Engaging with cultural heritage: lessons and learnings from walking Country with Barengi Gadjin Land Council

Photo credit: Tom Day.

A common concern among project managers is how to effectively engage with Traditional Owners in a manner that is respectful and beneficial to the project. We have heard from environmental practitioners, landholders, and land managers expressing a desire to engage in the correct way, but they are uncertain about how to begin.

Over the past few years Greening Australia and Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BGLC), who represent the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples, have collaborated to preserve Wotjobaluk Country, establishing trust and understanding over time.

One of the things that Greening Australia has learned during this time is how important it is to engage Traditional Owners before your project begins. Traditional Owners have tens of thousands of years’ experience in managing landscapes and caring for Country. It is not only respectful to bring them in on the design and development stage of the project, but it will also likely save you time, effort and resources, because of the depth of knowledge Traditional Owners can provide in the consultation.

How to start the process

One of the initial steps you can take is to identify the Traditional Owners in your project area. You can use publicly available websites like the National Native Title Tribunal’s Native Title Vision and the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council’s online map of Registered Aboriginal Parties. These tools are free and offer quick visualisation for identifying Traditional Owner groups.

After identifying the Traditional Owners in your project area, you can use an online search to find the website of the Land Council or representative body. Once on the website, look for a contact who can provide you with a quote for Consultative Cultural Heritage and/or On Country services. If you are sending an email to a general address, you might write a request like this:

Hello, I am considering a landcare project in Wotjobaluk Country and would like to hire BGLC for consultation before I decide to move this project forward. Is it possible to book a meeting to discuss?

A person stands outside in a clearing, surrounded by giant grass trees.

Grass trees on Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Country.

When to begin: The sooner, the better

People managing or delivering projects on a timeline may feel pressured to rush certain parts of the process, but reaching out to Traditional Owners before starting a project is the most efficient step to take.

Traditional Owners hold valuable knowledge accumulated over tens of thousands of years regarding land care and restoration.

Making a simple phone call before commencing a project could prevent the need to make major changes midway through, as you may not have had all the necessary information during the design and development stage.

Engaging with Traditional Owners during the design and development stage is a respectful approach to the process, representing the first step in establishing a relationship of trust and respect with Traditional Owners.

Budget and plan accordingly

One way to guarantee that meaningful engagement is integrated into the project scope from the beginning is to contact the local land council to determine the budget needed for their involvement during the project proposal stage.

Involving Traditional Owners at this early stage also ensures the project can be planned around the necessary timeframes for this engagement to be conducted properly.

A group of people stand outside in a circle around a fire pit, talking. Gum trees are visible in the background.

BGLC and Greening Australia teams preparing to undertake a cultural survey of a site in 2024.

Walking together

Recently, BGLC, BGLC-owned Dalki Garringa native nursery, and Greening Australia worked together to restore the land of private landholder Anthony Pelchen in Western Victoria. Anthony has always been interested in learning about the history of his property but was unsure about how to initiate a conversation with Wotjobaluk Traditional Owners.

“My mission to regenerate this land led me to Greening Australia and thankfully they’re in step with Barengi Gadjin Land Council. I wanted to reach out to the Traditional Owners of this land because I have a deep concern for the land. Working with them has been very enjoyable and I’ve learned a lot”, said Anthony.

Following the recent cultural heritage survey on Anthony’s property, the entire planting site will be registered with the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Register and Information System (ACHRIS). This will help protect Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia, and Jupagulk culture for future generations of Victorians to celebrate and learn from.

Greening Australia’s representative on the project, Jess Gardner reflected: “I always learn so much from walking on Country with our BGLC partners. Not only are we fulfilling our mission to restore land, but we’re also building lasting relationships that will help us all create better outcomes for Country, culture and communities in the long term.”
This article has been written collaboratively by Barengi Gadjin Land Council and Greening Australia.

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