Many Australian Aboriginal people have cultural associations with the landscapes of the Great Eastern Ranges. (See an interactive map of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island language groups in Australia.) These associations have a history extending back more than 22,000 years, and continue to the present day.
The landscapes of the Great Eastern Ranges were, and still are, used by Aboriginal people in a number of ways. Trading routes and pathways were formed over generations as Aboriginal people from along the coast and the western plains came together for meetings and ceremonies. Many species found in the high country have a variety of uses in food, medicine and trade, as well as in ceremonial and spiritual activities. For example, the Bangalow Palm, found on the Illawarra Escarpment, was used for making water carriers and for thatching shelters, and was also an indicator of the presence of swamp wallabies. The ranges also provided rock used for making tools, such as stone axes or hatchets like those made in the Mount William stone hatchet quarry in central Victoria.
The Great Eastern Ranges, with their abundant and reliable resources and their prominence in the physical and cultural landscape, were also an important focus for spiritual and economic events. These included an annual gathering of Aboriginal people in the Australian Alps to feast on migratory bogong moths and conduct ceremonies, and gatherings in the Bunya Mountains and Blackall Ranges for ceremonies that coincided with the ripening of edible bunya nuts.
Many mountains in the high country are important Aboriginal story places. For example, Gulaga (Mount Dromedary), near Tilba Tilba, and Bulgaan (Pigeon House Mountain), near Ulladulla, are important mythological sites for Yuin people and for people of the south coast of NSW. Dreaming stories and tracks often connect the mountains with other landscape features. The Great Eastern Ranges continue to be a landscape in which Aboriginal people live and retain deep-time cultural and spiritual connections.
Aboriginal engagement in GER
GER recognises that, for many Aboriginal people, there is a deep interconnection between ‘biological diversity’, ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘Country’. Biodiversity and ecological processes are core elements of the cultural landscape, rather than separate or competing values. The GER corridor is a continually-evolving cultural landscape, and is a vital place of cultural renewal for many Aboriginal people, through management of or visits to traditional lands, collection of natural resources and connection with cultural traditions.
GER works with Aboriginal communities along the length of the GER corridor to support their involvement in connectivity conservation, and to create an integrated, cross-tenure approach to biodiversity conservation that combines human, economic and environmental outcomes, under the Cultural Connections model. This is an approach that focuses on empowering Aboriginal communities to become self-reliant in the management of their lands, while achieving economic and social benefits. Elements of this model that are implemented by communities include natural resource management and biodiversity conservation planning (e.g. Aboriginal Property Management Plans), mapping of cultural values and production of educational resources; all of which should lead to increased access to education, training, employment and business opportunities.
One exciting GER project that is implementing this model is the collaboration between the Bathurst Local Aboriginal Land Council and Greening Australia at the Wahluu Gamarra site at Mt Panorama in NSW.