Resilience and Returning to Country: Rainforest Aboriginal People of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia

Australian humid tropical forest. Photo: Leanne Cullen-Unsworth

Background: Australian humid tropical forests have been recognised as globally significant natural landscapes through world heritage listing since 1988.  Aboriginal people have occupied these forests and shaped the biodiversity for at least 8000 years. The forests represent an integral part of Indigenous Australian cultural, social, religious and spiritual values. Aboriginal involvement in land management is essential to maintaining contemporary and traditional concepts of culture, and for improving the chances of resilient ‘country’. Kuku Nyungkal is one of eighteen traditional owner groups with land rights in the Wet Tropics region. Nyungkal people remain active users and managers of their lands and have recently been employed as environmental stewards to maintain essential ecosystem services. Our case study is a cooperative research example from the WTWHA where the impetus was knowledge evolution and creation to support cross-cultural natural resource management, governance whilst interrogating the concept of and enabling factors for resilience on Nyungkal country. Work was conducted in partnership with the Kuku Nyungkal Indigenous Ranger group. Our case study provides insight into the adaptive capacity of a rainforest Aboriginal tribe who have maintained or retraced their traditional connection to country and for whom culture, traditional and contemporary, remains strong. Some conditions that enable country resilience include: Rainforest Aboriginal peoples’ governance of country; their shaping of the heritage discourse to incorporate and manage biocultural diversity; active Aboriginal environmental stewardship on traditional lands; and returning to or reconnecting with country. Culture needs to be supported and strengthened and Aboriginal cultural heritage must be protected by the traditional stewards of the land utilising both privileged traditional and contemporary knowledge and methods. By building social capital and maintaining natural capital, the Kuku Nyungkal rangers are creating for themselves improved chances of resilience to current and future global challenges.

Leanne Cullen-Unsworth

About the author: Leanne has a B.Sc. in Marine Biology from Newcastle University, a M.Sc. in Marine Environmental Protection from Bangor University and a Ph.D. from Essex University. After completing a CSIRO postdoctoral fellowship in Australia, Leanne returned to the UK to take up a Research Fellowship within the newly formed Sustainable Places Research Institute (PLACE) at Cardiff University. Her role involves the development of a research package around mobilities, flows and migration – of people, knowledge, resources, and more –in order to understand the impacts of such flows and implications for sustainability. Leanne’s research focuses on linked social-ecological systems, recently within a terrestrial context (the Wet Tropical Rainforest of Queensland); but her background is within the marine sciences. Leanne is interested in the threats posed to livelihoods and the economy, food security and lifestyles from a changing global environment. She is also interested in mitigation, adaptation and human behavioural changes within linked physical, social and ecological systems and in the development of socio-economically appropriate conservation and sustainable use policy. She is skilled in community engagement and cooperative research and has experience in place-based research/learning approaches. Co-development of solutions to resource problems using a variety of mixed methodological approaches is also a strong interest of hers. Leanne has had extensive experience working with Indigenous peoples in remote areas of Indonesia and Australia particularly around joint management and governance of natural resources. Other research interests include: economic valuation of natural resources; resource use patterns; alternative livelihoods; sustainable development; biocultural resilience.

Further Publications:

  • LC Cullen-Unsworth, J Pretty & DJ Smith (2011). Developing Community-Derived Indicators of the Economic Impact of Conservation Management in the Coral Triangle. Ocean and Coastal Management doi: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2011.03.004
  • R Hill, LC Cullen-Unsworth, LD Talbot & S McIntyre (Accepted 2010). Empowering Indigenous     peoples’ biocultural diversity through world heritage cultural landscapes: A case study from the Australian tropical forests. International Journal of Heritage Studies
  • LC Cullen-Unsworth, JRA Butler, R Hill & Wallace M (2010). Cooperative Research: An Example from Far North Queensland. International Journal of Integrated Social Sciences 5 (6): 139-154.
  • RKF Unsworth, LC Cullen, JN Pretty, DJ Smith & JJ Bell (2010) Economic and subsistence values of the standing stocks of seagrass fisheries: potential benefits of no-fishing marine protected area management. Ocean and Coastal Management 53 (5-6): 218-224.
  • RKF Unsworth & LC Cullen (2010) Recognising the Necessity for Seagrass Conservation. Conservation Letters 3 (2): 63-73.
  • K Maclean & LC Cullen (2009) Research methodologies for the co-production of knowledge for environmental management in Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 39 (4): 205-208.
  • LC Cullen, JRA Butler, R Hill & C Margules (2008) Framework for the identification of linked socio-cultural and biophysical indicators for the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability 4 (2): 37-46.
  • SE Pilgrim, LC Cullen, DJ Smith & J Pretty (2008) Ecological Knowledge is Lost in Wealthier Communities and Countries. Environmental Science and Technology 42 (4): 1004-1009.
  • LC Cullen, SE Pilgrim, DJ Smith & J Pretty (2007) The Loss of Local Ecological Knowledge as it relates to Changes in Economic Status: consequences for sustainable self-management of marine natural resources. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences 2 (1): 289-299.
  • SE Pilgrim, LC Cullen, DJ Smith and J Pretty (2007) Hidden Harvest or Hidden Revenue? The effect of economic development pressures on local resource use in a remote region of southeast   Sulawesi, Indonesia. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 6 (1): 150-159.

