Courtney Boag

Native Title
Summer 2017

After having recently graduated from my BA in anthropology and archaeology I decided to apply for my third internship through the Aurora Internship Program and was privileged enough to be successful. And I can honestly say I am so grateful for the huge learning opportunity I ended up receiving from my placement with the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.

CLCAC is the largest and most eminent corporate entity representing the rights and interests of Traditional Owners in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria and also prides itself on managing one of the strongest Land and Sea units and Indigenous ranger programs within Australia. The Land and Sea program currently employs 21 full-time Indigenous Rangers in two ranger units, 12 rangers in Burketown (Gangalidda Garawa Rangers) and 9 rangers in Normanton, and 6 casual rangers based at Bidunggu. The main activities that the rangers are engaged in include; feral animal and weed control, wetland rehabilitation, fire management, turtle and dugong management, biodiversity surveying and vulnerable species monitoring, protection and management of cultural sites, traditional knowledge transfer through school visits and the Junior Ranger Program, they also work in landscape remediation and conduct marine debris surveys (Carpentaria land Council Aboriginal Corporation website).

Evidently, the programs and surveys that the rangers are involved in are varied and numerous and therefore the data that the rangers are collecting from such activities each year are also very extensive. So, in order to keep a record of the work they are doing on country and to be able to map where this work is being carried out they have established a Geo-spatial mapping tool or database on a software program called ArcGIS. ArcGIS is essentially a geographic information system (GIS) that compiles geographic data into a database system and then analyses that information to create maps on topographic maps or satellite images. You can also use your geographic data to add plots or polygons onto maps to demonstrate where something is- or in this case the rangers are adding plots and polygons to maps to show where they have conducted surveys and where certain land boundaries are. However, it is a powerful software with endless possibilities and benefits (I will identify some of these below) and it was extremely interesting to gain exposure to it in training sessions with the rangers. 

The main tasks I was involved in during my placement included working with the rangers and staff from the both the Normanton and Burketown Land and Sea units to assist them with collating, managing and reformatting their ranger data for the Geo-spatial mapping tool. So, my first few weeks in the Gulf were mainly spent collecting as much ranger data as I could find. The rangers had previously collected data in a number of different ways so gathering their data usually involved looking thoroughly through old hard-drives for data spreadsheets or in old paper data sheets. When I felt confident I had collected all the data for both units I began entering the data into an Excel spreadsheet as a way of managing the large quantities of data. The third element of this process- being the reformatting phase- required quite a bit of training and guidance from Cat (a GIS technician from Applied Archaeology Australia), as reformatting data so that it can be compatible with ArcGIS turned out to be a little more technical than I had first assumed.

Cat helped me to set up templates for how the data would need to be reformatted so that I was able to continue processing the data without too much trouble while she held training sessions for the rangers- we would usually spend some afternoons going through things that I had problems with so she could rectify the problem and show me how to fix it in the future.

Training sessions in how to use ArcGIS (and how to reformat data for the software) was provided to most of the staff, the rangers and I from external consultants; David, Gen and Cat from AAA for the most part of the first two weeks I was with CLCAC.  This training enabled us to gain a basic understanding of how to use the software and provided us with a deep appreciation for the many different ways one can use the software for. The rangers at both the Normanton Land and Sea unit and the Gangalidda and Garawa (Burketown) unit were able to pick up using the program quite easily and were designing and building maps with geographic and ranger data after just a few days of training. All and all the training- although relatively short- was sufficient enough to help the rangers build up a strong capability for using ArcGIS and they will now be able to continually advance their skills as they become more familiar with the software’s applications and as new technology becomes available.

Another program that the consultants from AAA trained the rangers in during these two weeks – and a program that will be used in conjunction with ArcGIS- was called ‘I-Form Builder’. This program or ‘app’ will be a great tool for the rangers to use to collect survey data as they can access the app straight from their tablets and moreover this app will allow them to custom make survey forms according to the specific data they want to collect for each given patrol. Furthermore, once template forms are created for each given ‘category’ or survey (which was done as part of the training) it will stream line how data is collected so that data management will be a lot easier to organise in the future. I-Forms Builder also automatically plots in latitude and longitude co-ordinates onto a form when it is opened which will ensure that everything the rangers document will be able to be mapped on ArcGIS when they start plugging in their data to the software database. So fundamentally using I- Forms Builder for data collection will mean faster data entry and more detailed, survey specific data collection which will all assist in making the process a lot less time consuming and unnecessarily complex. Also, as this app is quite user friendly it will be relatively easy to train any new rangers in as new rangers come to be involved in the program.

Then once data has been downloaded into the ArcGIS database the benefits of this will include but definitely aren’t limited to, the possibility of determining trends such as where certain weed species grow and in what density; where feral animals are mainly sighted and therefore how the rangers can respond to such threats; migration and habitual trends of certain species and habitat regeneration after burn seasons. More generally, it will be used as a productive tool to record where surveys and patrols have been conducted and what the outcomes and results of such surveys were. Additionally, the strip of coastline along Delta Downs, just outside of Karumba has been designated as a special ‘flyway’ site, so this mapping tool will also be beneficial for recording bird species and quantities in the area. It will also help the rangers better understand bird migratory trends and any threats to the local ecosystems which the birds depend on as feeding grounds and habitats on their migration north to Siberia.

There are of course many more benefits that the rangers- and for that matter the whole Land Council -will be able to enjoy as a result of the Geo-spatial map (ArcGIS software) and the ‘I-Form Builder’ app such as using the maps they create for presentations at board meetings, meetings with other stakeholders and relevant conferences. These high quality professional data maps will also prove valuable when applying for grants for the Land and Sea unit as they will demonstrate to the State Government what work the rangers are engaged in and the productivity of their work.

However, as it is a large scale and quite complex project it will take a little bit of time to get well established. But for now, the rangers have built up a strong confidence in using the ‘I-Forms’ app and have a foundational ability to use ArcGIS to make maps with their ranger data. I believe the main goal the rangers wanted to accomplish with the introductory training from AAA was to be able to build their capacity to make maps, and then once they feel confident in doing this they can always increase their skillset and learn more about the extra features of ArcGIS. All in all, the Geo-spatial mapping tool and database and the I- Forms app will both prove to be valuable tools for the work the rangers do. Employing these modern technologies and powerful software programs will definitely see CLCAC’s Land and Sea units grow from strength to strength and their rangers more equipped and tech savvy.

I felt truly honoured to work with such capable and moreover incredibly enthusiastic and motivated people. The rangers and staff at CLCAC were not only a pleasure to work with but the work I was able to do during my time with them was so eye-opening and interesting that it just made for such a valuable learning experience. As I had to cut my time short (due to unforeseen family circumstances) I was not able to complete all the tasks I was assigned, however if the opportunity ever presented itself again to return to the sunburnt northern towns of the Gulf I would be there without question. It's not every day you get to work with such determined and fascinating people on such stimulating projects!