The Gunaikurnai and Taungurung Traditional Owner groups have connection to the Victorian Alps over thousands of generations, and in recent years they have been reasserting that connection.
Recently they have sought support form the Victorian government’s Right People for Country program to help clarify the boundaries between their respective countries. The Right People for Country Program supports Traditional Owners groups in the process of making agreements:
between groups – about boundaries and extent of Country
In general terms in this part of the Alps, Gunaikurnai country is in the catchments south of the Great Dividing Range while Taungurung country is on the north side of the divide. This process allowed the groups to clarify the boundaries for a section of the divide between Warburton and Mt Hotham.
Additionally, Taungurung and Gunaikurnai agreed to seek shared joint management of the Alpine National Park, valuing this as an opportunity for both groups to have increased involvement and greater influence over the management of Country.
Mountain Journal has previously written about the die back of eucalypts that has been occurring on the Monaro tablelands on the eastern side of the Snowy Mountains.
The dieback has affected a massive area, leaving a sea of “dead, standing trees” across the tablelands.
No one is, as yet, certain about the causes. It has been suggested that climate change is an underlying cause because background warming may have helped the spread of the weevils and stress on the ribbon gum trees that have died.
There has long been discussion about the trail that once linked the south eastern coast of NSW to the Snowy Mountains. It is called the Bundian Way. Prior to the invasion, Indigenous people moved between the coast, the Monaro Tablelands and the higher mountains. There are other similar stories from elsewhere in the mountains: for instance, the fact that early Gippsland settlers followed established trails from the Gippsland Plains to what is now Dinner Plain and Mt Hotham, and gold prospectors followed tracks up the Howqua Valley towards Mt Howitt.
Sadly, so much of this story has now been lost. In some good news, a book is due to be released shortly that looks at the Bundian Way.
The following excerts come from an article on the ABC website by Greg Muller about a recent survey in north eastern Victoria. The survey was a collaboration between Parks Victoria, Museum Victoria, community members and 4WD clubs. Check here for an earlier post about this survey.
Areas explored included the Upper Buchan River and Davies Plain.
A key message is at the end of the story: climate change poses a grave threat to many alpine and sub-alpine species.
In a wild corner of north-east Victoria, more than 80 researchers have just spent two weeks counting and documenting rarely seen alpine wildlife.
The remoteness of the region means there is limited knowledge of the area—an issue Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria are now attempting to rectify.
‘There’s good news. We’re delighted we found alpine tree frogs because that’s one species vulnerable to a deadly fungus which has been attacking the frogs,
During the two-week bioscan, 21 species of reptiles were found, including the endangered Kosciusko Water Skink, Glossy Skink and the Mountain Skink.
Two listed species were found, the Broad Tooth Rat and the Smokey Mouse.
There were also two species of Antechinus (a small marsupial mouse indigenous to Australia) found, but at this time of year the population consisted only of females.
Roger Fenwick, the regional manager for Parks Victoria, was instrumental in organising the bioscan and worked to bring researchers, park rangers and locals together for the project.
‘No one group knows everything and it’s great to share the knowledge and get better results as land managers,’ said Mr Fenwick.
‘We invited four wheel drivers to be involved and this means the scientists can get on with doing their work, the Parks staff can concentrate on managing the program, and the four wheel drivers can get everyone around nice and safe.’
Museum Victoria’s senior curator of entomology, Dr Ken Walker documented 400 nests of native bees during the study.
‘What you find is a pile of dirt which looks like a chimney which goes down about 30 centimetres underground,’ he said.
Also at the bioscan was a member of the local indigenous community, Katherine Mullet, who was representing the Gunnai/Kurnai and Monero communities who used to occupy this area.
Ms Mullet was looking for cultural sites, including traditional walking routes, many of which are now 4WD and bushwalking tracks.
Dr Norman explained that climate change is a major threat to alpine wildlife species, which are already living at the edge of their environment.
‘The challenge worldwide with changing climate is if you are at the top of your limit or as far south as you can go, there’s nowhere else to go.’
