Category Archives: Indigenous land & sea management

Aboriginal community engagement through the Threatened Grassy Woodlands Project – North-east Victoria

Key words: Indigenous Land Management, Traditional ecological knowledge transfer, stone knapping, weaving, Landcare

Richard Mc Ternan and Mary Munro

The Threatened Grassy Woodlands Project focuses on one of Australia’s most threatened ecosystems. As this ecosystem has significant value to Aboriginal people, the North East Catchment Management Authority (North East CMA) and Aboriginal Elders from the Border and North East Victoria have been working together since 2008 to increase Aboriginal engagement with natural resource management across the region.  Priorities have been to (i) help the establishment of an Aboriginal Landcare group; and (ii) conduct Aboriginal community engagement activities to facilitate knowledge sharing and capacity building between local Aboriginal communities and NRM agencies. Experiences to date show there is a strong interest from Aboriginal people in these activities, and involvement in them has increased pride within the Aboriginal community, and recognition from the wider community.

‘Bidja Bila’ (men of the river) Aboriginal men’s Landcare group.  Formed in 2010 through a Memorandum of Understanding document, the group has the support of a dedicated Aboriginal Landcare Involvement Officer. The aspirations identified by the group are to gather to rekindle traditional stories and practices, and encourage interaction between Elders and younger Aboriginal people, reconnecting with the environment.  A primary goal is to take pressure off the elders, reinforcing and carrying forward their work of guiding the community and government.

Fig 1. ‘Bidja Bila’ (men of the river) Aboriginal men’s Landcare group at first planting day July 2011. (Foreground:Dick Murray, Wayne Edwards and Desi Smith. Background: Ray Williams and Richard Kennedy).

The group’s first project was planting 500 native trees and grasses to enhance forest understories for animals (such as the Sugar Glider) reliant on threatened woodlands. Over time these plants will also be a cultural resource for the community and become a focal point for Aboriginal guided tours through the local cultural centre. Other projects in the planning stage involve further exploration of ways to reengage with grassy box woodland, through increased traditional plant knowledge and cultural fire management.

Workshops on stone tool making and weaving. From 2009, a series of stone tool making and weaving workshops, incorporating knowledge from Elders from six nations, have been conducted for the local Aboriginal community. The workshops utilised natural stone – or plant resources – -derived from the Threatened Grassy Woodlands environment.

Stone tool making workshops. Three Aboriginal stone tool-making (knapping) workshops have enabled Elders to demonstrate techniques gained through a lifetime of experience and shared these with participants. An exhibition was also held at the Albury Library Museum showcasing the array of stone tools created by the Elders during the 2009 workshops. Photos and film footage taken during the workshops by filmmaker, Jacqueline Schulz, and local photographer, Chantelle Bourne were shown at the exhibition. This footage and photos. showed the process Aboriginal people use to manufacture stone tools from the raw material right through to the finished product.

Fig 2. Weaving workshop hosted by Indigo Valley Landcare group and attended by (L to R) Ro Lavers (Indigo Landcare group), Chris Dormer (North-east Weaving Association), Sharon Edwards (Ngiyampaa woman), Cheryl Cameron (Wiradjuri woman) and Jackie Tansy (weaving facilitator). (Photo courtesy of The Border Mail.)

Weaving workshop and film. A number of weaving artists demonstrated traditional Aboriginal weaving techniques and showcased their creations at a weaving workshop initiated by Indigo Valley Landcare group and held at the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service in 2011.  Also shown was the film, “Sneaking a stitch”, made by Jacqui Schulz, which conveyed many elements of traditional weaving and pointed out the need to conserve and manage declining plant species used as a weaving resource. This film proved an effective way of communicating important messages about culture and caring for the environment between women and young girls. Further workshops on other topics have been conducted and are planned for the future.

