Planning for a Healthy Country

Planning for Healthy Country

Conservation Coach Naomi Hobson is helping Umpila Traditional Owners chart a sustainable path forward for their country on Cape York.



In 2012, Naomi Hobson became a Conservation Coach, having undergone extensive training in The Nature Conservancy's Healthy Country Planning (also known as Conservation Action Planning, or CAP) process. Now, as an Umpila Traditional Owner, she is working with Cape York communities to keep her country healthy by developing long-term conservation plans. Here is her story, in her own words.

Our traditional country lies about halfway up the east coast of Cape York Peninsula in Australia. It’s tropical, with rainforest-covered mountains and watersheds that descend dramatically to the coast. Our Umpila ancestors noted creation sites, declared special areas, and established living areas that we — as their traditional custodians — have looked after for over a thousand generations.

My story starts in the 1990s when, as a young girl, I was fortunate to have a rich reserve of cultural and clan leadership. I knew no other feeling than cultural stability: we had many elders with a detailed knowledge of everything we needed to know and understand about our identity, resources, and natural environment. I listened at big meetings as ideas and strategies for securing and caring for our land were discussed.

But my Umpila world fell apart in 1996 when our leader, my paternal grandfather, passed away suddenly. His passing was followed by the passing of a handful of older cultural knowledge keepers. I felt a sense of great loss and had nothing to do with my father’s country for a long time. I felt bare, like we had no strength and guidance any longer.

For more than ten years, we floundered as a clan. Umpila had made little advancement with our aspiration to be on country and to look after our rich cultural and environmental values.

In 2008, we got to talking to our remaining elders about what to do about the lack of progress for Umpila. We slowly pulled the family groups together for meetings and discussions and through this re-ignited a desire to get organised. With a handful of young relatives we developed a solid social foundation and a representative group to move forward where the elders left off more than a decade earlier. We formed an Umpila Steering Group in mid-2009 to represent all the clan’s family groups and help care for our country.

We undertook some small projects that provided opportunities for our elders to take people back to country, map some places out, and think about land and sea management goals as our elders had previously discussed. Even in these early days of coming together again, we realized the need to develop a plan.

We developed key relationships with, in particular, Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, The Nature Conservancy and Bush Heritage Australia. In early 2011, I was offered the opportunity to participate in Healthy Country Planning (HCP), as CAP is known in Australia, and — with the full support of my elders. I jumped at the opportunity. I felt comfortable with the training program and excited at how we could apply this framework with Umpila to develop a plan.

The obvious benefit I received from the CAP/HCP training and coaching was that we learned about real issues that I took back to my people for further discussion and consideration. My families were both happy with the skills that I developed and confident that we were pursuing a process that would benefit us socially and culturally as well as support the conservation and management of our homelands.

With the support of coaches we were able to proceed with complete confidence in a thorough planning process that engaged all of our clan members: our cultural elders, our hunters, and even our young teenage boys and girls felt comfortable being involved. We found the beauty of the CAP/HCP process is that it engages people in a non-confrontational way and is flexible enough to observe all of our cultural protocols and things like our relationship observance customs.

Until CAP/HCP came along we were stuck on how to think through a way forward. We had many passionate people who all wanted to see things happen but we didn’t have a way to think more clearly, capture all the ideas and work through a logical framework to understand what we should do; we remained a bit confused and frustrated.

Now, with nearly two years of CAP/HCP under our belt, we have accomplished the first healthy country plan in Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula region. We are now filled with confidence that our objectives and strategies will deliver the healthy cultural and biodiversity outcomes we have planned for.

My story is only able to be told like this because of the wisdom of my elders that couldn’t be happier to see me, and the little group I work with, step up and take responsibility.