2 July 2022
REWILDING LUNGTALANANA: RETURNING NATURE, CULTURE AND SOVEREIGNTY TO THE WILDS OF THE BASS STRAIT
Research and words by Dr Vanessa Barnett, Indigenous Content Specialist, WWF-Australia.
After years of post-invasion destruction and bushfires, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC), WWF-Australia’s Rewilding Australia team, and researchers from University of Tasmania, are working together to bring lost species back to lungtalanana, an island off the coast of Tasmania.
The lungtalanana project to restore culture and heal an island ecosystem will be an Aboriginal-led collaboration using a planned introduced predator management program to help repatriate locally extinct mammal species to lungtalanana.
The first phase of lungtalanana’s restoration journey could potentially involve a wombat subspecies unique to Bass Strait islands, once present on the island but which became locally extinct on both lungtalanana, and nearby Cape Barren island.
So, what makes this plan so different? “This project is about repatriation of culturally significant species back into lands that have suffered the ravages of invasion” explains Andry Sculthorpe, Land and Heritage Coordinator at the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre. “It stems from the Aboriginal community’s desire to care for land holistically with cultural values being centred. It’s about animals, plants , fire, community on Country and creating cultural knowledge development pathways to understanding healthy Country.”
A culturally significant island in the Bass Strait
“These Bass Strait islands really do have such a cultural and historic significance for the Aboriginal community”, Andry reveals. “There wouldn't be any Aboriginal people in Tasmania who haven't had family members with experiences in these islands, whether good or bad.”
The impact of invasion on the Pakana people, and the invasion history of these Islands, is documented, lasting and complex.
“Each island has a story to tell each, each island has a family or families associated with it. So people connect differently with each island, but collectively all the islands are an important historical Sea Country area."
"Traditions have been developed and carried out on the islands, carried on from traditional times to today. So they’re also an important part of the resilience and survival of the Aboriginal community.”
Strong Pakana women made waves on these islands
For more than two centuries, this 82-square-kilometre island in Bass Strait, just 24 kilometres off the north east coast of Tasmania, was known as Clarke Island.
To the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, Clarke Island is known as lungtalanana.
This traditional name was revived through the TAC’s long established palawa kani language revitalisation program. This revitalisation is a tribute to the respect, Traditional Knowledge and cultural influence Pakana women have long commanded. Today young Aboriginal women are now leading the community language work.
“We know this place was traditionally named lungtalanana”, Andry reveals. “That word was told to us somewhere between 1825 and 1835 by a woman called Tanalipunya, she was married to Manalakina, the chief of the north east (Pakana) people.”
“It was her Traditional Knowledge of these islands as well as the other women who came to these islands that taught people about the importance of this land, the names, the animals that were on here, and this extended Sea Country was part of her country. So she's an important figure in this story of lungtalanana.“ explains Andry.
To many in the Bass Strait, the cultural authority of Tanalipunya and other local Indigenous women traditionally extended well beyond the naming of this culturally-significant island.
Many Aboriginal women were kidnapped and brought to the Islands by sealers between 1810 and the 1830’s. Bringing with them much cultural knowledge that is important to today’s community.
The changing landscape of lungtalanana
Nature on lungtalanana has been sculpted by human hand, first through Traditional land management practices (such as burning), and more recently by the introduction of feral species.
The mid-1800s saw the introduction of sheep, cattle and other livestock.
In other words, sealers and graziers in the early 19th century brought much more than fencing and hunting gear, they also brought weeds, plant diseases and feral pests such as rabbits, rats and cats.
“When the Aboriginal community come here, they can see that the land isn't that healthy, and they can feel that there's, there's things missing from this island”, Andry laments.
Introduced and invasive species such as weeds and feral cats have overwhelmed and decimated much of lungtalanana’s native wildlife. And in 2014, a catastrophic bushfire ripped through lungtalanana and1.
“Sadly, this island has lost almost all of its mammal species” says Darren Grover, Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes at WWF-Australia. “Things like wombats and potoroos, a whole suite of wildlife have gone.That's because when this island was settled around about 150 years ago, that changed in the way that this island was managed.”
Now, in 2022, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, The University of Tasmania and WWF-Australia’s Rewilding Australia program are working together to bring these lost species back.