Funding acknowledgement: We acknowledge support from the Australian Government’s ‘Caring for our Country’ initiative, together with contributions from the North East, Goulburn Broken and Murray CMAs, the Victorian State Departments of Sustainability & Environment and Primary Industries, Trust for Nature, Nature Conservation Trust and the Australian National University.

Contact: Richard Mc Ternan, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, North East CMA, PO Box 616, Wodonga VIC 3689 Australia. Tel:+61 2 60 249 109; Mobile: 0428 683 878. Email: richard.mcternan@necma.vic.gov.au

Basketweaving for ecosystem conservation – Coorong, South Australia

Ellen Trevorrow, Tom Trevorrow and Joan Gibbs

Our concerns for the future supply of our basketweaving rushes (Cyperus spp.) are at the heart of our teaching at Camp Coorong for Race Relations Cultural Education.  The rushes are continually being depleted by stock grazing, mowing, weed sprays and neglect of our waterways and Wetlands of International Significance. The Murray River, Lakes and Coorong were suffering and drying from the 8-year drought and from 200 years of mismanagement of our waterways.  We had turned to using recycled fibres such as string, garden twine and wire. In response to this need for materials from the land, we created an artistic working group, Ngarrindjeri Eco-Art Coop (NEAC),  to embrace the principle of using local materials that would not harm the Earth. Recycling discarded items into art gives new meaning and value to materials that could become an environmental hazard.

Fig. 1. Ellen Trevorrow and NEAC teacher, Jelina Haines, with woven trousers from recycled string.

In the last two years several cultural, spiritual ceremonies were held to bring back the water to the River and the Coorong estuary, to help our totems (plant and animal ngatjis).  In 2009, we were graced by a visit with Grandmother Agnes Pilgrim, who came to Camp Coorong to give a water blessing to bring back the healing waters to the land. Many community members danced and sang to the waters and apologised to the ngatjis for their neglect.  In 2010, the first Ringbalin ceremony was conducted at significant places along the length of the Murray Basin and Rivers, to bring back the health of the river system.  The Talkindjeri Dancers, led by the Ngarrindjeri elder, Major Sumner, travelled for two weeks along the river, stopping at towns along the way to meet with people who joined in the dancing and ceremony on the River. At the end of the river, as Talkindjeri danced on Brown’s Beach at Lake Albert near Meningie, the rains began and the drought was broken.  The rushes returned and the Murray River soon flowed again to the Southern Ocean.

Fig. 2. Tom and Ellen Trevorrow, Ngarrindjeri leaders at Camp Coorong for Race Relations and Cultural Education.

Although the basketweaving plants are growing once again, we are still conscious of the care and use of the weaving rushes. We always balance our need to collect rushes against the supply and reproduction of healthy plants and healthy country. Our ngatjis, the local plants and animals, tell us how we are going, and what we should do to keep the Coorong alive.  Now the Working on Country crews are growing the rushes and planting them out in country, hoping to sustain the future of basketweaving and culture.  Ngarrindjeri people have been relentless about asking the Murray Darling Basin Commission to ensure cultural flows are considered as part of critical human needs.  We also ask that cultural flows reach all parts of the River to sustain our ngatjis, the native plants and the fish stocks. We believe that when our ngatjis die, we die.

Contact: Ellen and Tom Trevorrow, Camp Coorong, Box 126, Meningie, SA 5264, Australia. Tel: +61-8-8575-1557; Fax: +61-8-8575-1448; and Joan Gibbs, University of SA, Mawson Lakes, SA 5095, Australia. Tel: +61-8-8302-5164.

Returning community back to the Land – Jali LALC links into Hotspots program

Key words: Indigenous land management, ecological burning, threatened species, Indigenous Protected Area

Lana Andrews

Jali landholders, from near Wardell in north coast NSW, have been involved with a unique opportunity to get back in touch with country – through the Hotspots Program.

Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council is the largest landowner in the Ballina Shire.  Its holdings include a proposed Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) of some 1,0000 ha of native vegetation; an area of high conservation value immediately adjacent to a number of residential areas of the community, including Cabbage Tree Island in the Richmond River.

