Australian Nature Conservancy Protects Aboriginal Heritage

Fish River Station is a stunning 450,000 acre section of northern Australia running alongside the Daly River; home to savannah woodlands, rainforest and the Daly river wetlands it is hardly surprising that such a diverse habitat is also shared by some of Australia’s most threatened and rare wildlife.

The Station was a former cattle ranch but the properties remoteness made the development of the infrastructure needed for ranching difficult, which left a wide range of ecosystems untouched.

A huge variety of plants and animals call Fish River home including nearly 600 plant species and at least five nationally threatened animals: the northern masked owl, the northern quoll, the freshwater sawfish, the partridge pigeon, the Gouldian finch and the critically endangered spear-toothed shark.

The Daly River has more freshwater turtle species than anywhere in Australia and is the only place in Australia that you will find the Pig-nosed turtle; the property is also home to at least 19 species of mammals, many of them like the northern brown bandicoot, short-eared rock-wallaby, common Wallaroo and red cheeked dunnart are endemic to Australia.

Indigenous Australians and the northern savannas are intricately linked, a great deal of the north being a composite mixture of country traditionally managed by scores of indigenous clans.

Colonization in the 19 and 20 century left these clans dispossessed of their lands and interrupted the natural patterns of ecological stewardship that had developed over 40,000 years.

In a groundbreaking Australian first this amazingly diverse property was purchased with $8.6 million from the Gillard Governments caring for our country program, $1.4 million from the Indigenous Land Corporation and $3 million from international conservation non-profits, The Nature Conservancy and Pew Environment Group.

It is the first time the Gillard government and conservation non-government organisations in Australia have been involved in the purchase of land to be handed back to indigenous traditional owners and managed for conservation creating employment opportunities and generating income for northern indigenous locals.

Director of the Nature Conservancy in Australia, Dr Michael Looker, said “The acquisition is a remarkable step forward for conservation in Australia. We’re conserving crucial biodiversity, providing sustainable livelihoods to Indigenous Australians, handing land back to the traditional owners-and we hope it’s just the first of further innovative conservation projects.”

ILC chairperson Shirley McPherson said the organisations first purchase of a property for conservation was already helping to close the gap of Indigenous disadvantage.

“Already seven Indigenous rangers have jobs on the station and an Indigenous business is removing ferrel animals. They’re sending buffalo to the Indigenous-run Gunbalunya abattoir to process for human consumption by local communities, the Sydney market and restaurants at the ILC’s Ayers Rock Restaurant.”

“There will be more jobs to come in fencing, cultural site protection, plant and animal surveys. Soil conservation, regeneration of threatened flora and fauna and a host of other work to protect this ecosystem for future generations of all Australians.”

The ILC and the Nature Conservancy have pushed the project ahead by already completing interim management guidelines for the property and have bought equipment needed for conservation management, they have also built a temporary field base and have hired and begun training Indigenous rangers, also early dry season fire management has been completed.

Mr. Kim Hill of the Northern Land Council says “one of the biggest issues to deal with is the large number of ferrel animals, such as an unknown number of pigs, 2000 buffalo and cattle, and about 300 donkeys that had overrun the lightly grazed property.”

The Nature Conservancy says that employing Indigenous rangers is a critical step to ensure traditional knowledge and the best modern science are combined for lasting results; Fish River will be able to generate future income from the effective management of the land by rangers, specifically through programs such as early dry season savanna burning, feral animal control and sequestration.

Australian director of the Pew Environment Group Dr Barry Trail said “We see the purchase of Fish River as a real win for conservation and a practical way of providing opportunities for local Indigenous people to be genuine partners in its protection.”

The Indigenous Land Corporation will initially hold Fish River Station on behalf of local communities working with them to care for the property and all it entails, ownership of the property will ultimately be transferred to its traditional owners.

This is a truly amazing Nature Conservancy project that has partnered with Indigenous Australians to secure financial and educational opportunities, protecting Aboriginal heritage and the environment; this is the place to watch for innovative planetary templates on sustainable land management, economic growth and true partnerships.

If you would like to learn more about the project, see the video and slideshow visit;

General Fish River captions credit Mark Godfrey @ the Nature Conservancy

Photo credit Peter Taylor @ the Nature Conservancy

Fiona Hammond is a journalist who graduated from the John Morris journalism academy. Fiona lives on the south coast of NSW Australia and writes human interest stories and opinions, about gardening, sustainability, fishing, the environment and our planet.