Tropical Savannas CRC > Research > CRC Research 2001-2008 > Indigenous > Integrating research and Indigenous land management

Project Leader: Joe Morrison, Executive Officer, NAILSMA
Full Title: Integrating research with Indigenous land and sea management
Project: 4.4.2

This project aims to improve coordination, collaboration and engagement of Indigenous land and sea managers and owners into the TS–CRC its partners and its current and future project portfolio. The project will improve Indigenous people’s engagement by hosting an annual land and sea management policy forum and regionally based Indigenous leadership forums targeting aspiring Indigenous land managers and owners.

The project draws on the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), which was established by the peak Indigenous natural resource agencies across northern Australia taking in the Kimberley the Top End of the Northern Territory, and the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York in Queensland.

It exists as a Memorandum of Understanding between these groups, but is a partner in the TS–CRC and one that can provide a vehicle for improved research outcomes for Indigenous landowners across the tropical savannas.

It is also publishing a bi-annual newspaper/newsletter, Kantri Laif , giving voice to people in the bush as the driving presence behind NAILSMA and therefore the TS–CRC’s Indigenous engagement activities.

Finally, the project is supporting the development of Indigenous land management across the tropical savannas by linking Indigenous people with other groups engaged in land management across the region.

Project leader Joe Morrison also co-leads Theme 4: Human Capability Development with the Peter Jacklyn, Communication Coordinator of the TS–CRC. The project employs an additional position, Samara Erlandson, to support the leadership, newspaper and scholarship activities.

The project leader also manages a number of externally funded initiatives that meet core requirements and objectives of the TS–CRC including:

  • Land & Water Australia funded project Development of Indigenous Knowledge capacity across northern Australia .
  • Indigenous engagement in fire project: Developing knowledge-based fire management for northern Australia savanna communities: Phase 1
  • NHT funded project: Dugong and Marine Turtle Management Project.
  • Land & Water Australia funded project: Indigenous engagement in water management across northern Australia’s Indigenous estate.
  • The Christensen Fund project: North Australia Indigenous Leadership, Scholarship and Communication project: Adding value to NAILSMA activities in 2004.
  • The Christensen Fund project: The 2005 and 2006 NAILSMA Forums: Indigenous Elders and the proactive management, ownership and conservation of Indigenous Knowledge across northern Australia.


Indigenous people are major occupiers, owners, users and managers of land across northern Australia and this role is ever increasing. Indigenous interests are both cross-sectoral and unique (e.g. with multi-faceted, long-term interests in land; qualitatively different ownership/responsibility relationships with land and sea country; complex governance issues and a lack of direct representative decision making).

Adequate involvement by Indigenous people in the Tropical Savannas Management CRC (TS–CRC) requires a coordinated approach to integration, collaboration and communication.

For Indigenous people in the tropical savannas there are many common issues, problems, aspirations and circumstances including:

Many species of flora and fauna that are shared across state boundaries and occur across the tropical savannas with which Indigenous interest is multi-faceted and unique.

The links between families/clans/language groups and specific areas of land are still strong in the minds of many elders and some younger people but shifts to towns, missions and settlements make it harder to maintain those links by being on and managing country.

In many areas indigenous knowledge or ‘Indigenous knowledge’ is being lost at an alarming rate with communities seeking support to maintain and "actively conserve" this knowledge.

Much Indigenous held lands remain in good condition having avoided industrial development, but there is increasing pressure on these lands to provide wealth.

Post-colonial changes in fire, spread of weeds and damage from feral animals threaten the health of people and of country.

Resources, including money, are required to enable people to apply both western science tools and indigenous knowledge tools to address these problems.

Landowners across the top need a strong voice to get help to care for country.


The project aims to give voice to Indigenous land managers and owners across the tropical savannas and provide leadership support focused on the research and resourcing needs of the Indigenous estate across northern Australia. The project will increase networking between Traditional Owners (TOs) of land and sea across northern Australia, and improve their communication and information exchange with outside agencies.

In particular, the project will:

  • Facilitate an annual land managers forum with representation across the tropical savannas with perceived outcomes to increase collaboration, communication and engagement of Indigenous people into the TS–CRC and its partners.
  • Facilitate a series of regional Indigenous leadership forums with representation across the tropical savannas, which aims to support the development of leadership at the local, regional and north Australian scale.
  • Publish a bi-annual newspaper or insert as a means of communicating the aspirations, research and outcomes of Indigenous land management.
  • Provide support to current TS–CRC funded projects targeting Indigenous audiences such as the current ethno-ecological knowledge projects and where applicable provide on-ground support and direction to these.
  • Increase networking between Indigenous owners and managers of land across north Australia with outside agencies and stakeholder groups.
  • Assist Indigenous land managers and owners to create opportunities for the transfer of knowledge and development of leadership across generations at the local level (for example, family-based "back to country" camps).
  • Represent Indigenous interests at all levels in institutions to further the aims of the alliance (in the first instance, on the Board of the TS–CRC).
  • Develop suitable media including presented papers to promote the objectives of the alliance.
  • Identify requirements for sustainable management of natural and cultural resources on Indigenous-held lands across the tropical savannas.
  • Seek additional resources to address research aspirations of Aboriginal communities in relation to land and sea management.

The project will maintain a tropical savannas reference group of managers and owners to provide direction for the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (refer above steering group). NAILSMA has a broad charter to address issues of importance to the sustainable occupation and use of country by Indigenous people. The Alliance will continue to collaborate with the TS–CRC and its partner agencies to improve communication with Aboriginal land managers and owners across the savannas and enable effective, high-level engagement of Indigenous leaders in the Centre.


Mr Joe Morrison
Executive Officer, NAILSMA
Charles Darwin University
Tel: 08 8946 6702

Mobile: 0429 695 324
Fax: 08 8946 7107

Bldg 41, Charles Darwin University