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Indigenous Australian Albert Wiggan has been awarded the Australian Geographic (AG) Society’s Conservationist of the Year award for his efforts to protect his homeland against gas export developments. 

The Bardi-Kija-Nyul Nyul man and environmental consultant successfully campaigned in 2013 against the Australian government’s scheme to build one of the world’s largest liquified natural gas plants at Jame Price Point, an unspoiled section of Western Australia’s Kimberley region. 

Wiggan, who brought the case to Australia’s Supreme Court, won after the developer, Woodside Petroleum, pulled out of the project.

Wiggan said he was “overwhelmed” to be honored by the AG Society Awards, considered Australia’s longest-running awards for adventure and conservation.

"I feel very proud in the fact that all of the work that I’m passionate about in promoting Indigenous rangers and providing Indigenous knowledge on how to look after country is recognized at that level,” he told NITV News. “I’m really proud of that.” 

The Kimberley, a “uniquely untouched” 425,000-square-kilometre region in north Western Australia, is home to vast grasslands, mountains, ridges, and sandstone and limestone gorges. 

According to Wiggan, the region is facing increasing threats over long-term mining and agriculture developments.

"There’s a lot of resources still available, mineral resources in particular that are yet to be exploited,” Wiggan explained. “Those resources are becoming very attractive to multinational agendas.” 

Alongside working to stop the over-development of Indigenous land, Wiggan also works to educate western scientists on the significance of land to Indigenous populations and the importance of fostering collaborative research in the Kimberley. 

Wiggan said it was vital developers and governments do not look at land entirely on potential economic output, and instead understand the emotional damage that is done when the natural environment — considered a fundamental part of Indigenous identity — is destroyed. 

"I feel like we have a responsibility to make sure that people truly genuinely understand what’s at cost here,” he said.


Defend the Planet

An Indigenous Ranger Just Won the Australian Geographic’s Conservationist of the Year Award

By Madeleine Keck