This week, WWF-Australia celebrated 10 years working with the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) and its incredible team of rangers from Far North Queensland!
As Australia continues to celebrate the rich cultures of our First Peoples during NAIDOC Week, we’re pleased to celebrate the incredible hard work Girringun rangers have done to protect and care for Land and Sea Country.
We're very proud of this partnership because it acknowledges the central role that Indigenous people have played in caring for Country for more than 65,000 years. And it draws on the wealth of ecological and cultural knowledge that Traditional Owners possess and generously share.
The Girringun rangers have taught us so much in the past 10 years, and we've been thrilled to welcome GAC Executive Officer Phil Rist in 2019 as the first Aboriginal Board member of WWF-Australia.
Based at Cardwell, between Townsville and Cairns, the GAC represents nine tribal groups that have united since 1996 to preserve their culture and traditions. Girringun blazed a trail by developing Australia's first Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and now manage an Indigenous Protected Area spanning 1.26 million hectares of land and sea.
With support from WWF and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Girringun rangers were also able to travel abroad to learn and share their wealth of knowledge with fellow rangers from around the world. Girringun female ranger co-ordinator Cindy-Lou Togo and her fellow ranger Kayla Henry recently travelled to New Zealand for the Pacific Ocean Conference, and Evelyn Ivey attended the World Ranger Congress in Nepal.
Back on their Country, these Traditional Owners work tirelessly to ensure that their customs and the very land that sustains them are maintained, including a number of marine parks. The work they do involves taking care of cultural sites and campgrounds, undertaking Traditional and hazard reduction burns, managing weed infestations and more. They actively engage young people to care for Country through schools and cultural centres and have also partnered with Gudjuda rangers to tag turtles and clean-up beaches after cyclones. This really is so vital if we’re to stop rubbish polluting our oceans and choking marine wildlife.
To Phil, the rangers are the future for Girringun. "Where we want to be in 10, 15, 20 years depends a lot on what we do now and how these young guys and girls move forward," he told us this week. "I want to acknowledge the wonderful relationship that we've had with WWF for so many years now."
Developing such relationships takes time, and WWF Indigenous Engagement Officer Cliff Cobbo has been at the forefront. He prefers to see such partnerships as respectful friendships.
"Always Was, Always Will Be [the theme for this year's NAIDOC Week] feeds into a conversation this country has been having for a number of years, about truth-telling," Cliff said. "The Caring for Country movement of the past 20-30 years is a recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples exercising their cultural authority to look after the country. And that's what the Girringun Corporation and rangers do. It represents truth to power."[AB4]
Throughout Australia, WWF is committed to building strong networks with Indigenous rangers to ensure that their cultural knowledge informs our combined conservation efforts; that their voices are heard. Who better to guide the protection of our unique landscapes and wildlife than those who know them best?
As well as recognising our 10-year partnership with Girringun, WWF's Chief Executive Officer Dermot O'Gorman highlighted the connections we have nurtured nation-wide. "It's inspiring for all of the WWF team to be able to help the work that's happening on Country, to be able to change not only the narrative but transform the way that conservation is done here in Australia. We're very proud to be working with Phil and the whole Girringun team to improve conservation of Country that is led by First Nations People, on-the-ground, making a difference in protecting what is precious to Australians of all cultural origins."
WWF-Australia is proud to continue to support the incredible work of the Girringun rangers and we look forward to another 10 years of friendship and collaboration in conservation.