Cobourg Peninsula and Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Traditional Owners
The Traditional Owners of Cobourg Peninsula (the Arrarrkbi) have lived on and used the Peninsula for between 40 000 and 60 000 years. In many Dreamtime stories across the Top End of the Northern Territory, it is considered that the Creation Ancestors first entered Australia via Malay Bay near the Peninsula before travelling across the rest of the country creating people and places.
At present, the Arrarrkbi live on the Peninsula and continue many of the cultural practices which have been handed down over many generations. The core traditional owner group is about 50-60 people with many more people having connections and cultural obligations associated with the Peninsula.
Continuing use of the Cobourg Peninsula
During the early 1950s, the Indigenous inhabitants of the Peninsula were moved to other localities, such as Croker Island. After an agreement was reached with the Northern Territory Government for access to and use of the land, under the 1981 Cobourg Peninsular Aboriginal Land and Sanctuary Act, many of the Indigenous people returned to live on the Peninsula.
The right of the Indigenous people to occupy and use the land is now secured through the Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land, Sanctuary and Marine Park Act 1996 (NT). The land is vested in perpetuity in the Cobourg Peninsula Sanctuary Land Trust for the traditional owners. This supports the traditional owners to continue to have spiritual links with the land and sea, and to maintain their culture and customary beliefs and practices.
Cobourg Peninsula is managed as a national park (the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park) under a joint management arrangement between the Arrarrkbi people and the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. This was the first formal joint management arrangement in Australia. The Arrarrkbi live on and use the Peninsula whilst being a decision-making partner in the management of the national park through the Board of Management. The park includes the former Gurig National Park (or Cobourg Sanctuary) and the Cobourg Marine Park.
There are two outstations and one ranger station located within Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. The Parks and Wildlife Commission provide permanent, contract and flexible working arrangements for a number of Arrarrkbi people.
Arrarrkbi engage in land and sea management through employment as rangers and through independent traditional land and sea management practices. For example, Arrarrkbi undertake fire, weed and feral animal management, coastal surveillance, ghost net management and monitoring of fauna, weeds, ghost nets, fire and illegal fishing vessels.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
The Arrarrkbi people hold a substantial body of traditional ecological knowledge including knowledge on fire management, knowledge of flora, fauna and ecosystems, ecological processes, landscape change, weather and seasons. As coastal people, the Arrarrkbi also have extensive knowledge of currents, sandbanks, local conditions, safe boating routes, breeding localities, water depths, good hunting localities and where to find fresh water. Through this intimate knowledge of the environment, Arrarrkbi are able to closely monitor the health of the ecosystems and landscapes found within the Ramsar site.
The main Indigenous language spoken on Cobourg Peninsula is Iwaidja. The Iwaidja language names and traditional uses (including food, medicine, timber, fibre, dye and many others) for 269 plants have been recorded. Over 400 Arrarrkbi place names have been recorded on the Cobourg Peninsula. The Iwaidja language is maintained through its everyday use by Arrarrkbi, through documentation, oral history and song, and by using the Iwaidja names for places in the park.
Cobourg Peninsula provides a rich variety of flora and fauna which have been traditionally used for food, medicine, timber, fibre, dye, tools and many other uses . Bush tucker harvested from the waters of Cobourg Peninsula includes crabs, turtles, dugongs, barramundi, oysters and cockleshells.
Further information about the Indigenous management of the Cobourg Peninsula is available through: