Walking together to Dhelkunya Dja
Cleared for farming and overturned for gold mining, Victoria has lost more than 80% of its woodland ecosystems to land clearing since European settlement. Now, research suggests that even common birds such as the Rufous Whistler and Spotted Pardalote are in decline.
But on Dja Dja Wurrung Djandak (Country) in north-central Victoria, large and precious intact remnants of native woodlands remain. It’s this country that Bush Heritage and DJAARA (the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation) have been working together to protect for the past 14 years.
The partnership grew even stronger last year with a signed memorandum of understanding, three new reserve acquisitions, and a plan to Dhelkunya Dja (heal country) together.
The new reserves protect almost a thousand hectares of culturally and ecologically important land. Buckrabanyule Reserve is connected to an important Dja Dja Wurrung creation story; it is the home of Mindi, a great serpent that is the enforcer of Dja Dja Wurrung cultural law.
Buckrabanyule’s purchase allowed Djaara (Dja Dja Wurrung people) to access the site for the first time in over 170 years, while also protecting it from subdivision and development.
Our first action as comanagers of Buckrabanyule has been to tackle the widespread infestation of invasive Wheel Cactus, with work crews from Djandak, the Dja Dja Wurrung owned commercial arm of DJAARA, already well-progressed in controlling the weed. This will have positive flow on effects across the landscape for culture, conservation and agriculture.
Ngulambarra, taken from the Djaara word for ‘meeting place’, is a 346-hectare reserve in central Victoria, about 165km north-west of Melbourne. It provides a key connection between Bush Heritage’s Lawan Reserve and the neighbouring Wychitella Nature Conservation Reserve, which contains Mt Egbert or Ngarri, another culturally significant site for Djaara.
Purchased through the support of donors Terry and Caroline Bellair, Ngulambarra contains habitat for threatened woodland birds such as Brown Treecreepers and Hooded Robins. With the implementation of our rare and declining flora strategy, we hope it will one day also provide habitat for the nationally vulnerable Malleefowl bird.
In 2022, Bush Heritage also acquired the John Douglas Reserve on Dja Dja Wurrung Djandak that will eventually see a shared language name and provide further opportunities for Bush Heritage and Djaara to walk together to Dhelkunya Dja.
“This to me feels like reconciliation because we have access to the land now, we can practice culture there and Bush Heritage is enabling us to do that. It’s a new way to look after Country."
- Amos Atkinson, member of the Yung Balug clan of the Dja Dja Wurrung nation
More than a name
On Queensland’s far western border, where red rolling dunes meet Gidgee woodlands and flood plains, there lies a vast 233,000-hectare conservation reserve, which, for much of post-European history, has been known as Cravens Peak. But this country’s history runs far deeper than that name; this is Wangkamadla country and has been for many thousands of years.
Last year, Wangkamadla people’s rights to over three million hectares of their land were formally recognised in a long-awaited native title determination. To celebrate, Bush Heritage worked with Wangkamadla Traditional Owners to come up with a new name for Cravens Peak that better reflected the reserve’s cultural significance.
‘Pilungah’, as it will henceforth be known, commemorates a culturally significant spring near the reserve’s homestead which was destroyed by previous owners.
“Using the traditional names of places encapsulates them for perpetuity so that everyone will know what that place is called, even if language fades away.”
- Avelina Tarrago, Wangkamadla woman, barrister & Bush Heritage board member.
Restoring a fire-affected river
For many years, the upper section of the Murrumbidgee River has suffered from the cumulative effects of land clearing, water extraction, introduced fish, weeds and climate change.
The Black Summer bushfires of 2020 exacerbated these problems, leaving the river thick with ash and silt. But a community-driven effort to reverse the river’s health is underway, led by the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach (UMDR).
Established in 2009, the reach has brought together river managers and landholders along a 320km stretch of the upper Murrumbidgee to work towards the common goal of restoring native fish populations.
One of the many initiatives run by the UMDR is the Adventurous Volunteers program, through which specially-trained Bush Heritage volunteers take to the water in rafts to undertake weed mapping and control, revegetation and soil stabilisation.
Last year, the volunteers focused their efforts on fire-affected areas, putting in coir logs to stabilise soil, and planting long-stem shrubs to outcompete invasive weeds and create shade to buffer water temperatures.
This project is funded by the Native Fish Recovery Strategy. The Native Fish Recovery Strategy is funded under the joint programs and coordinated by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
Five new reserves protecting country forever
Bush Heritage’s 2030 Strategy outlines our plans to deepen and double our impact across 30 million hectares by 2030. Our five reserves acquired this financial year signified our commitment to achieving this goal.
Ediegarrup, a 1067-hectare reserve on Noongar country in south-west Western Australia connects Bush Heritage’s Red Moort Reserve with Corackerup Creek and partner conservation property Chingarrup Sanctuary. It contains habitat for Malleefowl, Tammar and Black-gloved wallabies, and the nationally threatened Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo.
Glovers Flat on Palawa country in Tasmania’s Liffey Valley connects Bush Heritage’s Oura Oura and Drys Bluff reserves and borders Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area. It protects habitat for threatened species such as Masked Owls, Tasmanian Devils and Spotted Quolls.
Buckrabanyule, Ngulambarra and John Douglas Reserve on Dja Dja Wurrung Country in central Victoria each grow the impact that Bush Heritage and DJAARA (Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation) are making in this area. The last of the three, John Douglas Reserve, is 185 hectares and safeguards a significant pocket of Box-Ironbark woodlands.
Together, Bush Heritage and DJAARA will ensure that these reserves, and the growing network of reserves around them, are resilient for whatever the future may hold.
Reducing the impact of wildfires in the Kimberley
Just over 10 years ago, in 2011, Wunambal Gaambera people’s native title was recognised over their Uunguu, or ‘living home’ – some 2.5 million hectares of rugged coastlines and savanna plains in Western Australia’s north-west Kimberley region.
In the same year, the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area was dedicated by Wunambal Gaambera people and the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) entered a 10-year partnership with Bush Heritage to help look after and maintain the intact health of their country through the implementation of their Healthy Country Plan.
Right-way fire is one of 10 ‘Targets’ identified in this plan as a priority for Wunambal Gaambera people. Before the implementation of the plan, wildfires during yuwala (hot season) damaged 26% of Wunambal Gaambera Country (this is taken from a 2000-2009 average).
Since their right-way fire program (including traditional and modern ground and aerial burning techniques) has been implemented by Uunguu Rangers, their annual average of wildfire damage has been brought down to <10%.
In doing so, they have safeguarded cultural sites and wulo (rainforest patches), reduced carbon emissions, and stimulated the growth of bush foods and other plants.