In 2018, a project led by the Gray Family’s Yarramoup Aboriginal Corporation from the Shire of Jerramungup, was undertaken to explore the cultural values of the middle section of the Gairdner River in southern Western Australia.
The project was carried out with collaboration and the valuable involvement of other Noongar families from the area, along with archaeologists and environmental scientists.
The Gairdner River has important cultural and historical connections for a number of Noongar families. During traditional times the rivers formed movement corridors and resource rich landscape features that were integral to Noongar economy and society, and Noongar culture attaches powerful spiritual associations to the rivers through creation and dreaming stories.
Recent flooding of the Gairdner River had not only damaged the river banks but was threatening traditional and historic cultural places and archaeological features, and associated heritage values including cultural plant communities. A key objective of the project was to develop an integrated management plan where both the cultural and environmental values were together protected.
The first step in this project was to collect Stories of Place. This is sometimes called ‘cultural mapping’. An important component of any cultural mapping project is to survey the area, as a group, and to identify, map, and record the array of cultural features. These may include burial sites, gnamma (water) holes, ochre sources, artifact scatters and formal implements, stone arrangements, rock art sites, and lizard traps, among others. This involves Elders and cultural coordinators – on boodja (country) – to feel the place, develop the cultural protocols, and to document the various heritage themes. Younger family members participating were able to absorb their families’ knowledge systems first hand. Cultural mapping also includes gathering existing knowledge from other sources and doing activities together like bush walking, painting pictures and yarning around the camp fire under the stars.
After documenting various heritage values there was discussion until management actions were agreed upon. These were documented in an integrated heritage protection plan (upload) and presented as a ‘story map’.
The development of the integrated heritage protection plan serves as a case study for documenting the value of working with landowners for dual cultural and natural site management and provides a guideline for adoption in other areas.
During the project a number of cultural maintenance activities were undertaken. The team, including a Noongar Ranger team, cleaned out gnammas, stabilised riverbanks at important rock pools and removed some of the worst weeds from nearby.
This project was led by the Gray Family’s Yarramoup Aboriginal Corporation. See Facebook page.
Funding was provided by the Western Australian Government’s State NRM Program.