My journey with Nowanup – what next Eugene?

Supporting Noongar Elder Eugene Eades with his cultural reconnection work at Nowanup since 2011.
We get so much reward from working alongside our Noongar brothers and sisters.

Rodney Safstrom, Friends of Nowanup

I remember the moment very well as I remember with so much fondness and feeling so many memories about Nowanup!

I was in my office at the National Trust of Western Australia where I was responsible for the Conservation Covenant Program and Revolving Fund – nature conservation initiatives I had helped to establish. The phone rang and it was Keith Bradby of Gondwana Link. He told me about a block he had seen in the Gondwana Link and he said it was perfect for the Revolving Fund – buying conservation property and on-selling it with a conservation covenant to a sympathetic purchaser. He said I HAD to come next week. It was that important. I have worked with Keith over many years and I knew it paid to heed his suggestions!

Keith called it Cowboy Country, because of the bare paddocks, breakaways and the Mesa – reminiscent of old cowboy and Indian stories. In Victoria and in WA I have been involved with buying and protecting wonderful pieces of private bushland and wetlands. I get a strong feeling when a place is important. The feeling on driving into Nowanup was very strong indeed. So between Keith and I we wrote a report on the conservation significance, convinced the Board of it priority, negotiated with the owner, a neighbouring farmer who was to buy part of the farmland and Greening Australia. Greening Australia had agreed to buy the property from the National Trust as soon as they had secured a grant from the Nature Conservancy. It was a bitterly cold southerly wind day in June year? Standing in the paddock, a three-way negotiation. Hectares and $ per hectare. I was not going home until we had a deal! A Shivering Success!

A year or so later I was invited down to Nowanup for a Reconnections planting day. I can see myself walking across the paddock with Eugene and him sharing about his boxing days.

It was nearly 10 years ago, in 2012 I think, that I was invited down to Nowanup as part of a Noongar men’s weekend. My invitation came as a result of leading the Darlington Men’s Group, time with Uncle Noel Nannup and supporting the Western Australian Annual Men’s Gathering. It was a very special weekend. At the end I had a strong feeling to ask Uncle Eugene if there was anything we could do to assist his work. I said I was part of an amazing group of men from the Perth Hills, many with great practical skills.

Eugene did not hesitate. He said yes please, could you help me rebuild the Meeting Place as the white ants were eating out the posts. I said yes but let’s not use treated pine with its chemicals; we could use steel pipe. But this is Wadjella (white fella) stuff so not right. He said not to worry steel pipe was good – “Two Cultures on One Land”. So, one amazing long weekend a few months later, helped with wonderful donations of materials and those amazing skills, we had rebuilt the structure.

I did not realise what we were in for when I said “What next Eugene”? He said, well we need a kitchen and water in the shed and do up the Cottage please. And later he found an Ecotent that had been donated on another property, and we, now a wonderful group of men and women, working alongside our new Noongar friends, had fun over a number of weekends erecting that. Then Eugene sent me a picture of his sketch of a big Mia Mia and could we design and build that please, and then well five others and help with the walking tracks – and the shed kitchen is version three now. Not long back the Occupation Health and Safety people arrived so we all had more fun bring all the steps and electricity systems up to date. So far a modest estimate of our contribution towards maintenance and materials is $80,000.

One of the many, many joys is the music in the shed led by Eugene, the mixed mob and visitors. Eugene has always dreamed out loud of an annual Nowanup Music Festival. So this year we had a trial music camp with nearly 70 visitors – an amazing weekend of music, Elders stories, craft and cultural activities.

A huge thank you to all the men and women who have been part of our contributions and all the so generous donations of time, materials and money.

Over the years we started calling ourselves Friends of Nowanup and wonderfully over the past four years our group has expanded to over 200 members with amazing support from Jesse Humphries, Kylie Garde and Bruce Anthony and many others.

It is not about the projects; it is community. Connecting with each other, the community cookups, women’s business, men’s business, the children, the music and sharing around the fire. Yarning, singing, crying, crafting, building and sharing together with our Noongar Brothers and Sisters. Beyond reconciliation – walking side by side.

The Friends of Nowanup is an informal organisation that began its journey in 2011 when Rod Safstrom of the Darlington Men’s Group asked Noongar Elder Eugene Eades if there was anything he and the Men’s Group could do to support the cultural work at Nowanup. Eugene said yes please!

For more information contact Rod Safstrom


By donating to Gondwana Link you will be helping us to reconnect country across 1,000km of south-western Australia.

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