Nowanup: Healing country, healing people

Keith Bradby, Eugene Eades, Justin Jonson, Barry Heydenrych.

Key words: Noongar, Gondwana Link, cultural restoration, ecological restoration, design

Introduction. Greening Australia’s 754 ha Nowanup property was one of the first purchased with donor funds to help achieve the Gondwana Link programme’s goal of reconnecting native habitats across south-western Australia (Fig 1). The ecological work of Gondwana Link is underpinned by the involvement of people living within the region’s landscapes.

Nowanup (Fig 2) is a visually compelling place, with rising breakaway mesas, broad sweeping plains, and views south down the Corackerup valley and south west to the Stirling Range. Its remaining native vegetation systems are dominated by mallee shrublands, mallet and moort woodlands and banksia heathlands. It contains large populations of the locally endemic eucalypts Corackerup Moort (Eucalyptus vesiculosa) and Corackerup Mallet (E. melanophitra) and it is expected that additional rare flora species will be found. It also supports populations of a range of threatened fauna species including Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), Western Whipbird (Psophodes nigrogularis), Shy Groundwren (Hylacola cauta whitlocki), Crested Bellbird (Oreoica gutturalis gutturalis) and Black-gloved wallaby (Macropus irma). The original native vegetation remains in the upper section of the property (Fig 3), though much of this area has been cleared and burnt for farming, but never farmed. The farmland areas are now largely replanted.

Fig 1 Fitz-Stirling Corridor

Fig. 1. Nowanup is part of the broader Gondwana Link Program

Fig 2. Nowanup rock features

Fig. 2. Nowanup has visually compelling rock features and expansive landscapes.

Cultural significance. The groups involved in Gondwana Link support a range of social and cultural activities involving donors, farmers, government agencies, research bodies, industry groups and various landcare and natural resource management groups. Primary among these are the Aboriginal People, which for Nowanup is the local Noongar community.

Many Noongar elders knew the area well before it was cleared for farming, and speak of its cultural significance. Cultural mapping on the property has underlined that significance by locating a number of cultural sites and concentrations of artefacts. After purchase in 2004 the property was made available to the Noongar community, to support their aspirations, and Noongar leader Eugene Eades resides on Nowanup. Initially employed by Greening Australia as an Indigenous Engagement Officer, and now running camps and events at Nowanup as a Noongar led program, Eugene liaises with educational, corrections and welfare institutions and agencies to coordinate a range of educational and rehabilitation programmes. Eugene has also managed, with a team of young Noongar men, construction of a ‘Meeting Place’ that has assumed considerable significance for the local Noongar community (Fig 4).

Located in the heart of the Fitz-Stirling section of Gondwana Link, with its striking scenic qualities, a powerful sense of place, basic building infrastructure, cultural ‘Meeting Place’, and resident Noongar manager, Nowanup has become the focus for educational and cultural activities and programmes in the Fitz-Stirling, including an increasing level of Noongar involvement in the restoration plantings. These have included planting seedlings during community days and the expert planting of thousands of seedlings by four Noongar boys undertaking an eight week justice diversion program under Eugene Eades.

Fig 3 Nowanup aerial 2014. Courtesy Airpix

Fig. 3. The upper section of the property contains remnant or regrowth native vegetation, with the rest actively farmed prior to the revegetation

Approximately 340ha of the northern portion of the property is remnant bushland, with approximately 350 hectares of cleared land to the south, which has now been largely revegetated, including with trials of local species with commercial potential.

Some of the earlier plantings reflected a low-diversity revegetation approach, which was later improved across Gondwana Link plantings to better reflect the goal of ecological restoration modelled on local reference sites (see Monjebup summary). Nowanup’s early revegetation efforts were also impacted by difficulties in achieving good germination of a number of species on the sites difficult clay soils, with the result that many areas are dominated by a few species of eucalypts and acacias. These have been enriched recently by in-fill plantings which also demonstrate an improvement in the standard of work over 10 years. This has included improvements in the agronomy of direct seeding techniques (by Geoff Woodall), such as using direct drilling instead of scalping, that Greening Australia undertook in 2014, and which has subsequently been more widely used. In addition, integration of cultural and ecological aspects was advanced through a 2015 direct seeding project collaboratively designed by Eugene Eades and restoration practitioner Justin Jonson, which integrates indigenous cultural meaning and values into an ecological restoration project (Fig 4). The planting is only a year old, but the integration of cultural values and the sites biophysical conditions into one inclusive design is a powerful and innovative step forward. The site has been coined ‘Karta-Wongkin-Jini’ by Mr. Eades, which means ‘place where people come together’, and , with fantastic germination to date, is on track to serve as an important demonstration of culturally informed ecological restoration in practice.

Fig 4. Cultural EcoRestoration Systems 2015

Fig. 4. Eco-restoration design by Eugene Eades and Justin Jonson

Fig5. Cultural presentation Nowanup

Fig. 5. Schoolchildren enjoying a cultural presentation at the ‘Meeting Place’

Healing nature, healing people. Greening Australia was committed from the outset to engagement of the Noongar community in its operation in the Fitz-Stirling section of Gondwana Link. A cultural benefit of the project that was largely unforeseen but which developed rapidly has been the realization of the opportunities Nowanup presents for a range of programmes that support young Noongars at risk, as well as for rehabilitation and respite care. Eugene Eades has already supervised several Court arranged and respite care programmes on the property, and there is intense interest from a wide range of organisations in utilizing Eugene and Nowanup for running an extended range of programmes in the future (Fig 5). A project focused on the healing of country has great potential also for healing people.

The running of such programmes is out of scope for a conservation NGO whose mission is the transformation of landscape at scale. The programmes to date have made do with the very basic infrastructure that currently exists on Nowanup, with Greening plus supporters and donors subsidizing Eugene’s role in managing the programmes. Even while operating on this ad hoc basis, the programmes have proved Nowanup’s enormous potential for expanded cultural and social endeavours in the future. Greening Australia is keen to contribute to a transition that will allow for Nowanup’s full potential for such purposes to be realized.

Fig 6. Noongar planters by Ron D'Raine

Fig 6. Elder Aden Eades, Eugene Eades and Bill Woods lead a community planting day on Nowanup

Issues and Options. The framework plantings and larger scale direct seeding on Nowanup is now essentially complete, with the last significant works having been undertaken in 2015 – although infill plantings and seeding will occur as funding allows (Fig 6). From this point on, continuing conservation management of the property is required to ensure its contribution to ecological health in the Fitz-Stirling increases as the restoration work matures. With Greening Australia’s key focus on ecological restoration, there is no reason why properties that have been restored should not be subsequently divested to alternative ownership, so long as the necessary conservation covenants and management arrangements are in place. With Nowanup this would ideally be a body representative of local Noongar community interests. With both the original habitat areas and the revegetation and restoration areas already under protective covenant, the agreements and arrangements can be put in place to provide certainty for investment by corrections and/or welfare agencies into the infrastructure required to run properly-resourced programmes on the property. Nowanup will then be better placed to realize its full potential in healing country and people.

Funding: Revegetation costs were largely met through the Reconnections program, funded by Shell Australia, the Commonwealth Government’s Biodiversity Fund and 20 Million Trees Programme. Eugene Eades funds the cultural and social programs as a private business. Gondwana Link Ltd and Greening Australia provide support as needed.

Contact: Keith Bradby, Gondwana Link. PO Box 5276, Albany WA 6332. Phone: +61 (0)8 9842 0002. Email:

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