Traditional knowledge holders of the Easter Maar have taken volunteers and staff from Districts 6 and 7 on a guided tour through the Volcanic Plains near Colac and Camperdown, sharing dreaming stories, local history and cultural fire and land management practices.
The tours, called Weeyn Yakeen – Fire Dreaming in local Maar language – were led by John Clarke, Ebony Hickey and Reg Abrahams, along with Conservation and Research Manager Dr Jack Pascoe from the Conservation Ecology Centre.
The tour group included representatives from local agencies involved in fire and land management including CFA, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Barwon Water, Federation of Traditional Owners, Colac Otway Shire and Surf Coast Shire.
Participants were introduced to the deep connection of Maar with their Country and how fire was and is an incredibly important part of this. They explored how each site relates to the landscape in cultural, firefighting and an environmental sense, and how traditional fire practice would have managed that landscape.
As the tour stopped at each location participants were told stories of their creation.
Each story was filled with insight into how each place was managed by Aboriginal people to keep Country healthy, and with it, keep its plants, animals and people healthy. The group discussed the significance of these stories and the place for them to be reincorporated into present and future land management plans for restoration or rehabilitation of sites.
John shared: “This is what is meant by My Country. My Country is my responsibility. It’s my duty to watch over and care for it in whatever way I can to the best of my ability.”
On one of the sites the group visited is being managed with its Dreaming story as an objective, in partnership with the Conservation Ecology Centre and University of Melbourne.
The site will be investigated using core sampling to analyse for evidence of local fires as well as examination of pollens which will help determine the vegetation profile prior to colonisation. This evidence together with the Dreaming story will inform the future fire and land management plan for the site.
Alongside Dreaming stories, the group discussed other stories from the past including Aboriginal village sites, fish traps and farming, the cultural significance to the landscape in dreaming, the presence of artefacts, and the management of fires to minimise disturbance and destruction of culturally-significant places.
They also discussed more recent events including the St Patricks Day peat fires of 2018.
Otway Fire Brigade’s Tony Marjoram said Weeyn Yakeen was an eye-opening and life changing experience for everyone involved.
“It is great that the CFA is taking such an interest in the profound links between Aboriginal knowledge and management of Country,” he said.
“The importance of cultural fire practices in land management, the significance of Dreaming stories, recognising artefacts were all lessons that will now inform my firefighting decisions and environmental view.
“I hope as many as possible CFA members get the chance to have such an experience.
“Recognition of our Aboriginal heritage is happening one step at a time, and the more steps the quicker change will be.”
This week is NAIDOC Week, held each year in July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.