Brief history

The savanna woodlands and Arnhem Land Plateau of the Warddeken and Djelk IPAs have been occupied for 50,000 years, expertly managed by hunter-gatherers whose livelihoods depended on the environment and its natural resources; customary fire regimes played a crucially important role in environmental management. At the same time, a religious system evolved based on an intimate relationship between humans and the sentient landscape imbued with spiritual and ancestral powers.

Colonisation only arrived in this remote region in the 20th century and has been heavily mediated by the state. Positively, Arnhem Land was declared a reserve in 1931 and so commercial development has been excluded. Negatively, colonial state policy saw Aboriginal land owners centralised in missions and government settlements, and so for a time the land was ‘orphaned’ allowing intrusion by feral animals, exotic weeds and biodiversity pressures from unmanaged tropical wild fires.

From the 1970s, land rights law returned reserved lands to traditional owners and country was repopulated by small land owner groups residing at outstations. This process began in the coastal and riverine areas near the two major centres of Maningrida and Gunbalanya and has spread to the Arnhem Land Plateau in the last decade.


The Warddeken and Djelk IPAs are administered by their Traditional Owners under International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines. Rangers focus on protecting threatened species and cultural sites, the reinstatement of traditional burning practises, caring for sea country, carbon abatement, biodiversity monitoring and weed and feral animal control.

Management relies on traditional principles and methods, while recognising that some issues, such as introduced species, are new problems needing western science solutions – the result is a “two toolbox” approach and a robust management partnership between Bininj (Indigenous people) and Balanda (non-Indigenous people).

The Warddeken IPA is managed by Warddeken Land Management Limited (WLML), an environmental services company that offers services free of charge to landowners to manage fire, weeds, feral animals and other issues so that future generations will inherit healthy country.  WLML is based at Kabulwarnamyo.

The Djelk IPA is managed by the Djelk Rangers operating within the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) . The BAC was established in 1974 and provides a portfolio of services and support to thirty two outstations in Arnhem Land. The BAC headquarters are in Maningrida.

The Djelk Rangers land management activities focus on prescribed burning, feral animal control, weed management, cultural and economic site protection and biodiversity monitoring. The majority of Djelk’s activities are carried out within the IPA, but they also undertake significant work in the surrounding areas, particularly prescribed burning, feral animal and weed control.