Research leader

Dr Bevelyne Sithole
Dr Bevelyne Sithole Research Leader

Research team

Professor Bob Costanza
Professor Bob Costanza Research Team
Glenn James
Glenn James Research Team
Sam Johnstone
Sam Johnston Research Team
Catherine Monagle Research Team
Dr Bronwyn Myers Research Team
Cameron Yates
Cameron Yates Research Team
Peter Yu Research Team
Jackie Gould
Jackie Gould Research Team
Kamaljit Sangha Research Team

End User representatives

Suellen Flint
Suellen Flint End-User

Remote north Australian communities are susceptible to cyclones, floods and bushfires. Cultural and socio-economic factors combine with the challenges of remote service delivery – including cost, low levels of infrastructure and distance from the urban centres that host key service delivery organisations - to create situations where communities can be highly vulnerable to natural hazards. In this context, it is important to understand how these variables can be navigated to enhance community resilience. This task requires a detailed understanding of current capacities, preparation and response strategies, communication pathways and local governance structures.

A challenge for enhancing community resilience is to develop culturally appropriate, environmentally sustainable economic opportunities. The lack of wealth generation at the local level impedes community capacity to develop infrastructure and build human capital through training and experience of the workplace. The ability of these communities to respond in a coordinated way at an appropriate scale is largely non-existent.

The project comprises two major strands – Scoping resilience issues in remote Indigenous communities, and developing economic resilience through payments for environmental services projects.

The scoping resilience issues in remote Indigenous communities component has three main areas.

  • The Aboriginal Research Practitioners Network - Indigenous researchers trained in Participatory Action Research - are working in two Northern Territory communities (Ngukurr and Gunbalanya) documenting community understandings of natural hazards, risks, current response strategies and community capacity.
  • At these same study sites, the hard, institutional and cultural assets that underpin local capacity and the delivery of emergency services and which are at risk during a hazard are being mapped.
  • Working with community members and end-users to explore the challenges faced by agencies in the delivery of emergency services to remote communities.

The project conducted case studies at Ngukurr and Gunbalanya, and in areas of north east Arnhem Land impacted by Cyclone Lam in 2015.

A report detailing the key findings, and a preliminary set of recommendations and protocols for how remote Indigenous communities can be more effectively engaged in emergency management, is in development. The research highlights the significant gap between the roles and responsibilities of emergency service agencies on the one hand, with the expectations of community members on the other. A critical challenge for government authorities is to effectively engage with Indigenous community governance structures in order to develop mutually respectful partnerships.

The developing economic resilience through payments for environmental services projects component is:

  • Articulating key contemporary terrestrial land use management, institutional, and policy challenges facing Indigenous people and local communities in north Australian savanna regions
  • Exploring opportunities afforded through emerging economies related to climate change mitigation, carbon trading, and ecosystem services to help address identified challenges
  • Undertaking rigorous valuation of ecosystem services to be derived from savanna landscapes of northern Australia, and associated scenario modelling of payment for environmental service benefits which can be derived from emerging land use options (e.g. savanna burning, carbon sequestration, diversified/mixed pastoral management activities, environmental stewardship arrangements)
  • Identifying beneficial culturally appropriate institutional/governance arrangements which can effectively support community development and resilience aspirations, providing authoritative analysis of the above findings to help inform Indigenous community policy development and community resilience outcomes in northern Australia.

The research illustrates that, to better inform regional development policy, significant challenges remain for appropriate valuation of ecosystem services from north Australian savannas, including recognition of socio-cultural services and wellbeing benefits incorporating Indigenous values.

Year Type Citation
2018 Journal Article Russell-Smith, J. & Sangha, K. Emerging opportunities for developing a diversified land sector economy in Australia’s northern savannas. The Rangeland Journal 40, 315-330 (2018).
2018 Journal Article Sangha, K. et al. An ecosystem services framework to evaluate indigenous and local peoples’ connections with nature. Ecosystem Services 31, 111-125 (2018).
2017 Journal Article Sangha, K., Russell-Smith, J., Morrison, S., Costanza, R. & Edwards, A. Challenges for valuing ecosystem services from an Indigenous estate in northern Australia. Ecosystem Services 25, 167-178 (2017).
2017 Journal Article Sangha, K., Sithole, B., Hunter-Xenie, H. & Daniels, C. Empowering remote Indigenous communities in natural disaster prone northern Australia. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 35, 137-153 (2017).
2017 Report Russell-Smith, J. Scoping remote north Australian community resilience and developing governance models through action research: annual project report 2016-17. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2016 Journal Article Maddock, N. Notes from the Field: Managed by us mob: helping remote northern communities face natural hazards. Australian Journal of Emergency Management 31, (2016).
2016 Report Michaels, C., Tofa, M. & James, G. Literature review on community resilience in remote north Australia. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2016 Report Russell-Smith, J. Scoping remote north Australian community resilience and developing governance models through action research: annual project report 2015-2016. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2015 Conference Paper Gould, J., Sithole, B., Campbell, A., James, G. & Sutton, S. Building Community Resilience to Natural Hazards in Northern Australia Conference Paper 2014. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and AFAC Wellington Conference 2014 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Conference Paper Rumsewicz, M. Research proceedings from the 2015 Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC conference. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC annual conference 2015 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Conference Paper Sangha, K. et al. Developing enterprise opportunities and resilience in remote north Australian communities - non peer reviewed extended abstract. Adelaide Conference 2015 (2015).
2015 Presentation Russell-Smith, J. Risks and opportunities for sustainable savanna fire management. (2015).
2015 Report Russell-Smith, J. Scoping Remote North Australian Community Resilience Annual Report 2014. (2015).
2015 Report Russell-Smith, J. Scoping remote north Australian community resilience and developing governance models through action research: Annual project report 2014-2015. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
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