Natural Resource Management Through Indigenous Australian Knowledge of Wetlands

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The Importance of Wetlands and Coasts

Wetlands and coastal areas are of high economic value across numerous parts of Australia; this means the detriment of one body of water could pose insurmountable economic damage to the country (Pusey, 2011). Wetlands serve as nurseries for fish and other marine life that are critical to Australia’s commercial and recreational fishing industry. Likewise, Australia’s tourism industry heavily relies on coastal areas such as the Gold Coast (Dobson and Hooper, 2015).

The value of these bodies of water lies not only in the lucrative fishery and tourism industry, but also in the ecological services they offer. Ecological services such as water purification, biodiversity reservoirs, flood control, and climate change mitigation and adaptation are vital to human health and well-being (Pyke et al., 2018). Current practices such as overfishing and over-exploitation of freshwater threaten these services.

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Indigenous people’s relationship with Wetlands and Coasts

Sea country or coastal areas and wetlands have long been integrated into the life and culture of Aboriginal Australians (Hemming and Rigney, 2016). Records of indigenous traditions and archaeological evidence show that Aboriginal Australians occupied and managed wetland regions at least 5000 years before the stabilization of the current sea level. Moreover, their culture and spiritual relationship with the region flourished before existing coastal ecosystems were established (Australian Government Department of Environment, 2013).

In 2017, a group of researchers discovered an early aboriginal hunting shelter in the stratified Boodie Cave on Barrow Island, northwest Australia (Veth et al., 2017). The island itself is a host to a vast number of remnants from aboriginal settlements dated well before colonization. Furthermore, in pre-colonial and existing aboriginal cultures the concept of “country” spans more than the geophysical understanding of the term. There exists a belief in its agency where they utilize principles of reciprocity between the needs of the land and the people (Pyke et al., 2018).

Taking all of these into consideration, it is reasonable to posit that the intimate and long-standing relationship between Aboriginal Australians and wetlands provide unique knowledge and principles that are indispensable in natural resource management (NRM). The knowledge and principles encompassing biological, ecological, and cultural concepts passed down from generation to generation are what are known as Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge or IBK (Pyke et al., 2018). They may also be called Indigenous Knowledge (IK) that arise from Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) (Kennett, 2013). Bardi Jawi Principles of Responsible Stewardship of Country

The Bardi Jawi people are an aboriginal group who seeks to protect wetlands on their traditional land or “country” in the Western region of Australia. Like many other indigenous Australian groups, the Bardi Jawi society has undergone significant changes since occupation. Despite numerous pressures and transformations, the Bardi Jawi continue to live on and protect their traditional land which has been declared an Indigenous Protected Area (Oades and Meister, 2013). To do this, they employ traditional concepts of custodianship, respectful use, active maintenance, and learning in their wetland management system.

In the context of the Bardi Jawi, custodianship is expressed as a genealogical connection or understanding that individuals who belong in the group are stewards of the wetlands in their country (Pert et al., 2015). This means they are responsible for the proper maintenance, management, and use of water resources on the land by virtue that their ancestors held ownership over it.

Having established an ancestral connection with the land, the new generation of Bardi Jawi are reminded by their elders to be respectful and honour the protocols of custodianship as their ancestors did (Pyke et al., 2018). These protocols include abiding by the norms and rules concerning prohibited activities, restricted areas, and sacred ground. To this day, individuals are expected to initiate respect by keeping the land free from litter and avoiding unpleasant behaviour around water places.


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