Indigenous land management on farms in the Monaro
Posted 02 May 2011, by Julia Holman from Nimmitabel 2631, ABC.net.au, abc.net.au
Past Cooma, on the edge of the Southern Highlands, an innovative project is underway.
Farmers are taking part in workshops which is teaching them Indigenous land management techniques.
It’s hoped that owners will not only gain an appreciation of the methods, but also use them on their own properties.
And as part of the lessons, we’re learning about one of the oldest form of land management: fire.
Before the tractor was king, much of Australia was controlled by fire, and it’s a technique that Indigenous elder Rob Mason believes should be used more on Australian farms.
“We’re trying to do it in a way so that local landowners can have a bit more vision on their local resources,” he said.
“A farmer will look out on his area and might say, okay, I think that might a suitable area for growing peas or it might be a suitable area to put my sheep.
“Same with Aboriginal people. We look out into the areas and we actually know by animal indications that suitable areas are where they are.
“We tend to think of ideas or management plans like that for the areas, such as burning practices. That’s quite an old technique of land management, and I believe that’s totally missing from this important area here.”
Geoff Robertson owns a 270 hectare property outside of Nimmitabel, half an hour south of Cooma, and is hosting this unique workshop as part of a cultural heritage agreement he signed with the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority.
“Some years back we signed up to a stewardship agreement for biodiversity,” he said.
“And when we did that we were contacted by their Indigenous unit, and we were very interested in that for all sorts of personal reasons.
“So we signed this agreement, and part of that was sharing of knowledge of traditional Aboriginal knowledge through Friends of Grasslands.”
Geoff, who has been involved for many years with Friends of Grasslands, says he wasn’t concerned that that signing the agreement would take away control over his property.
“But there was nervousness about opening oneself up to a different way of thinking, because I guess us White Australians have this side of our history that we’re not too proud of or don’t want to know about, so I guess confronting that, that’s scary,” he said.
“Since my early 20s, I’ve taken a lot of interest in Aboriginal communities.
“My first wife and I actually adopted a Torres Strait Islander child who’s now very much an adult, so we have personally within our family Indigenous people, so every day in some sense we deal with that issue of being Indigenous and not being Indigenous.”
Geoff’s property was formerly used for grazing, and he says that the Indigenous farming techniques wouldn’t interfere if the property were to return to that practice.
“In lots of properties in this area, they’re not too different to this one, so there’s nothing that would prevent what we’re doing here from happening in other parts of the country.”
But how feasible is this kind of management as an alternative, or even addition, to modern farming techniques? Monaro grazier Charlie Massy was excited by the workshop he attended at Nimmitabel.
“There is some really exciting holistic land management grazing going on in this country,” he said.
“Whilst we didn’t have ruminant herbivores in the past, Tim Flannery and others are talking about what the megafauna might have been doing and that new types of grazing might be starting to emulate that and stimulate landscape function.”