Defined by contradiction
: the social construction of joint management in Kakadu National Park

  • Christopher David Haynes

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Born in the 1970s, a period when the Australian state needed to resolve land use conflicts in the then relatively remote Alligator Rivers region of Australia’s Northern Territory, Kakadu has become the nation’s largest and most famous national park. Aside from its worthy national park attributes and World Heritage status, it is also noted for its joint management, the sharing of management between the state and the traditional Aboriginal owners of the area.

    As an experienced park manager working in this park more than two decades after its declaration in 1979, I found joint management hard to comprehend and even harder to manage. In this thesis I explore this phenomenon as practice: how joint management works now, and how it came to be as it is.

    The work explains how the now accepted ‘best model’ for joint management – a legal arrangement based on land ownership by Aboriginal people, lease back to the state under negotiated conditions, a governing board of management with an Aboriginal majority, and regular consultation does not, on its own, satisfy either partner. Instead, I show that traditional owners and white actors representing the state must negotiate contradictions on many levels: between conservation and recreation; histories, race and world views of actors; state power fields and those derived from land ownership; and powerful social structures and forces that draw the partners together and push them apart.

    In revealing the forces that divide white and Aboriginal actors, and thus threaten the fragile edifice of joint management, I also show that there are structures and activities in place that can be boosted. Chief among these is the under-celebrated ‘joint discourse’ that derives from the two partner groups working together in Kakadu’s famous bush more closely as equals. Simple and humble measures might be taken to strengthen the structures around joint discourse and I suggest these should succeed where increasing bureaucracy has demonstrably failed.
    Date of AwardJul 2009
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorTess Lea (Supervisor)

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