Blending tradition and technology…

July 23, 2019

Indigenous women are breaking new ground to help care for land and sea in the Wet Tropics.

Cardwell’s Cindy-Lou Togo and Cairns’s Laurissa Mundraby were among the first female indigenous rangers in the Far North - and their trailblazing has inspired others to join the ranks.

“I was watching the guys walking in and out while I worked in reception and my interest really started to grow,’’ Laurissa said. “Nowadays I do tour-guiding for our Maningalbay Ancient Tours, give presentations at schools about the Djunbunji Land and Sea Ranger Program, and share our culture and connection to country. Becoming a ranger has opened many doors.”

Cindy-Lou is involved in seagrass, turtle and dugong monitoring as part of her Girringun Aboriginal Ranger role, and says it’s rewarding to see seagrass slowly growing back over the eight years since Cyclone Yasi crossed the coast near Cardwell.

The pair shared their stories at a recent three-day workshop for Wet Tropics indigenous women who care for land and sea.

They said it was enriching natural resource management to have indigenous rangers working side by side with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers, and to see ranger practices and new technology blended with traditional knowledge including “women’s business”.

“Our elders are coming out with us to pass on traditional ways of managing the land, cultural places and activities,” Cindy said. “That knowledge is also being passed on through a junior ranger program.”

The recent workshop was organised by Terrain NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the Queensland Government’s Gambling Community Benefit Fund. The Wet Tropics Management Authority also supported the event.

Terrain NRM’s Vanessa Drysdale said workshops enabled indigenous women from all over the Far North to share knowledge and learn new skills.

“We had women coming together from Jabalbina in the Port Douglas-Cooktown region to Girringun in the Cardwell region and across to Jirrbal in the Tablelands area,’’ Ms Drysdale said.

“They all work in roles that are largely filled by males…so this workshop was also about better supporting indigenous women with careers in natural resource management. We also visited cultural sites in the Tully region and workshopped ways to increase understanding of the cultural landscape, as well as the physical landscape, in the Wet Tropics region.”

Laurissa said learning, and capturing, the cultural knowledge of elders was an important part of the role, as well as sharing why it is important to look after country.

“Being able to go back to country, to home, as I live in Cairns, is a big thing,” she said.

Cindy-Lou also came into her role with few qualifications. “Now I have a chainsaw licence, a drone licence, a Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management, a coxswain ticket and more. All these tickets I never imagined I’d have…

“We’d love to see more women caring for country in ranger programs and other roles in the future.”