Burns were previously purposely lit in the area from stolen cars and cigarette butts, threatening the ongoing conservation of the area’s biodiversity, including the threatened Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus) .

Events. Workshop. The Hotspots team coordinated 2 workshop events to consolidate known information of the property and to facilitate the community to meet with the local land managers including the Rural Fire Service and National Parks & Wildlife Service.

Fire management strategy. As a result, the Hotspots team helped the community to develop a Geographical Information System (GIS) based fire management strategy for the site. This included spatial maps of the vegetation types, fire history, fire thresholds and fire management zones.

Bush Fire Fighter Training. Working with the RFS, Hotspots helped to facilitate practical on-ground training in fire operations for the community. This training, specifically tailored to the members of the community who had been involved in the Environmental Training and Employment Inc (Envite NSW) program, included an introduction to fire fighting techniques and equipment, bush fire behaviour and prescribed burning.

Prescribed Burn.  In August 2010 the NSW Rural Fire Service and Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council conducted a joint 2.5 hectare burn on their lands for the protection of biodiversity and cultural values whilst also assisting to address protection of life and property. The vegetation of the burn site was long unburnt heath with fuel ranging from 10-17 tonnes/hectare. The controlled burn facilitated cooperative planning and implementation and developed the relationship between the Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council and the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Outcomes.  Hotspots provided an even ground, where the Indigenous community could benefit from the program, learning through the knowledge of experts in fire management and ecology – and in return, fire managers and ecologists could gain experience from those who have lived on the land for generations.

The Jali on-ground crew have been working closely with the Wetland Care Partnership group and have conducted monitoring on Potoroo sites in the area. Instead of continuing to be subject to random burns started by arsonists, the gates have been put up, and the Jali crew can safely conduct their own mosaic burns, with the intent of providing good regeneration as habitat for the local Potoroos.

Engagement with this program is a way of returning the community back to the land, providing training programs and education to allow the community to develop the skills and knowledge so they can be in the driver’s seat for managing their own land and setting their own direction.

Contact: Lana Andrews (Coordinator Hotspots Programme), NSW Rural Fire Service NSW Rural Fire Service, 15 Carter Street Lidcombe NSW 2141 Australia, Tel: +61 2 8741 5438, Mobile: 0408 109 446, Email: hotspots@rfs.nsw.gov.au. See www.hotspotsfireproject.org.au

Three action research projects: (i)Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways Fire Program, (ii)Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research Project and (iii)the Importance of Campfires to Effective Conservation – Cape York Peninsula Australia

Key words: Traditional ecological knowledge, natural resource management, Indigenous research, Indigenous training, fire management

Location and purpose of the projects. Kuku-Thaypan (Awu Laya) country is part of the Cape York bio-geographical region, Cook Shire, North Queensland.  Every year, areas of Cape York Peninsula burn through prescribed and uncontrolled fire in the late dry and storm seasons.  Although increasing, little burning generally occurs throughout the early dry season. The effect of fire on the environment is under study through a number of research initiatives including the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (TKRP), the Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research project (KTFMRP) and the “Importance of Campfires to effective conservation research”.  However, it is clear that more recent fire regimes are different to those practiced by traditional Indigenous land managers and that these more recent fire regimes do not ensure the maintenance of native vegetation communities that require specific fire management regimes or protection from fire.

Victor Steffensen Mulong Director with participants at 2011 TKRP fire workshop

Fig 1. Victor Steffensen Mulong Director with participants at 2011 TKRP fire workshop on Kuku Thaypan Country sand bank at Gno Coom – Saxby Lagoon – principal study site for the TKRP KTFMRP and The Importance of Campfires 2004-2011.

Prior to European occupation, for example, fire management in Kuku Thaypan country was carried out throughout the year for a variety of purposes. Traditional owners tended different ecosystems with burn regimes at different times of year and actively managed country to keep fire out. Various scales of between and within ecosystem burning resulted. Each implemented action undertaken in response to a suite of cultural and environmental indicators.

