Australian Indigenous rangers managing the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage sites

Bethune Carmichael, Greg Wilson, Ivan Namarnyilk, Sean Nadji, Jacqueline Cahill, Sally Brockwell, Deanne Bird

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Over 100 Australian Indigenous ranger groups manage a significant proportion of Australia’s natural and cultural resources. Two Indigenous ranger groups in Australia’s monsoonal far north are concerned about a perceived escalation of impacts on cultural heritage sites arising from climate change, variation and extremes. A preliminary version of a tool to assist them in managing these impacts was synthesised from other community-based climate adaptation tools. It contained phases for scoping, risk analysis and options analysis. In the testing and further development of the tool, rangers identified risks to shell mounds and middens (remains of shellfish meals that have accumulated over time), earth mounds (mounds of earth that contain cultural material) and rock art (paintings and engravings found in caves and open sites) caused by more frequent and extreme sea level rise events, and inland river flooding events. They set goals, considered barriers and assessed the availability of appropriate resources. During the tools risk analysis phase, rangers sought to prioritise sites with the greatest exposure and sensitivity to not only the identified climate impacts but also a range of other threats such as fi re and feral animals. While the risk analysis phase used a modified field survey approach, it sought to complement the original model with a cultural value assessment methodology that would allow further prioritisation on the basis of site significance. To date, over 100 sites have been assessed with the tool and allocated one of five possible management priorities. In considering adaptive options, rangers confronted limits to climate change adaptation for the prioritised heritage sites. For sites most in peril from climate extremes, digital documentation was chosen over salvage or physical protection. However, rangers were concerned that confinement of sites to a database would undermine their ongoing use of them in traditional cultural practice. They therefore considered the possibility of combining photogrammetry-derived 3-D models with augmented-reality applications to re-experience lost sites in their original non-virtual locations. Validation of ranger group organisational capacity to use the climate change planning tool bodes well for its use by other Indigenous ranger groups.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPublic Archaeology and Climate Change
    Editors T Dawson, C Nimmura, E Lopez-Romero & M-Y. Daire
    Place of PublicationOxford
    PublisherOxbow Books
    Edition1st edition
    ISBN (Print)9781785707049
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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