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A day with DUMAWUL

Location: Dja Dja Wurrung Country, Victoria
Words by: Bee Stephens
Published 21 Jun 2024

We leave the city in the dark. Over the three-hour journey north-west, we travel through fog-filled lower plains, cross running rivers and emerge with the sun onto Djandak (Dja Dja Wurrung Country), Victoria. 

Here it is like nowhere else: granite boulders stumble across rounded hills, patches of eucalypts stand defiant, and yellow bursts of acacia mark the season. 

Today, 28 Bush Heritage staff have travelled from far and wide to partake in DUMAWUL’s Cultural Competency Program led by Dja Dja Wurrung cultural tour guides. DUMAWUL is the creative enterprise of DJAARA (Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation) that delivers programs across cultural tourism, creative industries and education. 

Through tours and programs, DUMAWUL offers culturally enriching experiences that provide an opportunity to listen and learn deeply from Djaara (Dja Dja Wurrung people). Djaara have held connection to and cared for Djandak for over 60,000 years. 

This is a special day for our staff to connect with Djaara and learn from a partner that we have worked with for over 14 years. 

Leader Amos Atkinson, Djaara, Bangerang, Wiradjuri, Waywurru man commences the day by welcoming us to Country. Djali (Dja Dja Wurrung language) reverberates through the room, its beat bounces and is reflected in the landscape that lies beyond the Wedderburn Hall’s walls. 

Amos Atkinson leads a walk on Country, Djandak, VIC. Photo Bee Stephens.

Together, we time-travel back to the period before colonisation began. Here, powerful creator spirits are in action. Bundjiyl (the Wedge-tailed Eagle) soars above the expansive grasslands and Box-Ironbark woodlands. Mindi, a giant serpent, carves cultural laws into valleys of the volcanic plains. 

Waa (the Australian Raven) observes Gatjin (water) and its courses, to ensure it can provide for all the animals and plants on Djandak. Places sing and everyone works together to keep Country healthy.

As time passes, the creator spirits come to rest in the landscape – an ever-present reminder of Ancestral lore and knowledge for Djaara to witness and protect. Rivers and creeks run clear, and fertile, soft soils provide ample food for people and animals. 

Djandak Wi (fire) is controlled and frequent, guided by a sophisticated understanding of the seasons and ecology. 

Days are spent observing, managing and celebrating a bountiful place. This carries on for tens of thousands of years. Then, we arrive at our shared history.

It’s time for truth-telling. We listen to the lived experience of Amos, his colleague, Djaara and Bangerang man Paul Phillips, and Aboriginal Partnership Manager Bam Lees. We don’t shy away from the atrocities caused by settlers and the continued impacts of colonisation that have brought about huge changes for Djaara and Djandak

For both storyteller and listener, there are moments where big emotions fill the space. Together, we welcome these and then let them pass. 

Seeding the Future Career Development Program Lead Michelle Stook, who has come from Jagera and Turrbal Country in Queensland, explains how this personal experience brings about lasting impact. “When you feel that connection through story with an individual, that feeling is going to stay with you for life,” she says. 

In the afternoon, the official program wraps, and we walk on Country at Buckrabanyule Reserve. This is one of Mindi’s resting places and a site of deep cultural significance for Djaara. Until 2021, when Bush Heritage commenced management of the reserve, Djaara hadn’t been able to access the site for over 170 years. 

Currently, prickly invasive shrubs adorned with red fruits smother the landscape, making it hard for native plants and animals to thrive. Previous management, or the lack thereof, has led to a serious infestation of Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta), which impacts not only the reserve but also acts as a seed propagation threat for the wider region. 
The Wheel Cactus at Buckrabanyule, Djandak, VIC. Photo Stu Heppel.

For some Bush Heritage staff, the density of the weed raises alarm bells. But Amos remains calm: “My grandchildren will walk this land.” With access to this site returned, he is confident Djandak will be restored for future generations. 

Since 2021, we have been working to address the threat of Wheel Cactus and others, to heal the land at Buckrabanyule.

Together, we have re-introduced right-way fire to the landscape and commenced targeted spraying and stabbing of the weed. Given the weed is a fast-growing and prolific seeder, we anticipate it will take 10 years to reduce the threat of the cactus to a manageable level. 

This work is in support of DJAARA’s Dhelkunya Dja (healing Country) Plan and the Wurreka Galkangu Strategic Plan we are co-developing, which both include visions that extend to the other Bush Heritage-managed reserves in the region. 

Buckrabanyule is a curious place to visit after DUMAWUL’s program, and the experience reiterates the importance of having the right people on Country to care for it. Travelling back to the city, the sun dips and landscape seems to glow stronger than before – alive with story and strength. Our deeper understanding of Djandak’s history, present, and future, allows us to more fully appreciate her beauty and challenges.

We thank and gratefully acknowledge Djaara for sharing their time and welcoming us to Djandak. To experience DUMAWUL’s Cultural Competency Program, book via –

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