In order to understand the significance of Mo (fire) for Kuku Thaypan people it is necessary to recognise that every square inch of Kuku Thaypan country is embedded with cultural meaning, that their exists interconnectivity between all things; and that all things are animate and sentient. Fire is sacred and as such its use brings great responsibility. Fire maps have been developed for Early season, Dry season and Storm season fires over a ten year period from 2000 to 2010.
What we are doing. The TKRP, KTFMRP and the “Importance of Campfires to effective conservation research” projects have actively supported the ambitions of two senior Kuku Thaypan Elders, Dr. Tommy George and the late Dr. George Musgrave since 2004. The Indigenous Elders wanted to demonstrate the benefits of their fire knowledge, practically implementing fire to heal country while teaching others and recording it for generations to come and as such initiated their KTFMRP. This was the Elders’ response to seeing their country burnt “too hot, at the wrong time and in the wrong places.” Every year since 2004, the programs have  undertaken successful on-country Indigenous led and centered co-generative action research and training programs focused on fire management.

Peta Standley TKRP KTFMRP co-researcher

Fig 2. Peta Standley TKRP KTFMRP co-researcher working with 2011 workshop participants undertaking monitoring at a non-TEK burn site.

Achievements to date. The evolution of this work has led to the development of the TKRP Indigenous Fire training program in 2010 and the description of a research practitioner model for “integration” of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in contemporary resource management with a focus on fire and biodiversity. The TKRP fire program is educating both Indigenous and non-Indigenous natural resource management practitioners and researchers from diverse communities across Australia in Traditional fire management and research practices derived from the recordings and teachings of the two Kuku Thaypan Elders. In each new community that engages with the program, TEK and western science fire and biodiversity knowledge is being shared, invigorated and co-generated through on-country action.

Dr. Tommy George

Fig 3. Dr. Tommy George monitoring the 2011 Fire Workshop on Kuku Thaypan country

Significance. The benefits of the program are not just for country, but also for people. The TKRP Indigenous research methodology embodies an ancient way to undertake cultural practice, where the right people have a voice to ensure that interactions with country and people are undertaken according to protocol, kinship and lore. This Indigenous methodology and the CAMPFIRES research practitioner model, applied in co-generation, have created unified ways to do research and culturally appropriate ways to bring Indigenous knowledge of fire and biodiversity into contemporary environment and resource management. Together they have worked with others on multiple pathways for engagement between TEK holders and western science knowledge holders that have been culturally relevant and naturally benefited country and community. One of the pathways is the Indigenous led participatory action research project – “Threats to Native Bees (Sugarbag)” which was initiated and led by the Indigenous participants.

Acknowledgements. Partners in the project include Mulong TKRP, James Cook University, and CSIRO.  Thanks go to the funding agencies, partners and supporters of the projects over the last eight years.

Contact: Peta-Marie Standley, Program manager, Cape York Natural Resource Management Ltd, CSIRO Atherton. PO Box 907, Atherton Q 4883, Australia. Tel: 0418 198 244, Email: pstandley@capeyorknrm.com.au

The Hotspots Fire Project

Key words: Indigenous land management, fire, ecological burning, community education

Waminda Parker and Lana Andrews

Fire is a fundamental driver that continues to shape our ecological communities. Fire is also a fundamental component of Aboriginal cultural practice. Aboriginal communities throughout NSW are currently seeking opportunities to engage with contemporary fire management practices with an emphasis on revitalising and incorporating traditional knowledge to improve cultural and biodiversity management of their country.

