WORDS KATE WEBSTER
WORDS KATE WEBSTER
Spend the day with Aboriginal Traditional Owners on their homelands of Normanby Station with Culture Connect.
The world’s oldest living cultures were embracing sustainability and conservation practices across Australia long before conservation greats like Dr Jane Goodall and Greta Thunberg were even born.
For tens of thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have sustainably managed the land using systems such as totems to prevent animals being hunted to extinction and to ensure that the seas were not overfished. But, more than that, they proactively managed the land with practises such as cultural burns, where they would light fires in the cool season to rejuvenate the land.
Venture North's Cobourg Coastal Camp.
Indigenous communities continue to play a critical role in protecting the land and preserving biodiversity with modern day initiatives, such as the Indigenous Ranger Program, helping ensure their knowledge and care for Country continues.
You can learn more about Aboriginal conservation practices on these tours:
Learn how to find and shuck your own oysters.
Head to Australia’s Top End on Venture North’s 5-day Kakadu, Arnhem Land and Cobourg Peninsula Tour to be steeped in the strong relationship between Aboriginal culture and caring for Country. Each day is filled with highlights including meeting the Injalak artists and learning about the significance of rock art.
Your small group tour (maximum of six people) will visit Cobourg Peninsula, the biggest marine park in the Northern Territory (NT). Jointly managed by NT Parks and Wildlife and the area’s Traditional Owners, the park has a permit system that limits visitor numbers to only 20 vehicles at a time to protect the area’s unique biodiversity, cultural significance and rich fishing opportunities.
You’ll have the opportunity to catch your own seafood dinner, including hunting for mud crabs the traditional way with spears and hooks, and shucking oysters fresh from the clear waters. And whilst you cook up your catch, you’ll also learn about the presence and importance of middens — cultural heritage sites of ancient piles of shells, stone artefacts, charcoal, ochre and animal bones. Middens are common along the coastline and are evidence of an early form of conservation. Clans would leave them behind to let the next visitors know what had been recently eaten, so they could avoid overindulging in a particular species to ensure its sustainability.
Terry Hunter explains that Bardi only catch what they can eat.
Pearls from Cygnet Bay/Borrgoron.
Terry Hunter is a fourth-generation pearler.
Dive deep into Bardi culture
Borrgoron coast to creek tours
Grab your comfortable walking shoes for Borrgoron’s two-hour Coast to Creek Cultural Tour, where you traverse a coastal landscape that is abundant with wildlife and rich with ancient stories and cultural practices that protect the land.
Bardi man Terry Hunter, a fourth-generation pearler, leads the way from Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm at the tip of the beautiful Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia. Terry explains that he inherited his love for the land from his Elders and, while he is a keen hunter, he emphasises, ‘Indigenous communities only catch what they can eat so there is no waste’.
Explore the mangroves, creeks and tidal flats of King Sound while Terry shares stories of life growing up on this remote pearl farm. Forage for oysters then cook them on rocks using spinifex grass as fuel, just as the Bardi have done for thousands of years.
Learn about traditional conservation techniques with Culture Connect.
Gain insights into the meaning of ancient rock art.
caring for country
Aboriginal peoples believe they belong to the land and not the other way around. Therefore, they have a responsibility to care for it. At Normanby Station near Cooktown in Tropical North Queensland, the Balnggarrawarra Traditional Owners have embodied this concept in their Culture Connect Indigenous Rangers program.
The conservation and land management initiative provides Indigenous people with training, employment and tools to undertake cultural and natural resource management, while sharing their traditional knowledge and culture with the wider community.
To see this in action, join Balnggarrawarra Traditional Owner, Dylan Harrigan, on Culture Connect's Normanby Station Rock Art & Rangers tour. Head out on an exclusive interpretive rock art walk and discover ancient rock art galleries in the rugged sandstone escarpments and tropical savannah of the Cape York region. You’ll gain an insight into the importance of the program's projects, which include cultural mapping, erosion control, feral weed and animal eradication, and environment protection.
Mandingalbay Authentic Indigenous Tours demonstrate how Indigenous peoples care for the land.
An Elder blows on smouldering leaves as part of a smoking ceremony.
Fire for future
Join Victor, a Traditional Owner and guide at Mandingalbay Authentic Indigenous Tours, on a three-hour exploration that showcases how the Mandingalbay Yidinji have lived on, and cared for, the land to the east of Cairns over the past 65,000 years.
Victor is a Mandingalbay Yidinji ranger, involved in caring for Country. He explains the traditional importance of fire for conservation: ‘The reason why we do traditional burning is to rejuvenate Country. Our Country has fire retardant plants, such as the cycad and our wattle trees. These plants need fire to regerminate. Traditional burning clears the native grassy landscape and opens a corridor so our marsupials can feast on fresh grass,’ Victor explains.
Traversing the bush, the mangroves and the wetlands during this tour, you come to appreciate the need for this balance and the ongoing work that rangers like Victor are doing around Australia to protect Country for future generations.
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