Patrolling the Northern Territory’s Daly River is more than a job for Malak Malak land and sea ranger Theresa Lemon.
- Fisheries inspectors will also have a biosecurity role
- One ranger hopes to be a role model for others in her community after undertaking the training
- Ensuring appropriate pay for rangers is a legitimate debate, NT Fisheries says
She is one of 15 rangers on the path to becoming inspectors with NT Fisheries.
“We love to work as rangers because it’s our land,” she said.
“It’s my backyard and I want to look after it.”
Ms Lemon has been on Darwin Harbour, practising mock scenarios with recreational fishers in preparation for real-life encounters back in her community of Nauiyu.
“It’s not just about patrolling, it’s about looking after the community and the people that are in it — plus the animals,” she said.
“Even though we’re from different communities, we’re one big family as rangers, we look after each other.”
Ms Lemon was chosen from more than 50 applicants to complete the year-long Certificate 3 course, which will give her inspector qualifications under the NT Fisheries Act.
This puts her in the “box seat” for an appointment as an inspector, according to NT Fisheries program leader Robert Dalton.
“Every land and sea ranger that’s undergoing this course has a skill set that both fisheries and the water police don’t have,” Mr Dalton said.
“They’re locally embedded, they know their country.”
If appointed, Theresa will be able to use new powers to stop recreational and commercial fishers, inspect their gear and catch, and take details to pass on to NT Fisheries or police if breaches are suspected.
“Out of this, for me, myself as a woman in my community, I want to be a role model for the youths back home,” she said.
“And then show them they can be who they want to be in life.”
Thamarrurr ranger Boniface Nemarluk has been mentoring ranger Uriah Crocombe during patrols of waterways near their community of Wadeye.
“This is our job,” he said.
“Protect our water, fish, crab, dugong, turtle.
“Also monitoring mimosa, it’s a bad weed, cover all them flood plains.”
Uncertainty remains after Blue Mud Bay decision
There is currently some uncertainty about how Indigenous sea country in the NT will be looked after in the future.
The Northern Land Council will decide in early December whether to accept a $10 million proposal from the NT Government, designed to resolve an almost decade-long impasse with traditional owners about control of Indigenous-owned coastal zones.
In 2008, the High Court confirmed in its “Blue Mud Bay” decision that traditional owners of most of the NT coastline had exclusive access rights to waters known as the intertidal zone.
Since then, interim arrangements have given recreational and commercial fishers permit and licence-free access to these waters, but the most recent deal is set to expire on January 1, 2019.
Indigenous ranger advocacy group, the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), is hopeful relationships rangers have forged with NT Fisheries and water police will only get stronger.
“It’s good to see where the program has come to now and how it’s grown,” NAILSMA chief executive Ricky Archer said.
“It’s pretty much off the back of three or four key individuals six or seven years ago.
“The way it’s administered now through key organisations with NT Fisheries and water police is the best model I think.”
The training now has a new biosecurity monitoring unit, devised by NAILSMA.
‘It’s pretty mind-blowing’
An on-country component of the course will test the rangers’ patrolling skills in their home communities, and they will also be taught search and rescue skills.
There is a push for the rangers to be recognised as experts in their field and paid accordingly.
“Honestly, the level of skill out there with some of these ranger groups, it’s pretty mind-blowing,” Mr Archer said.
“There’s examples of rangers being able to navigate with no electronics, an hour offshore, in the middle of the night — I’ve seen those experiences first-hand.”
Mr Dalton said ensuring appropriate pay for rangers doing this compliance work was a “legitimate debate”.
“It would be fair to say that the NT Government is open to any discussions about appropriately recognising rangers for their skill set, including Fisheries compliance,” he said.
The rangers are not employed by the NT Government, but are funded through a mix of land councils and Aboriginal corporations, depending on their location.
“We do recognise it as an issue and we are interested in having those discussions,” Mr Dalton said.
“We do have in interest in making sure they’re trained and are able to carry out our objectives under the Fisheries Act.”
While you’re here… are you feeling curious?
Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, indigenous-culture, indigenous-protocols, government-and-politics, indigenous-policy, land-management, environment, environmental-management, nt