The Hotspots Fire Project (Hotspots) is a NS training program which provides landholders and land managers with the skills and knowledge needed to actively and collectively participate in fire management for the protection of life and property while at the same time ensuring healthy productive landscapes in which biodiversity is protected and maintained. It operates under the guidance of the nine project partners in the Advisory Committee, and is delivered through the coordinated efforts of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Hotspots recognises that there are many long term benefits in supporting Aboriginal communities to revitalise their cultural fire knowledge and practices. These include, but are not limited to, reducing the threat and impact of inappropriate fire on Aboriginal owned country, improving fire management practices in support of optimising biodiversity conservation (therefore building in landscape resilience) and improving Aboriginal community health by enabling communities to re-engage and practice fire and biodiversity management.

Working with six Aboriginal community groups, Hotspots has developed a training program that caters to individual property fire management planning. These map-based property plans aim to explore ways to plan for and implement fire management strategies which address cultural, biodiversity and risk management values.

Already Hotspots has worked with three Local Aboriginal Land Councils (Cobowra, Darkingjung, Jali, and Wanaruah) and two Indigenous Protected Areas (Boorabee/Willows and Wattle Ridge). Hotspots continues to look for opportunities to maintain working relations with Aboriginal communities and already for 2012 Hotspots is aiming to work with Ngulingah and the Nambucca Heads Local Aboriginal Land Councils and the Mingaan and Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporations.

Contact: Waminda Parker, Hotspots Manager, Hotspots Program: Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Tel: +61 2 9516 0359, Email hotspotsfireproject@nccnsw.org.au; or Lana Andrews, Coordinator Hotspots Programme, NSW Rural Fire Service, Tel: +61 2 8741 5555, Email: hotspots@rfs.nsw.gov.au. For further information visit www.hotspotsfireproject.org.au

Threats to Native Bees (Sugarbag) Project – one of the pathways of the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Program

Key words: Traditional ecological knowledge, native stingless bees, Trigonia sp., Indigenous training, fire management

The project and its aims: From February to April 2010 the Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research Project through the Elders’ Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (TKRP) in Cape York, North Queensland – extended their Indigenous led action research methodology to begin implementation of the “Threats to Native Bees (Sugarbag)” project.

One aim of this project was to design a methodology for mapping bee nesting sites (“sugarbag”) using both Traditional and non-traditional knowledge systems. Another was to assess the potential usefulness of stingless bees Trigonia sp as an indicator of biodiversity health in Woodlands.

Outputs of the action research project included two short trailers, a short case study film and a CD Rom Powerpoint Presentation outlining the project.

Shared elements of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) )and western science on sugarbag management issues affecting stingless bees included inter-relationships with flowering events and fire timing, frequency and intensity.

The final short film acts to communicate the project as a case study presenting key elements of the relationship between stingless bees, sugarbag, people and fire, while practically demonstrating land management from a grassroots community perspective.

The CD Rom Powerpoint presentation highlights key elements of the project methodology, method, challenges, achievements and findings and begins to describe the classification system as recorded by TEK and western science through the project.

Lessons learned. The potency of the training tools is that they enhance on-country training methods as they re-enforce the experience and recollection of country as close as possible to actually being there, triggering reliving of the knowledge exchange that encompasses deeper learning.

The Sugarbag project has directly assisted communities by demonstrating a structure where transfer in Traditional Knowledge occurs through culturally appropriate means. Undertaking TEK transfer in the field, while practically demonstrating knowledge through action research case studies and training in multi-media tools, provides a diverse number of outcomes beneficial to the environment and community well-being. This methodology directly empowers communities because they are implementing their own projects and control how information is shared across Australia and abroad.

Acknowledgements. Partners to the Sugarbag research project were Mulong Pty, Ltd, The Importance of Campfires Research Project, Caring for Our Country Open Grants, James Cook University Australian Tropical Forest Institute Centre for Sustainable Indigenous Communities, Charles Darwin University.

Contact: Peta-Marie Standley, Program manager, Cape York Natural Resource Management Ltd, CSIRO Atherton. PO Box 907, Atherton Q 4883, Australia. Tel: 0418 198 244, Email: pstandley@capeyorknrm.com.au