Tropical Savannas CRC > Research > CRC Research 2001-2008 > Tourism > Tourism, Two Laws and Savanna Lands

Tourism, two laws and savanna lands

Leader: Dr John Bradley, University of Queensland, Brisbane

Full title: Tourism and Two Laws on the Gulf Savannah (NT). An examination of the interrelationship between social and environmental well being on the savanna lands of the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria.
Project 3.3.3

Summary | Objectives | Aboriginal culture and healthy landscapes | Approach and methods | Linkages | Outcomes | Outputs | Project Team


The study comprises two PhD projects by Kathryn Seton and Stephen Johnson of the University of Queensland who are working in collaboration with the Yanyuwa people in the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria.

Their work aims to assess various stakeholders (e.g. mining, fishing, tourism, pastoralism), but more particularly Aboriginal imperatives, regarding the healthy and sustainable management of land, sea and natural resources in this region of the Gulf. A further aim is to investigate the functioning of community-based land-management programs and broader implications for regional management, policy and planning related issues.


  • Document the history of tourist use in the tropical savanna environment of the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria and to provide evidence of its impact on indigenous society and culture;
  • Review indigenous and non-indigenous expectations of tourist development and land-claim processes over multiple land tenure and uses;
  • Identify the competing principles between traditional/indigenous knowledge and that of competing land users and managers;
  • Gain further insight into non-indigenous perceptions of country and the motivations informing the tourist experience and land-management practices;
  • Study cross-cultural correspondence and contest between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in order to gain some insight into how change is invoked and new meaning is constructed through this process. This includes an investigation of power differentials and contestations of knowledge as they occur within these processes and how these impact on indigenous participants and their relationships with country;
  • Investigate factors (for example, tourism, mining, pastoralism) impacting on Yanyuwa perceptions of, and relationships with, landscape and indigenous notions of resource-management strategies. An investigation into how these areas are treated and interpreted within the judicial and administrative processes surrounding land rights, claims and negotiations.
  • Contribute to knowledge surrounding the specific objective of Theme 3, which is to achieve or restore healthy landscapes, through discussions of both short-term resource-management issues relating to healthy savannas and riverine systems in Yanyuwa country, and longer-term regional implications as drawn from the study.

Aboriginal culture and healthy landscapes

Overall landscape ecology and health is identified as a priority for research in the TS–CRC. The discussion paper, Defining and measuring the health of savanna landscape: A north Australian perspective (Whitehead, Woniarski, Jacklyn, Fell and Williams 2000), developed a concept of healthy savannas and noted that attributes of Aboriginal land management have been less actively studied than others to date. The need to consult with Aboriginal people to achieve this is clearly highlighted.

However, in the past, similar collaborative approaches have reduced Aboriginal environmental perceptions and practices to their material aspect only (Povinelli 193:683). This means that meeting the TS–CRC objective to consider the ‘long-term…aesthetic and spiritual’ needs of all interested parties could prove difficult.

The CRC states that social indicators within Aboriginal culture need to be given appropriate attention in regard to conservation. This requires both local and regional attention to best integrate traditional resource-management knowledge, and associated customs and techniques, into effective and useful national development and conservation endeavours involving sustainable resource management and protection.

Approach and methods

By undertaking participant observation fieldwork (the hallmark of anthropology) and relying on primary and secondary documents a case study of Yanyuwa people, relationships to Country and Law will be built up. Access to archival materials and the undertaking of semi-structured interviews with stakeholders and other relevant people associated with Yanyuwa interests in land and resource use are also contributing to this study. Both current community-based management projects and local/regional negotiations surrounding land rights, management and development (stemming from both land claims and local initiatives), are being investigated and assessed.


Linkages with the Caring for Country Unit, Northern Land Council and other associated bodies (e.g. Indigenous Land Management Unit, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory) offers the ability to monitor the implementation of new, small, community-based land/sea management programs (e.g. the community ranger program, the Wanga Djakamirr Rangers in the Arafura Catchment in the Top End) as well as exploring indigenous perceptions of the value or otherwise of tourism.

Similarly, there are questions that need investigating about non-indigenous approaches to indigenous involvement both in tourism and land management.

Overall research and outputs will contribute particularly to Themes 1, 2 and 3 of TS–CRC objectives and inform many Key Result Areas by:

  1. providing relevant local and regional information regarding landscape health and function in the Borroloola region;
  2. promoting greater understanding of the issues surrounding effective management and participation between stakeholders in this region; and
  3. as a byproduct of the research process over time, contribute to some educational aspects of Theme 4.

It will also provide reports to Projects: 3.1.1. Development of tourism opportunities, 3.2.1. Bioregional Planning Practice in Northern Australia; 3.2.2. Applying Planning System Approaches to Sustainable Regional Development in Tropical Savannas, 3.2.3. Regional Vegetation Management Planning for Landscape Health

This project is undertaken with the consent of the Yanyuwa community been granting by Li-Yanyuwa li-wirdiwalangu (the Yanyuwa Elders).


  • Contribute to an enhanced understanding of the problems with communication, consultation and collaboration in multi-agency negotiations and how they effect the implementation of land management strategies in the region;
  • Increased knowledge of culturally acceptable frameworks for understanding social, economic and ecological imperatives of Aboriginal stakeholders;
  • To gain an adequate understanding of power differentials between Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders and how these are manifest in Indigenous concerns over rights to access and control over country;
  • Contributions to regional management and healthy landscape strategies and discussions in the Gulf tropical savannas;
  • Contributions to policy and planning development through assessment of local and regional perspectives.


  • Participation in regional management forums.
  • Production of research publications and reports including the holding of a possible conference for Indigenous communities, local government planners, tourist developers, environmental managers, anthropologists and other interested parties
  • The provision of results to indigenous holders of knowledge in appropriate formats such as community reports, videos and input into the Diwurruwurru website (see link below).
  • Communication of results to natural resource managers and government departments responsible for environmental management in the Gulf.
  • Production of PhD theses.

Project team

Dr John Bradley, U Q
Kathryn Seton, UQ *
Stephen Johnson, UQ *
Peter Cooke, NLC