Caring for Country conference held at Forestec

Attendees listened, learned and discussed new ways to use their traditional knowledge to manage Country.

THE Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) was delighted to welcome the collective wisdom from 11 Traditional Owner Groups across Victoria to the inaugural Gweraeil Quaranook (Great Meeting in Gunaikurnai), held at Forestec last month.

The unique three-day conference was a testament to the depth of Indigenous knowledge in managing Country.

The primary focus of the conference was to foster discussion and knowledge-sharing on sustainable land management practices. It marked a significant milestone in the state as the first of its kind, reflecting the spirit of innovation and unity that thrives within Aboriginal communities.

The event commenced with an exploration of cultural tourism at Nanjet, the 103-hectare property next to Wilson’s Promontory, that GLaWAC purchased in 2021.

Attendees learned about GLaWAC’s vision for the property as a cultural destination that will bring more jobs to the region and provide locals, and visitors alike, an opportunity to learn more about Gunaikurnai culture.

Empowering Communities through Knowledge, day two’s proceedings commenced with a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony amid the serene bush setting at GLaWAC’s Forestec campus in Kalimna.

Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher, a Wiradjuri man and Associate Professor in Biogeography at the University of Melbourne, delivered a thought-provoking talk on Healthy Country; igniting meaningful conversations about the impact of the loss of Indigenous land management on Australian landscapes and the need to foster a new relationship between people and Country to restore the health of both.

Over three enlightening days, participants delved into a range of topics, including Cultural Fire with GLaWAC’s Towera (fire) Crew, Forest Gardening with Djaara Aboriginal Corporation, Reading and Healing Country with the Tungurung Land and Waters Council, and a powerful presentation about the Resting Places Program with Damien Jackson from Parks Victoria.

Attendees also enjoyed a mesmerising experience in a pop-up planetarium, courtesy of the Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and Deakin University.

The presentation, “Stepping into Cloggs Cave,” transported attendees 20,000 years into the past, showcasing the enchanting practices of the Gunaikurnai mulla-mullung (magic men) within the cave.

Uniting Traditional Knowledge and Western Science Professor Bruno David of Monash University’s Indigenous Studies Centre facilitated an engaging session highlighting the harmony between Traditional knowledge and western science.

GLaWAC has been working together with Monash Uni for several years to map and investigate cultural places using archaeology, geomorphology and palaeoecology to fill in details of their cultural story.

Traditional Owners from across the state gathered on Gunaikurnai Country for the inaugural Gweraeil Quaranook (Great Meeting) to discuss caring for Country. Photos: Contributed.

The partnership enriches understanding of the ancient ways of the Gunaikurnai Ancestors and the profound cultural landscapes they thrived within.

Emeritus Professor and historian Bill Gammage led a dynamic question and answer session on the topic of cultural burning. The knowledge shared underscored a commitment to preserving and nurturing age-old traditions and was followed by the Towera Crew putting fire on the ground at Forestec to demonstrate the role that cultural fire can play within community and for Country.

The knowledge shared was a testament to the commitment to preserving and nurturing the sacred traditions that have been sustained for millennia.

Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Daniel Miller said conferences such as these were important.

“Any time that Mobs come together – to work together and celebrate Country and Culture together is fantastic,” he said.

“To have this supported by DEECA and so many research partners is also really important. I think that these partnership approaches to managing Country better is where we need to look for the future.”

The conference culminated with a visit to the joint managed Gippsland Lakes Reserve at Raymond Island to walk the nature trail installed by the GLaWAC On Country team in 2022.

The walk was a perfect reminder that Traditional Owners have had an intrinsic connection to Country for thousands of generations, and their responsibility to look after it has remained steadfast.

Traditional Owners continue to share their knowledge and engage in conversations about responsible land management, because, in the end, Country needs people, and people need Country.

Alfie Hudson from GLaWAC welcomed guests to Nanjet, the 103-hectare property at the gates of Wilsons Prom, bought by the organisation in 2021.

DECCA Secretary John Bradley, GLaWAC on Country General Manager Katherine Mullett, GLaWAC Chief Executive Daniel Miller, Cath Thomas from Parks Victoria and GLaWAC Business Enterprise Manager Willow Carter at Raymond Island.