Gurruwiling – The Arafura Swamp

Gurruwiling, also known as the Arafura Swamp, is rich in resources and stories. The swamp holds our history and our future – it is the pulsing heart of our homelands.

Gurruwiling is the largest freshwater ecosystem in Arnhem Land and the largest paperbark swamp in Australia.

The swamp and catchment is listed as an Australian wetland of national importance and is classified as a key biodiversity area.

It is an area shared by many clans. These clans each speak for their particular areas and all of us rely on the swamp for our living.

The major totem for Gurruwiling is the crocodile. Our clans have many different totems, mostly associated with animal and plants of the swamp but also connecting to other natural phenomena, like rainbows, the sun and stars as well as spirit beings.

Gurruwiling is a major breeding area for magpie geese and large numbers of water birds, which occur in internationally significant numbers. Habitat that sustains magpie geese is declining all across North Australia. This means that Gurruwiling is an increasingly important stronghold for this species.

Gurruwiling includes many grassy plains and networks of lagoons full of important food plants like the water lily and water chestnut and important food animals like fis and long-necked turtle. We also have the Little Banded Rainbow fish, a species that is only found in the swamp.

Our waterways are lined with the giant palm Corypha elata, which we will call Gulwirri or Balangulo. This spectacular plant has sacred symbolism.

We have many different paperbarks covering huge areas. Everyone uses it for many things — like cooking, tools, shelter and washing. The paperbark is not a totem that belongs to any particular ceremonies or clans and it grows on everyone’s country. In that way, it is a public symbol of us coming together, working towards healthy country, which is why we’ve chosen its leaves and flowers for our logo.

We look to the swamp for opportunities to create employment for our people into the future.

The spectacular beauty of the swamp and its wildlife offers opportunities for tourism development for landowners.

Crocodile eggs were always one of our seasonal food sources, but today we gather eggs mostly to build our local economy. For many years we have been involved in harvesting crocodile eggs for others to incubate and grow for the meat and skin trade. But now we are stepping up into the industry, building our own facility in Ramingining to grow out hatchlings until they are the right size for the skin and meat trade.

But the swamp is under pressure.

In the long term a small rise in global sea levels could drive saltwater into the swamp and destroy it. Freshwater and the quality and abundance of that water is the key to the nature of the Arafura Swamp.

Traditional owners and rangers have struggled to deal with the potentially catastrophic invasion by the weeds mimosa and olive hymenachne.

Feral pigs and buffalo are causing huge damage to the swamp. Pigs are rooting up the waterways and destroying our important foods. There are many, many buffalo on the swamp and their paths are making channels, causing saltwater to intrude into our freshwater swamp.

Our future and that of the swamp are locked together. We must keep the swamp healthy if we are to enjoy spiritual health, physical health and develop a healthy economy.

The Arafura Swamp Rangers are the frontline in helping landowners defend the swamp from natural and man-made threats.


Families are sharing Gurruwiling, enjoying plenty of water lilies, longneck turtle, fish and magpie geese to eat and we can always dig a hole in the right place to drink clean water.

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Healthy Country Plan

We know that the land needs its people to care for it and to keep it healthy. In the same way we know that caring for the country keeps us healthy - physically, spiritually and mentally.

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