Introduction. Cultural events are increasingly recognised as critical to cultural change and community awareness building. One outstanding example is the Lake Bolac Eel Festival (Kuyang Lapakira – Plenty Eels), a biennial festival held at Lake Bolac in the western basalt plains of Victoria to celebrate environmental repair and Aboriginal cultural revival (Figs 1-5).
The timing of the festival reflects the season when Kuyang (Shortfinned Eel, Anguilla australis) begins its migration to the sea to spawn and when the First Nations Communities from surrounding areas gathered to harvest the species, trade and hold ceremonies. As such the festival is a significant gathering place for people who care for the environment and respect Aboriginal cultural heritage, promoting the restoration of Lake Bolac and surrounding waterways.
An Environmental Forum is a regular part of each festival program. At this year’s forum, chaired by freshwater wetland ecologist Michelle Casanova, six presenters including Traditional Owners, Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority representatives, the local Landcare group, local landholders and researchers provided rich information about the significance of the site, the eel and its habitat, management strategies, and roles of stakeholders.
The Forum commenced with a moving Welcome dance and a smoking ceremony led by Traditional Owner Brett Clarke. The first speakers were Tim Hill and Jileena Cole, Chair and Facilitator respectively from the Beyond Bolac Catchment Action Group, who described the context of the efforts to protect and repair eel habitats in a production landscape. Brett Clarke then spoke movingly on the role of First Nations people caring for Country and culture. The third speaker was Greg Kerr, Senior Ecologist with Nature Glenelg Trust, who focused on exploring the idea of ‘home’ for animals in Lake Bolac, while the fourth speaker, John Sherwood from Deakin University, intrigued the audience with his presentation on recent evidence of the Moyjil archaeological site at Warrnambool Victoria that suggests far earlier habitation of Victoria by Aboriginal people than is conventionally understood.
Damein Bell – member of the Gundtijmara community, CEO of Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and currently a Board Member with the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority – spoke engagingly on the long effort to have the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape recognised on the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2019. This account reinforced the importance of patient and persistent action to effect social change.
Perhaps the most intriguing talk was the presentation by the sixth speaker, Wayne Koster from the Arthur Rylah Institute (DELWP) who regaled us with what is currently known about the migration of the Short-finned Eel. This species is native to the lakes, dams and coastal rivers of south-eastern Australia, New Zealand, and much of the South Pacific, but very little has been historically known about its reproduction or where this takes place. Preliminary results were presented of Waynes’s recent work satellite tracking oceanic migrations of the Short-finned Eel, with migration track to the Coral Sea between New Caledonia and Australia.
Stakeholders: The event is managed by the Lake Bolac Eel Festival Committee. Funders include: Grampians Pyrenees Primary Care Partnership, Victorian Regional Arts Fund Community Grants Round 2 2019, Ararat Rural City Council; Regional Arts Victoria, Beyond Bolac Catchment Action Groups, Stronger Communities Programme Round 7 – Wannon, Visit Victoria – Regional Community Events Fund, Glenelg Hopkins CMA, Willaura Lake Bolac Community Bank and NBN Local.
Contacts: Una Allender <email@example.com> or Ayesha Burdett <firstname.lastname@example.org> Lake Bolac Eel Festival Committee. Media contact: Sally Gibson <email@example.com>