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Returning to Country

Words by: Danika Davis
Location: Badimia Country, Western Australia
Published 13 Jun 2023

It was a blip in its ageless history, but a brief shift in land tenure forever changed Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia Country, Western Australia. Spanning two centuries, traditional practices of caring for this ancient Country were disrupted by land tenures and pastoral leases. Badimia people were denied access to many parts of their Country, including important sacred sites.

While the station owners come and go, Badimia people’s deep connection to Barna (Country) and Bimarra (water spirit) remains resilient. And now, after the establishment of the Badimia Bandi Barna Aboriginal Corporation (BBBAC) in 2018 and the formation of strong partnerships, sites are being returned to the hands and hearts of Traditional Owners.

Photo Gimlet Gum (Eucalyptus salubris) standing tall and strong on Badimia Country, Western Australia. By Peter Taylor

One of these partnerships is with Bush Heritage, who’s working alongside the BBBAC to care for Country on Charles Darwin Reserve, a 68,600-hectare reserve that falls within Western Australia’s Southwest Botanical Province.

Badimia woman and BBBAC Secretary Bev Slater reflects on how far they’ve come: seeing animals returning and wildflowers covering the red earth. She’s proud to know her grandchildren will have Country to come back to.

“Badimia people are starting to feel their spirits awakening. It’s like Country is opening up to say ‘thank you’,” Bev says.

Four hours north of Perth, Charles Darwin Reserve is home to more than 230 animal species and 680 plant species, including the nationally vulnerable Malleefowl and 55 different sub-species of wattle.

Previously, the impacts of colonisation stopped many attempts by Badimia people to practice culture and traditional land management. The BBBAC and Bush Heritage have carefully built a positive, strong relationship to ensure Traditional Owners have a say over the restoration and future of their ancestral lands.

“Our approach to management respects Aboriginal worldviews and the way environment relates to culture,” says Aboriginal Partnerships Manager WA, Chontarle Belottie.

“Trust, recognition and respect are important. We’ve had over 10 years in relationship building, supporting and listening. But it’s much deeper than just listening – it’s about hearing the grief, sorrow, loss and impacts of colonisation, and being there to support the Traditional Owners on their journey.”

Badimia Country on Charles Darwin Reserve, Western Australia. By Chontarle Belottie

Throughout the partnership, Bush Heritage has worked closely with the Badimia people to support the development of a strategic plan, a Healthy Country Plan, deliver the Warbal (malleefowl) project, and facilitate on-Country trips. In 2022 the partnership deepened: Bush Heritage and the BBBAC signed a Memorandum of Understanding and formal partnership agreement.

“Now we have access to Charles Darwin Reserve, which is Bush Heritage-managed. We can go back out there, look after sites, register sites and look after animals. Unless you have a really good relationship with the owners you have no chance,” Bev says.

“We’re asked about our Country and participate in what’s going on out there. We have a sense of identity again and our knowledge of how to look after things is valued.”

For both parties, the partnership has been a valuable experience where they have strengthened land management practices and enhanced the care of this precious part of the world.

To help the delivery of the BBBAC’s Health Country Plan, Bush Heritage is supporting the recruitment of a Healthy Country Coordinator who’ll work with the organisation, the Badimia community, and other stakeholders.

This is a call for celebration for both Bush Heritage and BBBAC as they work together for Bimarra, Barna, and people, and continue to value traditional ways of caring for Country.

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