Their work around Australia in caring for our country is a little known but inspiring story.
Pat Anderson, chairman of the Lowitja Institute for Aboriginal health, is talking about the role of Indigenous women rangers.
Their role is diverse. The rangers play a vital part in protecting nature and cultural heritage. Women rangers tackle environmental threats like feral animals, invasive weeds and arrange controlled burns to pre-empt destructive wildfires.
They hunt feral cats (a disappearing skill), arrange collection of marine debris, maintain the last strongholds of the endangered mankarr or greater bilby, rescue and rehabilitate turtles, protect and preserve the wanyarr – the ‘water tree’ - and much more.
At the same time, their work has transformative benefits for families, communities and
for the women themselves.
A report Strong Women on Country launched on Thursday said the case for increasing the numbers involved in the work was "compelling".
There are 831 full-time equivalent Indigenous ranger jobs, funded through the federal government ranger program. That provides work for more than 2500 people when casual, part-time and full-time positions are taken into account.
Their work covers more than 67 million hectares – 10 times the size of Tasmania - which has been given the status of Indigenous Protected Areas.
Anderson said: "The examples [in the report] are an exciting and positive glimpse of what Indigenous women are achieving already, and there is so much more to do, so much more country to manage, so much need to sustain our cultural connections and local communities.
"Now more than ever, we need to recognise the value of strong women on country and expand our vision to match their commitment, resilience and optimism to deliver a stronger and
healthier Australia for us all."
The report states a recent national survey "found 55 per cent of Indigenous women cited no jobs in local area or line of work" or "no jobs at all" as a barrier to finding employment. In remote areas, this figure was 66 per cent. Indigenous ranger jobs address this barrier with real jobs that
people are proud to do.
Professor Pat Dudgeon is a Bardi woman of the Kimberly area who co-chairs the ministerial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group. She says being active on country and in connection with culture can be part of a positive approach to strengthening people’s sense of wellbeing.
"Women working in caring-for-country roles as rangers, or in Indigenous Protected Areas, are finding meaning in that work that has positive effects for individuals, families and community," she said. "Expanding these opportunities would be a really positive step for many women and girls.”
Tanya Elone leads the Banbai-Wattleridge Indigenous Protected Area in the Northern Tablelands, the first in NSW and the largest employer of Aboriginal people in the area.
Under her stewardship it has become a springboard for employment, new business opportunities and revitalisation of cultural knowledge.
She said she oversees rotational burns and trapping of feral pigs, foxes and goats in an area that has powerful owls, rare bandicoots and the endangered black gravillea plant.
"We have just completed a feasibility study to bring ecotourism and camping to the area," she said. "It gives stability and the chance for people to better themselves financially and more jobs, that is what we are hoping.
"This work provides employment opportunities for people who want to stay in their home town. Getting young people out on country and reminding them of the practices of our elders is good for their minds."
A relationship banned under traditional law.
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