TS-CRC Student project - Culture as process - Correlativity, contest and tourism on Yanyuwa Country

University of Queensland

Stephen Johnson

Summary | Tourism and community benefits | Key questions | Initial interest |


My research aims to gain an adequate understanding of the intimate relationship between social and environmental well-being, both in indigenous and non-indigenous terms. Toward this end, I will be working in close collaboration with the Yanyuwa community in the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria and limiting the area of my study to that part of the tropical savannas which encompasses their ancestral domain.

However, while I intend to focus on contemporary Yanyuwa perceptions of landscape health, vitality and sustainable use, I readily acknowledge that these perceptions do not exist independently of, or always agree with, those of the many other stakeholders in the region. Therefore, I intend to identify and examine those points of contest and correspondence that exist between the various regional players, in an attempt to tease out the environmental consciousness underlying and informing each point of view. The advent of tourism (planned and unplanned) in the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria provides an ideal vehicle for this study.

Tourism and community benefits

To date, most tourist operations in the area (with some notable exceptions) fall into the unplanned category. These are ad hoc ventures comprising independent travellers or one-off tour groups, both seeking a frontier experience: a communion with pristine physical and cultural environments.

Exceptions to this rule include a number of recreational fishing clubs, established at King Ash Bay, and an increasing number of regional tours conducted by the Savannah Guides. Unfortunately, both planned and unplanned operations appear to consist primarily of “one way traffic”: there is very little actual consultation or collaboration with indigenous groups. Indeed, there is a common perception among local residents, both indigenous and non-indigenous, that these operations provide very little benefit to their communities—all the money flows “down south”.

Key questions

These preliminary observations pose a number of questions. For example, at a philosophical level, what cultural and intellectual preconceptions inform indigenous and non-indigenous interactions with the physical environment? At a more pragmatic level, is there a shared space where these seemingly divergent interests might meet? Furthermore, without some articulation of such interests, what implications do the pursuits of special interest groups have for the overall health and sustainability of tropical savannas, in this region and right across northern Australia?

Initial interest

On a more personal note, my Grandmother Elfreda MacDonald lived and worked with the Yanyuwa community as a linguist, from 1963 to 1972. I grew up in the Northern Territory during this time and much of what I experienced then sparked my initial interest in the diverse and complex nature of interactions between people and place. The stated objectives of the TS–CRC, particularly the emphasis on collaborative approaches to landscape management, further stimulated my interest in this area of study.


Mr Steve Johnson
Project Officer, NAILSMA
Tropical Savannas CRC
Tel: 08 8946 6357

Mobile: 0429 170 237
Fax: 08 8946 6388

Bldg 41, Charles Darwin University