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July 2010: Celebrating Northern Australia's Indigenous Protected Areas

From the Photographer

Peter Eve 

Much of northern Australia is wilderness. But indigenous people have been living in the landscape for 40,000-60,000 years with the remarkable legacy of leaving rock paintings and grindstone depressions as the only tangible changes to the environment.

These people have moved about landscapes that they know intimately, following food resources and ceremony lines.

I was invited to Australia to photograph the announcement of two new large Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) — conservation lands stewarded by their traditional owners.

The new IPAs, known as Warddeken and Djelk, are both protected by a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the Pew Environment Group, the Australian Government and indigenous landholders. With ongoing support from the Conservancy, indigenous rangers — the traditional custodians of northern Australia — will manage these reserves as their ancestors did.

I've previously traveled through northern Australia's wilderness areas, moving quietly from waterhole to waterhole in a sandstone gorge; listening to my footsteps on top of the billion-year-old Kombolgie Formation, which now forms the Arnhem Land Plateau.

On these previous trips, I have been with a very small group of people. To have such a big gathering of people on the cliffs above the Arafura Sea, then, was unusual and was celebrated with the rhythm of bilma (clap-sticks) and yidaki (didgeridoos). The day of the IPA celebration brought people from all over the approximately 20,000 square-kilometer area to celebrate, and I think their joy came from a feeling that their land was one step closer to being protected for future generations.

This picture was taken while Peter Garrett, the Minister for the Environment, was giving his speech. While I was listening, I couldn't help but let my lens stray to the infectious joy of the younger generation. Painted up in gapung (white clay), these boys are part of the White Cockatoo Dancers.

Children are actively encouraged to take part in the performance, to follow, learn and of course help tell stories and entertain. Embracing children as part of the performance builds confidence and nurtures knowledge and history.

The Warddeken and Djelk IPAs connect to Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks forming a huge wildlife corridor encompassing islands, mangroves, floodplains and giant rock formations. It must be one of the most important inhabited wildernesses on the planet, and I look forward to doing my bit to ensure that it stays that way.

Peter Eve's photography celebrates people, indigenous culture and the environment. His portraiture intimately captures community life and unique personalities in remote and regional Australia, while his landscape captures the essence of wilderness and place. He is actively involved in the photographic community, exhibiting and taking part in group projects such as "The Beyond Reasonable Drought" exhibition and book.


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