Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Geography and Sustainable Communities


This thesis explores contemporary engagements between Indigenous Australians and conservation organisations. Under a new paradigm, conservation claims to be inclusive of Indigenous people. There is a considerable body of work on this topic stemming from case studies from developing countries, yet little attention has been afforded to developed settler societies such as Australia, where Indigenous people are often considered citizens of the “fourth world”.

Using a multiple case study design and a mixed methods approach of archival research, document analysis, interviews and observations, the thesis investigates the historical and contemporary context of engagements between Indigenous Australians and the conservation sector, and how and why Indigenous Australians are recognised in these engagements. The findings demonstrate that Indigenous social justice is becoming increasingly dependent on the conservation agenda, and achievements secured under an Indigenous social justice agenda are being enjoyed by the conservation sector. The thesis confirms that the new conservation paradigm has been embraced in Australia. It reveals new and emerging geographies of conservation and Indigenous land in Australia, in which conservation organisations use a spectrum of processes to recognise Indigenous people. Conservation organisations use mainly affirmative recognition processes in the scale and territory of their operations, yet they mostly deny recognition of Indigenous people and interests in their governance. A few instances of transformative recognition processes and non- or mis-recognition processes also occur. There is an axis of variability, with affirmative recognition processes being independent of land tenure, but transformative recognition processes being dependent on land being held by Indigenous Australians, or the likelihood of land being returned. The thesis demonstrates that more effective participation or inclusion of Indigenous people occurs when transformative processes are utilised by conservation organisations.