A voice for healing Country and community? How about yours.

Subject to Parliament’s approval, later this year Australians will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to writing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice into the constitution. With or without a referendum, First Nations voices and perspectives need to be at the table to maximise every opportunity to create tangible, on-ground change for community and Country.

Image of Scott Anderson, Thriving on Country Committee Chair and Greening Australia Board Member

Article by Scott Anderson, Thriving on Country Committee Chair and Greening Australia Board Member

All efforts towards reconciliation must and should be driven by real impact.

As a member of Greening Australia’s Board and Chair of its Thriving on Country Committee, I can see the environment sector is particularly well placed to translate words into action for healing Country and closing the gap for our communities.

But each of us – you included – has a voice in helping this change happen.

Healing Country and building intergenerational wealth

First Nations peoples have cared for this continent’s lands and waters and held sovereignty over Country since time immemorial, but legally hold exclusive-possession native title and freehold title for about 26% of Australia’s land mass.

Holding both this multi-generational expertise and decision-making power represents a huge opportunity to simultaneously create sustained impact for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, heal Country, and tackle the global biodiversity and climate crises.

As economic opportunities continue to align with environmental imperatives through mechanisms like carbon, water quality and biodiversity credits, it’s essential that we First Nations peoples are engaged in taking up these opportunities for Country and community.

Ngoolark Rangers dressed in high vis safety gear are busy at work around an outdoor table full of seedlings ready for planting.

Demand for large-scale restoration and strengthening environmental markets can support an Indigenous-led restoration sector to build intergenerational wealth and heal Country. Photo: Jesse Collins.

By effectively consulting with and being led by First Nations voices and perspectives, the restoration industry can go beyond words to taking practical action that supports aspirations such as self-determination and building intergenerational wealth while restoring landscapes.

This is how we can achieve a quadruple-bottom-line, where economic and environmental outcomes dovetail with social and cultural gains.

Greening Australia is taking some great steps to support First Nations enterprises and employment in the growing restoration economy – for example, through co-designed seed teams training in Western Australia, exploring blue carbon feasibility with Mungalla Aboriginal Corporation in Queensland, and supporting Woorabinda community in healthy country planning and establishing a ranger program.

Scaling works like these and catalysing more will make a significant difference for First Nations mob. You can help by spreading the word about or supporting co-designed projects that are delivering for both Country and community.

A stream of fine native seed pours through two hands.

Scaling co-designed projects, for example in native seed collection capacity, can create tangible impact for both Country and community. Photo: Jesse Collins.

Overcoming Terra Nullius to reconnect people and place

The environment sector is so well placed to value custodianship and practically promote First Nations peoples’ aspirations, because of the importance that connection to Country holds in our value systems.

Attempts to break the connection between Country and community during colonisation, the classification of this land as terra nullius (‘land belonging to no one’), and the policies and practices that then rolled out based on this legal concept, continue to impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and wellbeing today.

For true reconciliation, understanding the importance of the people-nature connection is vital, from both a First Nations and a non-First Nations perspective. So the environmental sector has a significant role to play in restoring Country back to people, allowing people to explore their own connectedness, spirituality and identity. Country can’t be healed from a First Nations perspective until that cultural and spiritual connection is recreated and explored.

Two Kaurna representatives conduct a smoking ceremony and welcome to Country on a hillside, standing in the middle of a circle of people holding hands..

For true reconciliation and healing, the cultural and spiritual connection between people and Country must be restored. Photo: Michael Haines.

There’s a great example of this at Nowanup in Western Australia, an evolving collaboration between Greening Australia, Gondwana Link, Friends of Nowanup and the Noongar community. Under the stewardship of Eugene Eades, the key custodian at Nowanup, the revegetated property has become a place for cultural sharing and community healing. It’s also a Bush University campus for Curtin University, facilitating transformative learning opportunities in Noongar culture.

All of us can take practical action to reconnect with Country and culture. By walking on Country together, we can listen and respond to the other voice in this dialogue – what can Country tell us about the songs she used to sing, the storylines and dancelines and languages associated with her, how we can restore her and ourselves?

A group of people, one of whom is Eugene Eades (custodian of Nowanup), bend to examine a native plant outdoors. Restored bushland is visible in the background.

Nowanup in WA facilitates transformative learning opportunities in Noongar culture and has become a place for cultural sharing and community healing.

The multiplier effect of taking personal responsibility

First Nations voices and perspectives are powerful catalysts for Country and community, but each of us – whatever our mob – need to play a role in creating change.

We mustn’t be held back by fear of saying the wrong thing. There’s no end point to change – we can always ask ourselves how to do better, how to build a more positive environment than before.

Governments and organisations can set policies, targets and strategies on closing the gap and healing Country at an abstract level – now we need to move reconciliation from words into concrete actions and changed behaviours.

That’s where each of us can take personal responsibility and create a multiplier effect. The more you ask, ‘how can I value custodianship? Or share good practical ways people are learning and growing?’, the more you’ll engage in practical actions that better support First Nations aspirations.

Your individual voice and actions can make closing the gap and healing Country a reality, influencing your circles at home and work. That’s you putting the abstract into operation for a concrete impact.

A yarning circle of people sitting on benches under a shady tree.

Using your personal voice to amplify good practical ways people are creating change among your own circles can help support change for Country and community. Photo: Colyn Huber.

Yes or no: either way it’s time for change

Closing the gap, stopping biodiversity loss, tackling climate change – to make real progress on these goals, we First Nations peoples need to be active participants in decisions and setting the agenda for change.

Otherwise, this nation will continue missing opportunities to build in benefits for community and Country, to take approaches that go beyond the abstract to the concrete, and to create genuine win-win outcomes for economies, communities, and the environment.

The environment sector is uniquely placed to support practical action for change, but we all have a part to play. No need to wait for a referendum or its outcome – you can start right now, using your own voice to support real impact for Country and community.

Greening Australia and its Thriving on Country Committee recently released a statement in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a Voice to Parliament.

Scott Anderson is a proud Birriah, Turrbal and Nywaigi descendant. He is Chair of Greening Australia’s Thriving on Country Committee and a member of the Greening Australia Board. He is also the CEO of Many Nations Ltd which provides hostel accommodation and supports educational outcomes for some of the most disengaged and disadvantaged First Nations young people who are attending Silver Lining Schools in Queensland. He is an experienced business management consultant and community engagement specialist and has worked with hundreds of First Nations enterprises across the country to build capacity and capabilities.


More about our Thriving on Country strategy


Share this article: