Yurung Dhaura Aboriginal team cares for the Cotter

Four Aboriginal people are making a big difference in the restoration of the Cotter River catchment following environmental damage from the 2003 Canberra bushfires and non-native pine plantations.

The Yurung Dhaura (Strong Earth) team is delivering the ACT’s Caring for the Cotter project by restoring and protecting the Cotter and Paddy’s River catchments. The catchments are home to a wide variety of native flora and fauna, including numerous endangered species. Unfortunately, they are also home to a number of pest animals and plants and remnants of the pine plantations that covered the area for almost a century.

The Yurung Dhaura team, named by the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, is hosted in the ACT Government and funded through the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program.

Cotter care

The Cotter River is a high value upland aquatic ecosystem that is a primary water supply for the ACT. In 2003 the catchment was devastated by fires and has been subject to restoration over the last nine years.

Yurung Dhaura is restoring 76 hectares of high conservation value ecosystems and protecting 6.4 kilometres of streambanks in the catchment.

Activities include addressing fundamental problems such as pest plants and animals, soil erosion and restoration of vegetation in areas where trees have not regenerated after the fires. The team is monitoring water quality and pest animal activities, native fauna and flora, fencing sensitive areas, addressing erosion problems, repairing and maintaining tracks and collecting native tree seeds which they are using to propagate tree seedlings for environmental restoration.

Priorities have included control of wild pigs and removing invasive pines that dot the lower Cotter catchment as a legacy of the former pine plantations. Yurung Dhaura has laid pig baits over more than 200 hectares, removed wild pines from more than 10 hectares of Xanthorrhoea (grass trees) areas, and planted more than 5 hectares of bare ground to native trees and shrubs.

The team is also working with ACTEW Water as part of the larger offset project for the construction of the Enlarged Cotter Dam, planting a 5 hectare area with local native tree species and local ‘bush tucker’ species.

Documenting Aboriginal knowledge

An exciting component of the project is the team’s work with the Ngunnawal people to document traditional ecological knowledge in the ACT and apply this knowledge when managing and restoring the catchment. As the Cotter catchment also has cultural significance to the Aboriginal groups of the area, the team is also protecting cultural sites.

The knowledge has also contributed to a ‘bush tucker book’ outlining how Aboriginal people in the region used local plants. The book is, being developed by the Ngunnawal Elders, with support from the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate (ESDD), the Parks and Conservation Service and Greening Australia.

Promoting Aboriginal development

Appointing an Aboriginal team to Caring for the Cotter is part of the wider ACT Government policy of involving Aboriginal people in caring for country, particularly in improving skills and experience in natural resource management for future employment.

The Ngunnawal Caring for Country Ranger in the Parks and Conservation Service provides mentoring and cultural training to the team. Other support is provided through ESDD and the Aboriginal Natural Resource Management Facilitator.

Members of Yurung Dhaura are completing Conservation and Land Management Certificate III at the Canberra Institute of Technology, gaining valuable technical skills to complement their field experience. The team are also learning leadership and community engagement skills. One team member also represents Aboriginal youth on the NSW Heritage Council.

Yurung Dhaura Team members say they now feel empowered and have increased self-esteem, confidence, pride and positivity from being gainfully employed in work they value.

The project

The two year Caring for the Cotter project is a partnership between the ACT Government’s Environment and Sustainable Development and Territory and Municipal Services directorates and the ACT Natural Resource Management Council. It is funded under the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program.

The project has attracted many partners including the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, Canberra Institute of Technology, the Board of the Ngunnawal Healing Farm that is located in the adjacent Paddys River catchment, ACTEW Water, Greening Australia Capital Region, the Southern ACT Catchment Group Waterwatch program and the local Aboriginal community.

Through the project, non-Aboriginal partners and the broader community are gaining greater exposure to and appreciation of traditional Aboriginal knowledge in natural resource management. This has included exhibits at Floriade 2012 and guided walks.

For more information

Aboriginal Natural Resource Management Facilitator, ESDD
Access Canberra 13 22 81