Savanna Explorer > Kimberley > People and Culture

Pastoral enterprises

The following article is from Savanna Links, Issue 33, 2006. Savanna Links is written and produced by the Tropical Savannas CRC.

Cultural planning adds to business success

A recently completed project worked with two Aboriginal-owned cattle properties in the East Kimberly—Violet Valley Aboriginal Reserve and Bow River Station—to bring together cultural and natural information in land management plans.
The result was new opportunities to expand business while protecting cultural values. Nadene Schiller reports.

violet_valley community
Violet Valley community collecting cultural information

In a first for the East Kimberley, the project and the communities brought together cultural and natural information in the plans, the Integrated Natural and Cultural Resource Management (INCRM) options for pastoral properties in the East Kimberley. The project began in 2004 and follows on from the earlier Ord-Bonaparte Program (OBP) which investigated how natural resources could be managed more sustainably in the East Kimberley and across Northern Australia, with a particular focus on Indigenous properties.

Engaging people in the local communities with the new project was paramount and much thought and consideration went into the choice of the properties and communities that would be approached to take part.

The project was funded by Land and Water Australia, Tropical Savannas CRC, the Indigenous Land Corporation, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Kimberley Land Council.

Mapping country

One of the first steps was to identify community aspirations upon which the land use opportunities would be based. Another initial task, in early 2004, saw the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) work to produce useful maps of the different types of country found on the two properties. This land unit mapping was important because if the land use planning was to be effective, more comprehensive and detailed soil and landscape information than was available was needed. In particular the land unit maps were very important in planning new areas for pastoral production and redefining what cattle different country could carry.

Then, in 2005, working together with community members, DAFWA collected additional information on natural resources and the cattle enterprises for the two properties. This included:

  • Land condition assessment.
  • Environmental observations (weeds, pests, feral animals).
  • Pastoral enterprise particulars (history, pastoral management, resources).
  • Fire management information (fire history, fire management, resources).
  • Plans for updating existing and installing new infrastructure.
  • People audit and aspirations.

This information was collected on field excursions and through formal and informal discussions and meetings and workshops. Expert advice came from DAFWA staff and specialists in the fields of Biosecurity, rangeland, and fire and station management.

The managers of the properties, Bruce Thomas at Violet Valley and Michael Ramsey at Bow River, were essential to the work, providing advice and information and helping to organise meetings and workshops. The communities were kept informed through regular informal discussions and meetings.

Cultural Information

The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) began working with the INCRM project in late 2004. The KLC’s role in the project was to develop relationships with community groups and collect the cultural information on the case study properties.

Once trust and respect were established, it was possible for the project officer to collect cultural information. The cultural information collected included burial sites, birth sites, initiation areas, creation stories, hunting and fishing areas, bush-tucker areas and other areas of cultural significance.

In addition the current risks and management issues of the cultural sites were also collected so that land use opportunities could be determined.

This work was followed by the critical process of integrating the natural and cultural datasets. Once the information was integrated and conflicts were resolved, the final plans and associated maps were developed.

Outcomes for Violet Valley Aboriginal Reserve

Increasing pastoralism—The property has the capacity to build on its current pastoral enterprise and to run significantly more cattle. Three new areas for development of the pastoral enterprise were identified and the associated infrastructure requirements to support these areas and associated cattle breeding strategies were planned and mapped.

Tourism—Several cultural sites were identified that could support a tourism and cultural awareness business. These include bush tucker areas, sites with engravings and markings and other sites of significance.

Other land uses—In addition to the new pastoral areas identified above, two other grazing areas were identified. One of these included an area of cultural significance and the other lay within a current mining exploration tenement. It was resolved that the cultural and mining significance of these areas was greater than their pastoral significance.
Skills training—It was identified that training was required in skills such as fire management and business management, which would support the current and future tourism and cultural businesses.

Addressing management concerns—Fire, and its impact on bush tucker, was an important issue for the community. It was decided that particular bush tucker areas were to be managed (e.g. with fire breaks and planned burns) to protect the food plants. Dog baiting was also an important issue on the property. It was resolved that particular areas would become exclusion zones from baiting to ensure safety for people and valued sites.

Outcomes for Bow River Station

In the case of Bow River station, a fire management plan was the first outcome of the work here as this had been a recent request from the Pastoral Lands Board.

The plan was developed through numerous informal and formal discussions with the Bow River community at which the following points were discussed: historical burning; present burning; burning on different ‘country’ types; fire management resources; fire affected areas and fire frequency mapping; and current fire ideologies. The community agreed about the need to undertake activities on the property to target the fire management problem using their cultural management practices as well as adopting conventional fire management practices. The final plan completed for the station incorporated cultural aspects and indigenous management of fire into a pastoral-based fire management plan. A property land use plan has now been completed for the station.


The project has shown that natural and cultural information can be integrated so that existing enterprises can expand and new opportunities developed while protecting cultural values. A collaborative approach between organisations is critical to the success of a project like this.

The research process will also be documented in a publication. This should help other Indigenous property owners in the East Kimberley operating under similar circumstances, as well as research organisations who may support similar projects in the future.