5 July 2018


From the sweeping seas to the rugged coastlines, the lush forests to the arid red outback, the diversity of this vast land is exceptional. However, while 24 million people may call this land home, it takes a special kind of knowledge to protect its unique nature.

Female Indigenous rangers across Australia play an enormous role in conserving the country’s natural environment and cultural heritage. They bring a wealth of ecological and cultural knowledge to help care for country, that not only benefits the environment but also inspires and paves career paths for other women in remote Aboriginal communities.

For the last few years, WWF-Australia has worked with Indigenous ranger groups and local organisations like Environs Kimberley and the Kimberley Land Council to help support women ranger projects, like the Kimberley Seed Bank and Women Ranger Forums. Now, we're working to create a support network so that rangers can connect with other women across the country.

One of the inspiring ranger groups that we work with is the first and longest standing all female ranger team in the Kimberley – the Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers. See how their work on country has given them strength, confidence and pride.

“When I put this uniform on every day, I feel so proud that I’m a ranger”.

Debbie Sibosado, Bardi Jawi Oorany Ranger Coordinator

Debbie Sibosado is the ranger coordinator for the Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers
© Kimberley Land Council

Debbie Sibosado coordinates the longest standing all female ranger team in the Kimberley, the Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers. Rangers are also completing their training in Conservation & Land Management, which includes hands on skills such as small machines, chainsaws, vehicle recovery and fire operations.

Protecting and restoring nature

The Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers work in the hot and humid landscape of the Kimberley. The team is part of a network of rangers, the Kimberley Ranger Network – an alliance of 13 Indigenous ranger groups working across the remote, ancient wilderness of northern Western Australia, supported by the Kimberley Land Council. While most people in this region try to find shelter from the harsh sun and tropical rain, the Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers are out on country, working to protect and restore the remaining fragments of endangered forests called ‘monsoon vine thickets’.

Monsoon vine thickets are incredibly valuable to the region’s ecosystem. They can be found between the sand dunes and coastal areas of Broome and the Dampier Peninsula, covering only 0.01% of its total area. Despite the low coverage, these thickets are a refuge to a range of native wildlife and home to 25% of all plant species on the Peninsula. So it’s no wonder that the high risk of extinction of these thickets is a cause for concern.

The Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers are helping to eliminate threats to the endangered vine thickets. Part of the restoration work includes collecting and propagating seedlings, maintaining a seed bank, conducting ‘cool burning’, and recording and sharing their Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers conduct cool burning to reduce the impact of late-season wildfires
© Kimberley Land Council

During the dry season, the Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers carry out ‘cool burning' to reduce the impact of destructive late-season wildfires, which not only destroy vulnerable ecosystems, but also communities and cultural sites.

Working on country isn’t easy, it requires a level of commitment to be out in the harsh conditions of these remote bushlands. Balancing work with family commitments and community obligations can also be challenging. But the strength and determination being demonstrated in this work is awe-inspiring, proving that they truly are role models for the next generation of female rangers.

The challenges of being a woman ranger

The rugged terrain and rough climate isn’t the only challenge when it comes to the work of a ranger. Finding support to help fund female ranger and coordinator positions as well as training has become a major setback, resulting in a lack of long-term job security and limited opportunities for establishing new female teams.

“The major challenges we face are funding, support for women and mentoring."

Debbie Sibosado, Bardi Jawi Oorany Ranger Coordinator

Bardi Jawi Rangers= Henarlia Rex= Jonelle Ketchell and Vanessa Cox
© Kimberley Land Council

L-R: Bardi Jawi Oornay Rangers Henarlia Rex, Jonelle Ketchell and Nyul Nyul Ranger Vanessa Cox. All three women lost their jobs due to short-term government funding cycles. The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) is working to secure funding to return female ranger employment numbers to their 2017 peak through grants and partnerships.

Along with funding, professional support is needed to help train and provide mentorship for female rangers, and develop a network that provides a forum for female rangers to share their experiences, ideas and information, provide support and advice, and enable connections for women in remote and isolated communities. Without this support, harnessing their traditional ecological insights in managing country would be a lost opportunity.

The need was recognised locally in the Kimberley and in 2018, for the first time ever, an all female ranger forum was held near Bidyadanga, south of Broome. Staged by the Kimberley Land Council, the forum brought together more than 40 female rangers from across the Kimberley to build skills, share experiences and encourage innovative thinking around support for female rangers.

“Being a ranger has helped me heal on Country.”

Debbie Sibosado, Bardi Jawi Oorany Ranger Coordinator

The meaningful work being done by the rangers not only helps protect Australia’s nature, but it’s also helping rangers and Traditional Owners to maintain strong cultural connection with their land, grow their confidence and have a positive effect on the next generation of rangers. Rangers are more than just caretakers of the land – they’re the original owners, leaders and protectors of biodiversity who are making a real change in their communities, which is why overcoming these challenges is essential in continuing the far-reaching work that they do. 

The need to work together for a better future

Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous rangers provide the foundation for nature conservation across Australia. They are the front lines protecting so much of the country’s unique biodiversity.

The unique Traditional Knowledge that Indigenous women have is invaluable to the cause. Not only does their work benefit their families, their culture and their local communities, it also benefits all Australians.

Bardi Jawi Oorany Ranger= Henarlia Rex
© Kimberley Land Council

Bardi Jawi Oorany Ranger, Henarlia Rex conducting a plant survey.

So whether we’re enjoying a dip in the ocean, an enlightening hike through the Aussie wilderness, or simply out on our daily commutes, we can take a moment to appreciate that this land we all call home would not be as rich as it is without the knowledge and hard work being done by these inspirational women rangers.

The story of these women rangers of the Kimberley is just one example of what is being achieved by Indigenous women who are caring for country across Australia. They face challenges and difficulties every day but as role models for the young females in their communities you couldn’t find better. Discover more about the inspiring work being carried out by Indigenous women rangers in the Country Needs People report - ‘Strong Women on Country’ and Kimberley Land Council's website.

With thanks to our partner Kimberley Land Council (KLC)