Photo: Rapids on Merri Creek in Fawkner - bushland in the middle of suburbia by John Englart (Takver) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The 2020 NAIDOC theme ‘Always was, Always will be’ recognises the care and maintenance that First Nations people have had in Australia for over 65,000 years.
Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation’s Narrap manager Sean Hunter and his team have been providing natural resource management services around Melbourne. Projects they’ve worked on include ecological burns, weed control and pest management, which help rebuild native ecosystems.
The manager of the First Nations’ organisation welcomed priority full-time work contracts proposed by Darebin Council, saying it would “change the game”.
The Indigenous land management team hoped to provide young generations of Aboriginal Victorians sustained employment and greater opportunity to succeed in conservation.
“We’re out there trying to compete with the open market, to bring in contracts and keep employment. So, what we’re trying to do is work on partnerships with councils and government agencies,” Mr Hunter said.
“There’s been 230 years of mismanagement as far as I’m concerned. That’s pretty obvious to see the way the state is at the moment and how it’s burning.”
After working for Parks Victoria, Hunter said he’s “seen the worst of it”, but it is now time to change that.
“I know how it all works and now I’ve come back to Wurundjeri to try and make a change that way.”
The partnership was included in Darebin’s submission to the April 2021 state parliamentary inquiry into ecosystem decline, which was set up by State Greens leader, Samantha Ratnam.
Two out of six key considerations for the inquiry into the ecosystem decline in Victoria identified the importance of First Nations Peoples’ connection to country when assessing environmental failures.
In 2016, Darebin Council was the first government entity in the world to declare a climate emergency.
Darebin mayor, Susan Rennie said meaningful partnerships with First Nations’ groups right across the board for the council would help promote initiatives that focus on native revegetation and habitat protection.
“For more than 60,000 years Australia’s First Nations people have continuously cared for country and they’ve done that beautifully. We acknowledge and respect that deep connection.”
Ongoing efforts to ‘rewild’ Darebin saw 35 COVID-impacted Darebin staff redeployed in April to plant 30,000 indigenous trees, grasses and ground cover.
Mayor Rennie said the survival of remnant native habitats has been under pressure due to development on state-owned property.
Speaking about the native remnant grasslands at 16-20 Dumbarton st in Reservoir, Mayor Rennie told me, “we absolutely support social housing but on these particular blocks of land there are remnant and native grasslands that are the last of their kind.”
“These particular species’ and their habitats, and where they are, then generate entire ecosystems for insects and other small animals.”
Advice and knowledge of environmental practices from First Nations’ people was a priority of the local council as they tackle the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss in the area.
Creek corridors in Darebin such as the Merri and Darebin creek have acted as oases for cooped up Melburnians through the pandemic.
Residents and politicians in Darebin have recently pushed for more public use of the Northcote golf course near the Merri creek after it became a social-distancing sanctuary in Melbourne’s second wave.
Merri Creek Management Committee program manager, Michael Longmore was looking forward to creating more opportunities to work with the Wurundjeri Narrap team to turn community engagement into good “ecological outcomes”.
“We do a lot with threatened species to try and improve genetic diversity and encourage back pollinators that might be missing from the landscape.”
Attempts to maintain the original landscape in the area have been helped by the contributions of the Wurundjeri Narrap land management team.
“It’s a really good chance for First Nations perspectives to be made meaningful to people because people are actually out there on country a lot more than they otherwise would be.”
In June this year, the Australian Government’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was reviewed, and two key findings were stated in an interim report.
Firstly, the act is ineffective in protecting and conserving Australia’s wildlife.
Secondly, Indigenous Australians should expect a stronger level of protection for the native environment as well as cultural heritage and also deserve to be fully valued in land management decision-making.
Employment opportunities for Indigenous land management groups like Wurundjeri Narrap could help pave the way for future environmental action and could also help strengthen the connection First Nations people have to the open spaces of Darebin.