News from the CRC

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Dr Andrew Edwards (left) measures the diameter of a tree killed by the fire, while Grigorijs Goldbergs (right) records the data.
Dr Andrew Edwards (left) measures the diameter of a tree killed by the fire, while Grigorijs Goldbergs (right) records the data.

Updates from north Australia research

This is the November 2017 newsletter from the suite of projects based in northern Australia, with updates for project end-users. These three projects, based at Charles Darwin University, are:

All three projects are based on the theme oBuilding capacity in north Australian remote communities. Over the first three years of the CRC, numerous research activities have been completed.

Tools supporting fire management in northern Australia

Research is further developing remote sensing tools (e.g. fire severity mapping) for fire managers, particularly for enhancing the capabilities of the North Australian Fire Information (NAFI) website, firenorth.org.au. CRC PhD student Grigoijs Goldberg is undertaking a study to apply LiDAR technology to remotely assess savanna woody biomass. The larger project has been coordinated by Dr Andrew Edwards at CDU.

An informed perspective about the tasks needing to be undertaken to better manage large flammable grassy weeds (e.g. Gamba and Mission grasses). This work is being undertaken by Associate Prof Samantha Setterfield based at the University of WA, and Dr Natalie Rossiter-Rachor from CDU. This project is due to be completed early 2018.

Work is also developing the capacity of a new Indigenous women’s ranger group in the NT Gulf region, associated with the Waanyi-Garawa Rangers who operate out of Borroloola. This component is being undertaken as a PhD project by CRC student Kate van Wezel, based out of CDU.

Enhancing remote north Australian community resilience

This project is looking at better understanding the role of Indigenous governance arrangements in remote communities, particularly in Arnhem Land, and how this impacts emergency management. An early component of this research was undertaken by ARPNet researchers in Ngukurr and Gunbalanya, where they sampled over 100 people in each community to find out what the communities thought about factors contributing to ‘community resilience’, and what needed to be done to improve their preparedness for a large bushfire, cyclone or flood. Results of that work are available in a number of published papers and reports.

Further work, principally undertaken by NAILSMA, has involved the funding of Indigenous researchers in Galiwinku to assess how members of the community could have been better prepared for events like Cyclones Lam and Nathan in 2015. A key finding of that research has been the identification that the community needs to re-empower traditional governance structures through the development of a ‘community interface’, rather than leave key decision-making to non-Indigenous (and non-representative) governance structures (e.g. local council). This research is continuing

Thirdly, an initial assessment was undertaken looking at how Indigenous ranger groups in remote communities could provide more effective front-line preparedness and response capabilities. That work looked at developing economic opportunities for ranger groups, particularly in the Ngukurr and Gunbalanya regions, but also more widely in the Top End, and was undertaken by Dr Kamal Sangha and Prof Jeremy Russell-Smith (CDU), and Prof Bob Costanza (Australian National University). 

Next stages of research

An essential premise of the project is that many Indigenous ranger groups in remote communities can deliver effective front-line emergency management preparedness and response. The project also takes guidance from COAG’s national Keeping our mob safe policy addressing the building of emergency management capacity in remote Indigenous communities.

On the advice of NT and WA agencies, remote communities were identified for participation in the project (NT—Borroloola region, Hermannsburg and Areyonga, Yuendumu; WA—Bidyadanga). Early discussions with the NT communities, and associated ranger groups, and other key regional stakeholders (e.g. shire councils, emergency management agencies), have all been extremely positive, with a keen interest in participation signaled from community members.

Over the next six months, the next steps with the project will include: (1) formalising arrangements with participating communities; (2) undertaking research ethics approval; (3) supporting participating communities to assess their respective risks, and determine their capabilities and requirements; and (4) commencing formal scenario planning activities with other regional stakeholders, including agencies—e.g. assess the costs and benefits associated with different scenarios, including business-as-usual and activities enhanced through community participation.

Work will continue with north east Arnhem Land communities (Ramingining, Galiwinku in the first instance) to help develop effective bottom-up governance structures better able to independently address preparedness and response capabilities and develop effective partnerships with agencies.

The work will be assisted by Indigenous researchers with the expectation that a set of protocols governing emergency management responsibilities will be developed both for effective implementation in respective community settings, but also for wider consideration. It is hoped this work can be extended into WA and QLD remote settings.

North Australian bushfire and natural hazards training

In recognition that much bushfire and natural hazard training is based on southern Australian models and does not realistically address the requirements of many people who live in the bush, this project has set out to collaboratively develop appropriate training packages addressing standard industry competencies but developed around remote community needs.

The project will continue into 2018 and hopefully beyond and has been led by Steve Sutton (CDU) in consultation with training providers, ARPNet, and remote community participants. Steve provides a short description below of the first training exercise at Malngyangarnak, in Arnhem Land.

Project story

The project team includes Steve Sutton, Iolanthe Sutton, David Campbell, and Bev Sithole.

The project held its first pilot at Malngyangarnak, south of Maningrida, in June. Over 30 Bininj attended the pilot, including a number of Indigenous rangers from the region. The pilot presented modules on leadership and situational awareness, GIS & digital mapping tools and applying local traditional fire management in the modern context.

ARPNet conducted an in-depth evaluation and recently provided that feedback to the project team. The feedback provided helpful advice about how to improve the training and make it even more relevant to local communities. It included a requirement for more hands-on demonstrations of technical matters so that those who are not “computer savvy can understand’; less lecture-format presentations, particularly during the daytime; trainers should speak louder and repeat things as most people were hearing the information for the first time; and breaking the training up into target groups (e.g. women, men, rangers) so that some people do not feel left out. This information will be incorporated into the second pilot to be delivered in early 2018.

In general, taking the recommended improvements into account, the project was strongly endorsed by the community. They indicated that the project built capacity, strengthened traditional family ties, and was set up so there was no ‘elite’ or ‘jealousing’. The evaluation states that people want more; at least two rangers have sought further training through CDU as a direct result of attending the pilot and women who participated want to follow-up specifically with leadership training. Two senior Traditional Owners who attended have already volunteered their community and country for the next pilot.

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