this story said that the Commonwealth's ''working on country'' program is working to conserve and protect about 1.5 square kilometres rather than 1.5 million square kilometres of wilderness.