A study published in Australian Geographer highlights the voices of Indigenous Darug custodians and of more-than-human natures in western Sydney’s Yellomundee Regional Park. Photo: Nicolai 2014

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Indigenous approaches to natural resource management

Caring as Country

A collaborative research effort by Aboriginal custodians and academics in Western Sydney demonstrates how a caring attitude be applied in natural resource management

Story highlights

• Article illustrates the relevance and significance of applying a caring-as-Country approach to natural resource management, particularly in urbanised and colonised contexts

• ‘Caring-as-Country’ is a concept grounded in Australian Aboriginal worldviews, recognising the sentience of land and the non-human world

• Reviving indigenous approaches, as shown here for Yellomundee, can forge a deeper connection between people and place

All over Australia Indigenous and non-indigenous people live on ‘Country’. In Australian Aboriginal English, ‘Country’ is a word that encapsulates the notion that the land is a living, breathing, feeling entity, that is inclusive of all the human and non-human beings that inhabit Country. In Indigenous Australian worldviews, these beings are embedded in relationships of care, reciprocity and responsibility with Country and with each other.

Yet since the devastating effects of European colonisation of Australia in 1788, many of these relationships of care, reciprocity and responsibility embedded in Indigenous ways of knowing and being have been supressed and ignored in natural resource and conservation management theory and practice. Indeed, the more mainstream approach in conventional resource governance insists on “managing” and dominating over nature. This is particularly true in highly urbanised places such as Sydney, the original site of European colonisation, where the rights and voices of Indigenous Darug peoples have historically been side-lined and ignored.

Yenama budjari gumada – to walk with good spirit

In an article co-written by centre reserarcher Marnie Graham and published in Australian Geographer, the Yenama budyari gumada research collective of Indigenous and non-indigenous authors highlight the voices of Indigenous Darug custodians and of more-than-human natures in western Sydney’s Yellomundee Regional Park. Importantly, the paper also cites Darug Country as an author, acknowledging the ways that Country has life and agency. The article shows how Darug people and culture have been here looking after Country forever, and always will be.

Along the log, over there, there was a bidjiwong [eastern water dragon], which is my son’s totem. So this is part of his journey. Being here, playing in the river, learning. And his responsibility as he grows up is to look after Country here.

Uncle Lex, senior Indigenous Darug man

The article traces the ways that urban centres including Sydney can be recognised as Country, and explores how collaborative engagements can demonstrate the ways that non-indigenous and Indigenous ways of knowing can work together to ‘Care as Country’.

“Yanama budyari gumada” means ‘to walk with good spirit’ in Darug language. Explains Marnie Graham: “To walk with good spirit on Darug Country embodies and invites new ways of thinking and practising intercultural caring-as-Country. Following the lead of Darug custodians, our article showcases the relevance of following a “caring-as-Country” approach to natural resource management and conservation management in particular in urbanised and colonised contexts.”

Rejuvenating culture

The article explores how different ways of knowing, seeing and doing are being enacted at Yellomundee Regional Park through collaborations with Darug custodians. This includes the reintroduction by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service of Indigenous ‘cultural burns’ within the Park, as well as the facilitation of Darug ‘cultural camps’. Cultural burns, practiced for millennia, alleviate the dangerous levels of plant undergrowth which lead to the devastating bushfires that Australia is notorious for, as well as foster connection with Country and provide occasions for intergenerational knowledge transfer. After being abandoned under colonialism, in 2014 park authorities reintroduced these cultural burns in Yellomundee. The article demonstrates how partaking in cultural burns strengthens bonds between Indigenous and non-indigenous communities and creates opportunities for cross-cultural learning.

The Yanama budyari gumada research collective also facilitates Darug cultural camps at Yellomundee Regional Park. These cultural camps provide opportunities for learning Darug language, songs, stories and dance and maintaining the health of Country by participating in practices such as weed removal. Both cultural burns and Darug cultural camps help participants to see themselves as being embedded in Country. In this interconnectedness, boundaries between humans and “more-than-human worlds” fade, engendering a culture of care and respect.

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Related info

Ngurra, D. Dadd, L. Glass, P., Scott, R. Graham, M. Judge, S., Hodge, P., Suchet-Pearson, S. 2019. Yanama budyari gumada: reframing the urban to care as Darug Country in western Sydney, Australian Geographer, DOI: 10.1080/00049182.2019.1601150

You can see some of the footage of an April 2018 Darug cultural camp in this short film, directed by Klas Eriksson Yellomundee Living Culture Camp 2018

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