What is country-based planning?

A country-based plan is simply a plan for the country of a particular Indigenous group, as defined and selected by that group. If the plan is developed by a single family or clan group, the country-based plan may relate to a relatively small area of a single clan estate. Alternatively, a Traditional Owner group may comprise members of several clans, or a whole language group or perhaps several language groups – in which case the country-based plan would relate to a larger area. The critical factor to a successful country-based plan is that the Indigenous group determines the cultural and geographic scale at which they wish to plan.

The country-based planning approach enables Indigenous groups to express their own vision, values, strategies and proposed actions for their country, irrespective of the various layers of legislation and land ownership (tenures) and other constraints that have been placed upon their traditional territory since European settlement. Having developed their own vision for their country it is then possible for them to engage with the various government agencies, landholders and other interest groups to build partnerships to achieve some or all of that vision.

Country-based planning is a simple idea that can achieve significant outcomes for Indigenous people and for others with interests in country. If carried out with the full engagement of all Indigenous people associated with the planning area, and with opportunities for government agencies and other stakeholders to learn about Indigenous perspectives of their country, sites and values, country-based planning has the potential to assist Indigenous people to lead the development of respectful, collaborative outcomes rather than only respond to or engage with the initiatives of government agencies and others.

A country-based plan is not a legal document and does not require government approval, although government agencies may contribute to the planning process. The power of a country-based plan comes from its ability to communicate Traditional Owners values as an expression of cultural authority or interest in country, whether or not that cultural interest or authority is currently recognised in law.

Further information on country-based planning is available in Dermot Smyth’s Guidelines for Country-based Planning

Further REFLECTIONS on Country-based Planning are available here

Examples of country-based plans:

The Ngarrindjeri Nation Yaruwar-Ruwe Plan was developed by the Ngarrindjeri people whose country lies along the lower reaches and lakes of the Murray River and Coorong coastal region of South Australia. This is an example of a country-based plan that covers an entire Aboriginal nation or language area and covers large areas of farmland, national park, freshwater and saltwater wetlands and beaches. Although Ngarrindjeri people have ownership of only small areas of their traditional country, their country-based plan has provided a platform for negotiating substantial involvement in the management of country across multiple tenures.

The Strategic Plan for Mandingalbay Yidinji Country was developed by the Mandingalbay Yidinji people whose country lies just to the south of Cairns in north Queensland. The plan covers a diversity of tenures including national park, environmental reserve, local government reserve and marine park, and was developed following a determination of native title over a portion of Mandingalbay Yidinji country. The Mandingalbay Yidinji people are a sub-group within the larger Yidinji language group whose country extends from the Great Barrier Reef to the Atherton Tablelands. The country-based plan for Mandingalbay Yidinji country led to the establishment of Australia’s first multiple tenure, land and sea Indigenous Protected Area.

The Kurtijar Land and Saltwater Country Plan outlines a vision for Aboriginal management of land, rivers and coastal areas between the Norman and Staaten Rivers in the southeast Gulf of Carpentaria in north-western Queensland. The area covered by the plan includes cattle stations, national parks, rivers and coastal areas within Kurtijar country, outlining opportunities for increased engagement of Kurtijar people in the management and use of these areas.

Gkuthaarn & Kukatj Land and Sea Country Plan prepared for the Carpentaria Land Council on behalf of GKuthaarn and Kukatj Traditional Owners of the southern Gulf of Carpentaria

Kooyang Sea Country Plan developed by members of the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust and Winda Mara Aboriginal Corporation in South-west Victoria. The Plan covers Maar sea country in south-west Victoria. The Framlingham Aboriginal Trust won an award in the Victorian Coastal Awards for Excellent 2006 hosted by the Victorian Coastal Council, Coast Action and the Australian Government’s Coastcare program for their Kooyang Sea Country Plan.

Thuwathu / Bujimulla Sea Country Plan prepared by the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation for the Wellesley Island region of the Gulf of Carpentaria

Barni-Wardimantha Awara (Don’t Spoil the Country) – Yanyuwa Sea Country Plan prepared by Yanyuwa Li-anthawirriyarra (Saltwater People). The Plan covers the estuary of the McArthur River and the Sir Edward Pellew Islands, south-western Gulf of Carpentaria.

Introducing the concept of Country-based Planning to Taiwan

In March 2015 Dermot Smyth delivered presentations on Country-based Planning at a Symposium on Indigenous and Community Conservation and a Workshop on Indigenous Engagement in Protected Areas held in Taipei, Taiwan. Dermot’s report on these two events is available here and includes a preliminary discussion on the potential for a Country-based planning approach to be used to support aspirations for greater Indigenous and local community engagement in protected area management and natural resource management in Taiwan.

(including Sea Country Planning)

Gould, J., Smyth, D., Rassip, W. Rist, P. & Oxenham, K. Recognizing the contribution of Indigenous Protected Areas
to marine protected area management in Australia. Maritime Studies (2021) 20:5–26. Click here to download

Rist, P., Rassip, W., Yunupingu, D., Wearne, J., Gould, J., Dulfer-Hyams, M., Bock, E., and D. Smyth (2019) Indigenous Protected Areas in Sea Country: Indigenous-driven collaborative marine protected areas in Australia, Aquatic Conservation Marine Freshwater Ecosystems. 2019;1–14.. Click here to download

Smyth, D., Gould, J., Ayre, M., Bock, E., Dulfer-Hyams, M. and and Vernes, T. (2016).  Indigenous-driven Co-governance of Sea Country through Collaborative Planning and Indigenous Protected Areas.  Indigenous Law Bulletin, University of NSW Vol. 8 (27).

Smyth, D. (2011) Guidelines for Country-based Planning. Report to the Queensland department of Environment and Resource Management, Cairns, Australia. Click here to download

Smyth, D. (2007) Sea Country Planning. Waves, Vol 13 (2) p. 3. Click here to download