Participants from the First Nations course left a very hot Melbourne on 21st November to rendezvous with a beautiful cool change in central Victoria. We were on our way to Heywood to be shown around the various locations of UNESCO World Heritage listed Budg Bim. 28 participants and some partners were greeted by our guide – Leigh Boyer – and were shown many interesting, thought provoking and deeply moving locations.
World Heritage listing came after a ten-year campaign to gain recognition of the aquaculture designed by the Gunditjmara people over 6,000 years ago. These engineering works, built over generations at Budj Bim, allowed the Gunditjmara people to trap eels in a complex system of weirs, constructed channels and holding/growing ponds that run from Budg Bim to the sea. These supplied them with enough food to sustain them year-round in villages of stone huts, and to undertake trade. This is the first Australian World Heritage site to be listed exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural values. Placing Budj Bim on the United Nations heritage list will challenge the common perception that Australia’s first people were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Instead, the site shows a far more complex Aboriginal economy and lifestyle where people actively intervened in, and managed, the productivity of the country.
Colonisation and frontier wars put an end to this way of life and a population of 6-7,000 Gunditjmara people was reduced to 97. These disenfranchised folk were introduced to Lake Condah Mission. It was a sobering place to visit and reflect on the enormous life changes that these aboriginal people had thrust upon them.
We visited Lake Condah, partially returned to the Gunditj Mirring Aboriginal Corporation along with pockets of other land. Although the recent history of this land holds great loss and injustice, there is a sense from the Aboriginal community that they rest on a much greater and richer culture that they tap into to create their future and that inspires and gives strength.
We finished the next day at lunchtime at Budg Bim National Park. It is most impressive with a crater lake and views of Budg Bim. Our guide Lee shared the Creation story of Budg Bim as the old volcano looked down on us. It was our last magical moment and we were indebted to Leigh, not only for his eloquence, generosity and sensitivity to us, but also to the values of his people.
Thanks to Rob Gardner for organising this excellent trip. His care and attention to detail ensured a wonderful two days. Some local excursions are already planned for 2020 and who knows? Maybe we will wander further afield once again!
If you would like to learn more about our First Nations people, you would be very welcome to join our friendly and enthusiastic class. In 2020, we will be meeting at the Diamond Creek Senior Citizens at 3.15pm each Monday.