Protecting the history of Canberra’s cultural trees

Greening Australia is working with traditional owners in significant sites across the ACT to identify, register and protect valuable “culturally modified” trees.

The project is focused on Aboriginal scarred and modified trees, trees that have been left with a permanent mark due to the removal of bark or wood, or had branches or limbs manipulated through cultural practices to mark areas of significance and to serve as directional tools along pathways to important sites and places. Many of the eucalypt trees are over 200 years of age.

“Trees can tell us so much about our history – we can read their rings to see hundreds or even thousands of years of changing weather, fires and droughts. Some trees can also reveal the human history of culturally significant sites, and tell how indigenous people moved through and used the landscape”, says Adam Shipp, Greening Australia’s Indigenous Engagement and Training Officer.

The need for the project was identified after Adam and other bush crew staff came across several culturally modified trees during their field work. After further investigation, it was found that most were not yet on the heritage register, leaving them vulnerable.

“Some of these trees are at risk from development processes, damage and natural degradation. It is our hope that through this project we can create awareness of culturally significant trees and add an extra layer of protection for these trees in the landscape.”

To date, Adam and the Registered Aboriginal Organisations have mapped twenty-five new trees which are soon to be placed on the ACT Heritage register.  This will help to ensure their future protection.

An information workshop for traditional owners and Aboriginal workers in the NRM sector will be held when the project wraps-up in mid-2017.

“It is important to protect these trees of cultural significance as it helps the local people to interpret the landscape and pass on valuable cultural knowledge to the next generation.  It also serves as an educational tool for the broader community of Canberra,” says Adam.

The project was made possible by funding through an ACT Heritage Grant from the ACT Government.