Aboriginal people and those who work alongside them came together during February 2017 to share knowledge, ideas and experience at the Indigenous Natural Resource Management (NRM) Symposium at the University of New England: Restore, Regenerate, Revegetate conference. Over 400 scientists and practitioners from all over Australia and overseas came together to share their knowledge and experience in ecological restoration. There was a focus on recognising Aboriginal knowledge and how we can work together to use it and pass it on to future generations. People from many regions and groups were represented, from the outback, to the mountains to the sea. Collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups were also featured. The symposium was co-chaired by Bundjalung man Oliver Costello and UNE researcher Michelle McKemey.
The Nature Conservation Council’s (NCC) Firesticks project sponsored the conference, which included fifteen spoken presentations at the university, followed by a one day excursion to Wattleridge Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) to showcase the work undertaken by the Banbai rangers from Wattleridge IPA, UNE researchers and the Firesticks project.
The symposium delivered a powerful message about the importance of Aboriginal people in managing their country, and shared a number of best-practice restoration projects such as the keynote address by Harry White from Northern Tablelands Local Land Services (NTLLS) on Murries on Barwon as well as Vanessa Cavanagh from Eco Logical Australia who gave an inspiring presentation on the Aboriginal Riverkeeper Team Project.
Many speakers emphasised the importance of cultural science, i.e. Aboriginal knowledge of Country and its application in a contemporary environment, with speakers such as Geoff Simpson, Ted Fields jnr and Uncle George Fernando giving the audience goose bumps during their presentations.
The NCC Firesticks project was well represented with Richard Brittingham presenting an overview of the project. Ecologist David Milledge delivered preliminary results from the pre and post fire fauna monitoring across the four Firesticks Partner IPAs. Rangers Belinda Gomes, Maitland Wilson and Lilly Wilson shared their experience with integrated weed and fire management at Minyumai IPA. Tremane Patterson and Michelle McKemey presented on the development of Winba=Fire, the Fire and Seasons calendar for Wattleridge IPA.
It was also great to hear from Queensland comrades Mick Smith and Dave Calland about burning in the Bunya Mountains. Botanist John Hunter shared the ecological results following fire management at Arrawarra Headland. Oliver Costello shared his knowledge on cultural indicators for healthy country and Mal Ridges introduced us to the Grassy Pathways story in northern NSW.
Interstate presentations provided a broader perspective with some fascinating stories shared by Rhys Collins and Wurundjeri Elder Uncle David Wandin of the Narrap Team speaking about Indigenous NRM around Port Phillip Bay in Victoria and Boyd Wright and Emilie Ens sharing ambitious projects from the Northern Territory.
Wattleridge IPA was the perfect venue to showcase successful Aboriginal cultural natural resource management in practice, with about eighty delegates visiting Banbai Country on the final day. Delegates took in the spectacular scenery and enjoyed country hospitality whilst learning from the Banbai rangers about management of the IPA. During the day there were presentations by Michelle McKemey on her PhD research, and from David Milledge, John Hunter, Richie Brittingham and Brad Nesbit on the values of the IPA.
Being on country promoted good discussion about the insecurity of future funding for IPAs and Indigenous rangers, with people being encouraged to get on board the Country Needs People campaign http://www.countryneedspeople.org.au/.
Images kindly provided by Michelle McKemey, Sara Schmude and Dave Calland.