High levels of poverty and financial stress are the common experience of many Aboriginal people living in remote areas of Arnhem Land. Due to the remoteness of the region, the opportunities for employment and economic development are limited, especially for people living on the small communities or outstations within the IPAs. Most residents of the IPAs receive some sort of welfare payment or participate in supported employment programs such as CDEP and ‘Work for the Dole’. The economy in the IPAs has been described as a hybrid (or plural or mixed) economy where Aboriginal people live on a combination of welfare, profits from small enterprises such as art or artefact production, supplemented with customary bush resources from hunting and fishing (Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation 2009).

Payment for Environmental Service (PES) or Fee for Service (FFS)

There are unique opportunities for employment and economic development in natural resource management (NRM) within the IPAs through payment for environmental service (PES) or fee for service (FFS) arrangements. PES has emerged internationally as a potential economic mechanism to address poverty and environmental degradation, especially in developing and remote areas with few mainstream economic opportunities. These programs offer an alternative, sustainable option for Aboriginal people living on their ancestral lands. A particular appeal of PES is its potential for promoting economic growth, ecological sustainability and poverty alleviation simultaneously (WWW 2006, Wunder 2007, Lee and Mahanty 2009).

Art and Craft Production

Art and craft production is an important source of income for Aboriginal people in the IPAs, and is a source of economic development for many outstation communities. It is also a means of practicing and revitalising Indigenous cultural traditions and customs. The local natural resources utilized to return an income to the land owners include bark and ochres for bark paintings, wood for carvings and musical instruments, fibre for mats, baskets and figures and fibre, beads and seeds for jewellery.

The region has a strong reputation for traditional art and craft production with a number of artists having international acclaim for their art works. Commercial outlets for this production are located at Kunbarllanjnja (Oenpelli), Maningrida and Darwin. These ventures have been possible because the artists are living on their ancestral lands, maintaining their cultural traditions, and creating art arising from cultural knowledge. In 2005/06 more than 700 artists sold art and craft to Maningrida Arts and Culture. A record amount of $1.1 million from the sales of art works was returned directly to artists (Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation 2009).

Customary Hunting, Gathering and Fishing

Subsistence hunting, gathering and fishing are vital economic activities in the Djelk and Warddeken IPAs. Particularly on the outstations, wild foods account for a considerable proportion of dietary intake (Altman 2001). It has been shown in a number of studies on subsistence use of natural resources that regular hunting is required to sustain families living on minimal cash incomes (Altman 1987).

Commercial Wildlife Utilization

In recent years there has been moves to innovatively utilise commercial wildlife utilisation in the Djelk IPA. One example is the fledgling industry in the harvesting of northern long-necked turtle (Fordham et al. 2011).


Altman, J.C. (1987). Hunter-gatherers Today: An Aboriginal Economy in North Australia, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.

Altman, J.C. (2001). Exploring sustainable development options on Aboriginal land: The hybrid economy in the twenty-first century, Discussion Paper No. 226,Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National Uuniversity, Canberra.

Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (2009). Djelk Indigenous Protected Area - Central Northern Arnhem Land Management Plan 2009.

Fordham, A., Fogarty, W., and Fordham, D. (2010). The Viability of Wildlife Enterprises in Remote Indigenous Communities of Australia: A Case Study. Research Paper No 63. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Development.

Lee, E., and Mahanty, S. (2009). Payments for Environmental Services and Poverty Reduction - Risks and Opportunities Issues Paper. The Centre for People and Forests. Bangkok, Thailand.

Northern Territory Government (2012). Working Future: A Territory Government Initiative: Maningrida.

Wunder, S. (2007). The efficiency of payments for environmental services in tropical conservation. Conservation Biology 21: 48–58.

WWF (2006). Payments for Environmental Services – An equitable approach for reducing poverty and conserving nature. WWF publication, Gland.