Adaptability amongst the Bajau, Indonesia

Bajau village, Sampela, Kaledupa Island, Indonesia. Photo: Julian Clifton

Background: This case study is centered on the Bajau, the most widely dispersed maritime ethnic group within south-east Asia. The Bajau are found across Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia and, whilst linguistic and other differences are present, certain common characteristics are usually found. One of these is the high dependence on marine resources for food, fuel and building materials, as the Bajau commonly live in ‘stilt villages’ erected on wood, stone or dead coral foundations extending across the reef flat. Furthermore, fish and other marine products represent an essential component of Bajau diets and trading systems, whilst the collection of marine resources influences daily social practices and religious observances. There is, therefore, a uniquely close affinity with the sea in everyday life which permeates every Bajau community. This has been showcased in high profile media events including the BBC’s recent ‘Human Planet’ documentary. It is this affinity which led me to address aspects of Bajau life from the ‘Ecocultures’ perspective and underline the increasing scale and complexity of political, economic and environmental issues facing this society which has hitherto insulated and marginalised itself from mainstream cultures. However, change is an integral part of daily life in maritime communities such as the Bajau and they have proved remarkably resilient to past stresses, thus we should not make the error of believing that change in itself is detrimental to Bajau society. In fact, adaptability may yet prove to be the strongest asset possessed by this unique and fascinating group of people.

Julian Clifton

About the author: 

Julian Clifton gained his PhD in Geography in 1997 from the University of Liverpool and spent ten years teaching at the University of Portsmouth. In 2007, he moved to Perth and is Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Western Australia. Dr. Clifton’s academic research has always focused upon south-east Asia, with specific reference to marine resource management, conservation and planning. These reflect his interests in understanding the role played by local communities in marine resource management and the implications of wider conservation policies on communities’ ability to develop sustainable livelihoods. It is often the case that the broader conservation agenda experiences many points of conflict when set against the needs and requirements of local resource users, and his interests focus upon the processes and outcomes of these conflicts.

Further Publications: 

 

  • Clifton, J., Majors, C. (2012). Culture, conservation and conflict: perspectives on marine protection amongst the Bajau of south-east Asia. Society and Natural Resources 25(7), 716-725.
  • Clifton, J., Etienne, M., Barnes, D.K.A., Barnes, R.S.K., Suggett, D.J., Smith, D.J. (2012). Marine conservation policy in the Seychelles: current constraints and prospects for improvement. Marine Policy 36, 823-831.
  • Clifton, J. (2011). The Wakatobi National Park – governance analysis. In: Governing Marine Protected Areas: getting the balance right – Volume 2, eds. P.J.S. Jones, W. Qiu and E.M. De Santo. Technical Report to Marine & Coastal Ecosystems Branch, UNEP, Nairobi. Published online at http://www.mpag.info
  • Clifton, J. (2010). Achieving congruence between conservation and community: the Bajau ethnic group and marine management within the Wakatobi and south-east Asia. In: Marine research and conservation in the Coral Triangle: the Wakatobi National Park, eds. J. Clifton, R. Unsworth and D.J. Smith, p.171-192. Nova Science Publishers, New York.
  • Clifton, J. (2010). Marine protected area networks in the Coral Triangle: implications for conservation and communities. In: Marine research and conservation in the Coral Triangle: the Wakatobi National Park, eds. J. Clifton, R. Unsworth and D.J. Smith, p.237-250. Nova Science Publishers, New York.
  • Clifton, J., Unsworth R. and Smith, D.J., eds. (2010) Marine research and conservation in the Coral Triangle: the Wakatobi National Park. Nova Science Publishers, New York. ISBN: 978-1616684730.
  • Clifton, J. (2009). Science, funding and participation: key issues for marine protected area networks and the Coral Triangle Initiative. Environmental Conservation 36, 91-96.
  • Clifton, J. (2003). Prospects for co-management in Indonesia’s marine protected areas.Marine Policy 27, 389-395.