Right from the beginning, the Healing Country, Healing People program at Nowanup has been a strong collaboration between Greening Australia, Gondwana Link, Friends of Nowanup and the Noongar community. Eugene Eades, the key custodian at Nowanup has said:
“It’s like the spirit of the land pulled us all into line and told us to do it together.”
Nowanup is a special place. Culturally significant, stunningly beautiful, and biologically rich, it is a centrepiece in the section of the Gondwana Link ecological restoration program between the Stirling Ranges and the Fitzgerald River National Park. The property was purchased by the National Trust from its Revolving Fund, and as planned on-sold to Greening Australia in 2004 funded by a substantial philanthropic donation. Soon after, a group of Noongar Elders were invited to Nowanup with the offer: “The gates are open, this is Noongar Boodja, use it as you wish.”
Eugene Eades took responsibility for managing development of the property and brought Elders together to decide on its future. They decided to establish a Meeting Place and Eugene worked with Greening Australia and other partners including the Southern Aboriginal Corporation to build that structure through a program that supported young, at-risk, Noongar men. The Meeting Place was designed as a place for cultural sharing, a place where both Noongar and Wadjela could learn from each other and come to respect each other’s values and stories.
Since then, under the stewardship of Eugene, Nowanup has received over 16,000 visitors – through camps, cultural programs, many youth at risk programs, and eco-art programs. A wide range of Noongar and Wadjela people have been involved – members of the Stolen Generation, young Noongars recommended by the courts, university groups, Wirrpanda Foundation, school groups, corporate figures and more. Visitors come from neighbouring areas as well as from all over the world and all leave feeling enriched and somewhat humbled. The Friends of Nowanup have contributed more than $80,000 in property maintenance and improvements.
Everything that happens at Nowanup is an expression of Healing Country, Healing People.
“If we heal the land, the land becomes healthy again and the land starts to show us and teach us. If we can heal the land and we hang around long enough, then we become healthy as well. Then if we’re healthy and the land is healthy, we can make decisions that suits the land, but also suits ourselves, without destroying it.”
When the 750ha property was first purchased just half had been cleared. That land has now been revegetated, with lots of experimentation in direct seeding and other planting techniques and trialling different machines. Some plantings focus on species, such as broom bush melaleucas, that are useful in building and maintaining the various facilities.
The most recent restoration site is the cultural plantings. The first of these was ‘Planting a Noongar Storyline’, designed and implemented by Threshold Environmental, Eugene Eades and others, and is a series of circles representing the Noongar seasons. A group of Yorgas (women) are now working on filling in the gaps in these plantings with bush tucker plants. The other planting is a giant, 200m long Gnow (malleefowl), designed by artist Errol Eades and implemented by Greening Australia in conjunction with Gondwana Link Ltd. and the Nowanup Rangers.
Though direct Noongar engagement in the revegetation work was slow to begin, the Noongar community now work closely with Greening Australia on all aspects of property management and restoration. There has been direct collaboration in the wider ecological restoration program through establishment of the Nowanup Ranger program. The rangers have worked on country at Nowanup and other Gondwana Link properties in the area, as well as doing contract work like eradicating Victorian tea tree from the Bremer Bay area for the Fitzgerald Biosphere Group.
The most recent collaboration is the partnership between Nowanup and Curtin University to establish a Bush University campus, to enable where transformative learning opportunities in Noongar culture, language and history.
The successful collaborations at Nowanup have emerged out of a genuine respect between the Wadjela people and Noongar people and willingness to learn from each other. As Eugene says “Two cultures on one land”.
There has also been a willingness to allow Noongar knowledge to come to the forefront. Or as Eugene says “Putting the Noongar in the rightful role as caretaker managing the place. Making the old way the new way.”
One of the most significant elements of success is Eugene Eades himself, and the other people he works with. It is the generosity of spirit and immense talent of Eugene that ensures that each and every person who visits is heard and included. Many of the visitors are at risk youth, and it is so valuable for them to be on this beautiful bit of country because it removes them completely from all the distractions of the city and allows them to listen, hear, and be open to learning.
There is such a demonstrable need for more places like Nowanup and more of the programs offered there. This program has changed people’s lives. Typical comments from Curtin University students include: ‘coming out here has been one of the most life-changing experiences I have ever had.’
Another key indicator of success is the return of one of the once troubled young men who came to Nowanup years ago. He returned as the leader of a group of young men that he wanted to bring out so that he could provide them the same experience with Uncle Eugene that he’d had, to empower them to make better choices and choose the ‘right road’ as he had done.
For this to happen, there needs to be longevity of the program. This entire program has required a huge amount of hard work, and it has been difficult to sustain financially. It is a testament to how much can be achieved with minimal resources but a lot of passion and commitment, with minimal administrative and governance structures. This has meant there is a lot of freedom and flexibility but leaves the program little to lean on. Fortunately, Nowanup has the ongoing support of Gondwana Link and the Friends of Nowanup. Like so many similar projects, there is a dire need for succession planning, to find others who can follow Eugene into that role, but the ongoing financial viability of the program remains the key challenge.
Thank you to Nicole Hodgson for writing this article.