Place-based weed management on Aboriginal lands

Originally enlisted in the 1970s as a labour force fighting ‘the war on weeds’ under the command of government agencies, Aboriginal land manager involvement has evolved to be increasingly guided by culturally-based aspirations. The Australian Government’s funding of land management by Aboriginal communities through ‘ranger’ programs aims to enable them to manage lands according to their knowledge and priorities, and have produced various positive outcomes for conservation, Aboriginal employment, cultural re-invigoration, and recognition of the value of Indigenous ecological knowledge.

David Newry and Tom Bach discuss a weed (‘moorrooloombong’ or Acacia farnesiana) in the bush near Kununurra

However, in the case of weed management, this approach is not working: the emphasis is on killing plants that are identified on invasive alien species lists prepared by government agencies. While Aboriginal people hold unique attitudes about invasive weeds and animals, these are rarely reflected in how rangers control them. Based on field research with Bardi-Jawi, Bunuba, Ngurrara, Nyikina Mangala and Wunggurr rangers in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, my former doctoral student Tom Bach observed that 27 of 35 weed control projects followed the government agency weed lists for species-led control. Of these, only 2 were successful in meeting Aboriginal cultural aspirations. In most of the other cases, the list-based approach generated frustration among Aboriginal rangers who felt they were engaged in purposeless killing.

In contrast, Tom found that elders and rangers preferred site-based approaches that considered landscape and vegetation management from their culturally specific and highly contextual geographies of ‘healthy country’. We outline instances where ranger groups have adopted site-based management that has been informed by the Aboriginal concept of ‘healthy country’ and argue that such an approach offers a better alternative to current list-based weed control. It also provides opportunities to pursue alternative ways of viewing and controlling weeds, for such understandings overlap with recent critical interventions in invasive alien species discourse and management.  To learn more, read our recent paper!


Bach, TM, CA Kull & H Rangan (2018) From killing lists to healthy country: Aboriginal approaches to weed control in the Kimberley, Western Australia. Journal of Environmental Managementdoi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.06.050    PDF

See also:

Bach, TM & BMH Larson (2017) Speaking about weeds: Indigenous elders’ metaphors for invasive species and their management. Environmental Values 26 (5):561-581. link

Bach, TM (2015) “All about healthy country”: Aboriginal perspectives of weed management in the Kimberley, Western Australia. PhD thesis, Centre for Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University. Supervisors: H Rangan, CA Kull, J Bradley. link. pdf.

Aitken, C, N Davey, K Chungul, T Bach, H Rangan, C Kull (2015) Managing Weeds on Bunuba Country in the Kimberley, Western Australia, p. 5-6 in E Ens, J Fisher and O Costello (Eds) Indigenous people and invasive species: Perceptions, management, challenges and uses. IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management Community Report.

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