The following comes from the Australian Alps national parks Co-operative Management Program.
“The Australian Alps Education Kit is designed for students, teachers and anyone else keen to learn about this spectacular region of Australia. These educational materials form an organised resource focusing on iconic, awe-inspiring and accessible areas within the Australian Alps.
The contents range from the resilient yet fragile plant communities that grow in the harsh alpine environment, to thecultural impact of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electricity Scheme; and from the First People’s connection with the mountain landscape to the Alps’ cycles of weather and climate”.
Past Cooma, on the edge of the Southern Highlands, an innovative project is underway.
Farmers are taking part in workshops which is teaching them Indigenous land management techniques.
It’s hoped that owners will not only gain an appreciation of the methods, but also use them on their own properties.
And as part of the lessons, we’re learning about one of the oldest form of land management: fire.
Before the tractor was king, much of Australia was controlled by fire, and it’s a technique that Indigenous elder Rob Mason believes should be used more on Australian farms.
“We’re trying to do it in a way so that local landowners can have a bit more vision on their local resources,” he said.
“A farmer will look out on his area and might say, okay, I think that might a suitable area for growing peas or it might be a suitable area to put my sheep.
“Same with Aboriginal people. We look out into the areas and we actually know by animal indications that suitable areas are where they are.
“We tend to think of ideas or management plans like that for the areas, such as burning practices. That’s quite an old technique of land management, and I believe that’s totally missing from this important area here.”
Geoff Robertson owns a 270 hectare property outside of Nimmitabel, half an hour south of Cooma, and is hosting this unique workshop as part of a cultural heritage agreement he signed with the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority.
“Some years back we signed up to a stewardship agreement for biodiversity,” he said.
“And when we did that we were contacted by their Indigenous unit, and we were very interested in that for all sorts of personal reasons.
“So we signed this agreement, and part of that was sharing of knowledge of traditional Aboriginal knowledge through Friends of Grasslands.”
Geoff, who has been involved for many years with Friends of Grasslands, says he wasn’t concerned that that signing the agreement would take away control over his property.
“But there was nervousness about opening oneself up to a different way of thinking, because I guess us White Australians have this side of our history that we’re not too proud of or don’t want to know about, so I guess confronting that, that’s scary,” he said.
“Since my early 20s, I’ve taken a lot of interest in Aboriginal communities.
“My first wife and I actually adopted a Torres Strait Islander child who’s now very much an adult, so we have personally within our family Indigenous people, so every day in some sense we deal with that issue of being Indigenous and not being Indigenous.”
Geoff’s property was formerly used for grazing, and he says that the Indigenous farming techniques wouldn’t interfere if the property were to return to that practice.
“In lots of properties in this area, they’re not too different to this one, so there’s nothing that would prevent what we’re doing here from happening in other parts of the country.”
But how feasible is this kind of management as an alternative, or even addition, to modern farming techniques? Monaro grazier Charlie Massy was excited by the workshop he attended at Nimmitabel.
“There is some really exciting holistic land management grazing going on in this country,” he said.
“Whilst we didn’t have ruminant herbivores in the past, Tim Flannery and others are talking about what the megafauna might have been doing and that new types of grazing might be starting to emulate that and stimulate landscape function.”Indigenous land management on farms in the Monaro
If you walk into the town square in the Victorian ski village of Mt Buller, you will be greeted by a sculpture of a mountain cattleman on his horse. In all of the ‘high country’ towns of south eastern Australia and throughout the ski resorts, there is a pre-occupation with the history of the cattle families that, for generations, drove their stock into the mountains.
There are roads, buildings, and events all named after these pioneers, stickers on cars, photos and sculptures, and endless homage to these tough people and their way of life.
But where are the images or mention of the Indigenous people who lived in this country for perhaps 1,000 generations?
The Australian Alps have been inhabited by indigenous nations for millennia. But as Taungurung man Mick Harding said recently “we were removed from our lands” by the invaders and “scattered to the four winds”. But over the past decade or so, a growing number of people and communities have been re-establishing connection to their country.