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 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.
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
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,
- Fire management information (fire history, fire management,
- Plans for updating existing and installing new
- 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.
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
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
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