Caring for Country in North Queensland

Funded by the Queensland Government’s $10 million Reef Assist program, the ‘Healing Country’ project is creating jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in North Queensland while supporting efforts to protect the Great Barrier Reef and nearby coastal ecosystems.

Townsville-based natural resource management organisation NQ Dry Tropics has joined forces with Indigenous employment group Three Big Rivers to deliver the initiative, funded through the Queensland Government’s Reef Assist program.

Under the project, five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of an environmental team are gaining practical on-ground skills working on NQ Dry Tropics projects across the region, while undertaking an accredited environmental training program.

NQ Dry Tropics CEO Dr Scott Crawford said the partnership was boosting on-ground activities to improve land condition, protect plants and animals, and improve the quality of water flowing into local creeks and the reef.

“The Healing Country project is offering participants a chance to work on country and gain practical experience on activities that benefit reef water quality. Tasks will include learning techniques to fix eroded gullies to reduce sediment runoff, protecting sensitive creekbank areas with revegetation and weed control, and tackling marine debris.

The project is also about brokering mutually beneficial relationships between landholders and Traditional Owners. We hope the skills and qualifications participants acquire will set them up for future careers in natural resource or rural management.

The partnership with Three Big Rivers fits with our belief that meaningful Traditional Owner engagement leads to better, more sustainable natural resource management outcomes."

Three Big Rivers Executive Director, Thomas Holden said the way the project had been developed would help ensure sustainable Indigenous employment opportunities across the region:

“Co-designing this project with NQ Dry Tropics, with support through the Reef Assist Program, will support capability and capacity building that will provide lasting benefits."

Since the start of the year, the environmental team has been busy protecting areas of threatened beach scrub north of Townsville.

Crew members Sam Savage and Rheardan Cobbo (Bindal), Gary Kyle (Bwgcolman / Juru), Waylan Sam (Bwgcolman) and Supervisor Darryl Chong (Waanyi) have been collecting marine debris from three beach scrub sites at Crystal Creek, Mystic Sands and Quindalup.
The debris, including rubbish left behind by campers, impacts local wildlife and plant species. The team will also be controlling invasive weeds at various locations.

Sam Savage said he was happy to be involved with the project: “Three Big Rivers and NQ Dry Tropics have given us the opportunity to reconnect with country. I know a lot of young people who feel excited when they see us out on country. They ask what we’re doing and who we work for, and whether there’s any more work available because they want to be out on country as well.”

“I would love to get a job helping the environment, so this work is a good step for me to take. Once I gain more knowledge, I will share it with others so they can get a better idea of how they can help,” said Rheardan Cobbo.
Supervisor Darryl Chong said: “I’ve got a great team here. We started off not knowing what to expect, but we’ve done a couple of sites now and are getting the hang of what we need to do. There’s still a lot of training to come for us. This experience could provide a pathway for crew members to become future rangers”.

Training opportunities for the group will include a Certificate III in Rural Operations, tickets to operate light machinery, and learning how to construct stick dams to control gully erosion.