Eco Logical Australia, A Tetra Tech Company (ELA), provided training for young Aboriginal trainees in Conservation and Land Management, with 100 percent of the trainees obtaining formal qualifications and moving on to employment.

The Georges River Combined Councils Committee (GRCCC) engaged ELA to deliver a three-year project employing Aboriginal Australians to protect and enhance biodiversity in the Georges River catchment while undertaking Conservation and Land Management traineeships. While similar programs have had varying levels of success, the Aboriginal Riverkeeper project really succeeded in demonstrating how Conservation and Land Management can incorporate traditional knowledge and help trainees build skills and strengthen their identities.

I would attribute a great deal of the success down to the great collaboration of local government with Local Aboriginal Land Councils and engagement of the expertise of ELA to establish the Aboriginal Riverkeeper project to address a common theme to all parties, the health of the Georges River. The project has allowed us the ability to protect and preserve a valuable community resource such as the Georges River and through the project provide training, education, and employment of Aboriginal people. A great success on many levels.

Nathan Moran, CEO, Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council

The project successfully integrated on-ground ecological works, professional and career development for participants, and community engagement. It also fostered partnerships between Aboriginal organizations, local government, the private sector, and educational institutions.

During the project’s three-year duration, the Aboriginal Riverkeeper Team achieved numerous environmental outcomes including bush regeneration, weed removal, and increased habitat. The eight young, Aboriginal trainees also engaged in deeply personal development of their Aboriginal identities, which was facilitated by regular cultural days throughout the project. The trainees spent time with Aboriginal Elders, knowledge holders, and Local Aboriginal Lands Councils to learn about local Aboriginal history, culture, and connections to Country. Through this culture-rich traineeship, the project continued the concept of Aboriginal Caring for Country in the modern and highly urbanized setting of southwestern Sydney, Australia. The Sydney area is home to a large, young Aboriginal population; thus targeted traineeships also positively contribute to long-term social benefits for this community.

The project trainee team achieved environmental outputs including nearly 125 hectares (ha) weeded (primary weeding of 89.6 ha and maintenance weeding of 34.9 ha); 2,386.1 cubic meters of weeds removed; 40,356 plants planted; and 2.25 ha revegetated.

The project’s socio-cultural outputs included employment for the trainees, team supervisor, and project manager. The team engaged in activities that strengthened their cultural identities through regular cultural days, where they spent time with Aboriginal Elders and knowledge holders from the Sydney region learning about culture and managing country. Trainees have achieved ongoing post-traineeship employment in the environmental sector. The team supervisor and project manager both gained valuable team leadership, mentoring, project delivery, and management skills.

Trainees were taught skills such as restoring bushland habitat, protecting diversity of native plants and animals and rehabilitation. The Aboriginal Riverkeeper Program offered young indigenous people the chance to gain nationally recognized qualifications in conservation and Indigenous land management while reconnecting with Aboriginal culture and the land through practical experience.

Highlights

Several trainees from the Aboriginal Riverkeeper team won awards including the inaugural State Training Services Cliff Daylight Encouragement Award 2015, the NSI TAFE NSW Sustainability Students of the Year Award 2016, and the TAFE NSW Gili Award 2016.