In 2019 the Australian Government announced that the Arafura Swamp in north-east Arnhem Land was one of seven new proposed Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs). The Arafura Swamp IPA will be part of an Australia-wide network where Traditional Owners work on country to protect biodiversity and conserve cultural resources. IPAs are recognised internationally as an effective, culturally appropriate, and cost-effective way of protecting country. They are an essential component of Australia’s National Reserve System, which is the network of formally recognised parks, reserves, and protected areas across Australia.
The centrepiece of ASRAC’s 1.4 million-hectare IPA is a vast, pristine wetland. Known to Traditional Owners as Gurruwiling, the Arafura Swamp sits within a basin covering nearly 1000 square kilometres. Tall tropical forests, savanna woodlands and weathered sandstone plateau provide an elaborate mosaic across the surrounding catchment. Spring-feed waterways arising in the uplands feed into the swamp and in turn the sinuous Goyder River draining into Castlereagh Bay.
The greater Arafura Swamp region has some of the NT’s richest and most extensive rainforests, supports an abundance of threatened, rare, or little-known wildlife, and includes the major biogeographic corridor of the Mitchell and Parsons Ranges. Most of the catchment is listed on the Register of the National Estate while the central swamp is listed as a Wetland of National Importance. Twenty-seven nationally listed Threatened Species are known or predicted to occur in the proposed IPA including the Eastern Curlew, Northern Quoll, Northern Hopping-mouse, Gouldian Finch and Masked Owl.
The entire Arafura Swamp area shares an unbroken history of Aboriginal ownership and management. Traditional connections to country remain largely intact and many landowners still reside on outstations, living from and protecting their ancestral estates. Beyond conservation, the Arafura Swamp IPA will deliver social and cultural benefits to remote Indigenous Australians including employment as land and sea rangers, support for language and cultural activities, protection of significant sites, and the preservation of traditional ecological knowledge.
Development of the Arafura Swamp IPA is well advanced. With support from Tamarind Planning ASRAC are currently consulting Traditional Aboriginal Owners while negotiating boundaries and shared management arrangements with neighbouring IPA including Djelk, Laynhapuy, Marthakal, South East Arnhem Land, and Mimal and Crocodile Islands. Past and current collaborations with Bush Heritage Australia are foundational to our IPA. The ASRAC Healthy Country Plan will be updated to meet IPA requirements, while the IMEP (Intercultural Monitoring, Evaluation, and Planning) Cultural Mapping project will provide a framework for adaptive management and accountability.