Te Rarawa couldn't quite turn on the sort of weather they were used to, but was honoured to host three indigenous rangers from the Northern Land Council in Australia's Northern Territory recently.

The trip to New Zealand was part of the rangers' research and cultural exchange experience, made possible by a Northern Territory government grant and Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship.

The trust provides opportunities for Australians to travel overseas and conduct research in their chosen fields, which in this case was focused on indigenous women in conservation.

When trip organiser Penny Mules was awarded the scholarship she chose New Zealand as her final destination, following visits to indigenous women in India, Africa, Canada, the United States and the Cook Islands. And, after researching New Zealand's cultural and environmental landscape, she chose Te Rarawa and the Far North as the people group and destination for the rangers to visit.


"New Zealand was the easiest choice of countries, as we share a similar history of colonisation and strong indigenous women working in conservation," Ms Mules said.

"Te Rarawa appealed to me after seeing all the work they're doing in the area of conservation on the internet."

The challenges of weed species and feral animals in the natural environment featured as key similarities between the Northland and Northern Territory environments, while Ms Mules' research showed that indigenous women were a natural fit in conservation, given that they know their country, flora and fauna well, and play a key role in preserving the environment.

"The whole experience was brilliant. From the warm welcome we were given to the willingness of the Te Rarawa women to share their culture, their stories and their time — they were just so generous," she said.

Bronwyn Bauer-Hunt, Te Rarawa amohaere (principal advisor) said it was a great privilege for Te Rarawa to host the rangers, with whose visit came the beginnings of a global network of indigenous women working or involved in conservation.

"The opportunity to spend time and exchange culture with our Aboriginal sisters was greatly empowering, and insightful on both sides," she said. "What was really striking was learning the cultural significance of possums to the Aboriginal women, and reconciling that what is a pest to us is a taonga to them. It was enlightening."

One of the highlights for the Aboriginal rangers was being exposed to traditional Māori natural healing through rongoā, and seeing the similarities with their own medicinal use of native plants.

"At grass roots the challenges the indigenous people in the Northern Territory face are very similar to those we face here in the Far North," Ms Bauer-Hunt said.


"Things like lack of resources, the scale and complexity of the work we need to do to protect and restore the environment.

"Both our cultures share in the need for opportunities to increase the knowledge and implementation of traditional or customary practices. We also share in the need to revitalise our respective languages, a common issue for indigenous cultures worldwide."

Established in the 1970s, the Northern Land Council helps Aboriginal people to acquire and manage their territorial lands and seas, while a key research finding was that in order for women to succeed in conservation roles they need strong support from their community, good networks, and women in leadership positions to work with and for mentoring.