Wombats to call lungtalanana home once again
“Rewilding is a new and growing wildlife conservation program in Australia. It's about bringing wildlife back to places where they were locally extinct and in some cases have been gone for many years”, Darren shares.
“It's not just the animals that are coming back. It's the ecological services or ecological functions that they carry out. The rewilded animal may be a seed disperser. They could be a pollinator. They all play these very important roles in the ecology that the whole environment relies on."
"In the case of lungtalanana, wombats are incredible animals. They're very charismatic. They have their own personality that only wombats can have”, Darren reveals. ”They're quite large, like little bulldozers but they play really important ecosystem roles.”
Being larger and therefore less vulnerable to introduced predators, the wombats are the ideal creature of choice to start the rewilding process on lungtalanana. “They dig and scratch and burrow, which means that water and nutrients can get deep down into the soils.They’re also spreading seed and fungal spores, which are really important for the productivity of the soil”, says Darren.
Rewilding lungtalanana supports community, culture and nature
Darren believes it’s exciting to have Pakana people back on Country looking after lungtalanana for many reasons. “We now have an opportunity to be back managing this land, back on Country to return some of those animals that have been lost. And that's really exciting not just from a wildlife conservation point of view, but also for those cultural connections.”
Andry believes it’s also vital to support Indigenous-led land management because “it allows people to develop projects. It allows for employment. It allows people to provide a base for opportunity and learning.”
For Pakana Ranger Brendan Lowery, that connection to Country is strong, “really hard to explain. I feel like I'm one with the land, I feel like nothing else matters and I feel like I can breathe.”
For fellow Pakana ranger Baden Maynard, being able to heal Country on lungtalanana is where he feels most at home. “When I'm out in Country, I feel a lot different. When I'm back in the city I find it easier to feel down and stressed about things.”
“Land rights and return of land is a long held aspiration that Aboriginal people have never let go of since invasion”, Andry reveals. “So returning some of these islands to the Aboriginal community and some land on mainland Tasmania has been really important for the community’s development and putting the pieces back together after colonisation.”
"Momentously, in 1995 the Indigenous Land Council purchased a significant percentage of the island under lease agreement for Tasmanian Aborigines. Sovereignty was further returned to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community in 2005, when the government returned remaining Crown land on lungtalanana to the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania” according to the. Today, lungtalanana is wholly Aboriginal owned.
For Kulai, it’s not just about returning to lungtalanana, it’s about bringing back the traditional land management that kept Country healthy. “It means so much to be here and to do the same practices and carry them out that they were doing thousands of years ago. It’s where I’m supposed to be.”
In Darren’s eyes, understanding the importance of cultural knowledge, and encouraging community collaboration is key to the project’s success. “We will only be able to rewild Australia, to Regenerate Australia by working with communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It can’t be done in isolation. But if you don't have the community involved, have community ownership of those projects, they won't work."
“It's a great project. It's very exciting to be part of. And it's something WWF-Australia is certainly very proud to be part of.”
About Regenerate Australia
Regenerate Australia is the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program in Australia’s history. Launched by WWF-Australia in October 2020, the multi-year program will rehabilitate, repopulate and restore wildlife and habitats affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and help to future-proof Australia against the impacts of changing climate. Find out more at .
- Hamish Saunders Memorial Trust (New Zealand), (sponsoring body) & Tasmania. Natural and Cultural Heritage Division, (issuing body) & Tasmania. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, (issuing body) (2014). . Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Hobart
- Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, issuing body & NRM North (Tas.), sponsoring body. (2015). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from
- Robinson, George Augustus & Plomley, N. J. B. (Norman James Brian) (2008). , 1829-1834 (2nd ed). Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery ; Hobart, Tas. : Quintus Pub, Launceston, Tas
- Ryan, Lyndall (1990). “ ”, Bulletin of the Centre for Tasmanian Studies, Vol 11, No 2, 1989-90, p. 14.
- Plomley, N. J. B. (Norman James Brian) & Robinson, George Augustus, 1791-1866 & Blubber Head Press (1987). , 1835-1839. Blubber Head Press, Sandy Bay, Tas
- Merry, Kay. “The Cross-Cultural Relationships Between the Sealers and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Women at Bass Strait and Kangaroo Island in the Early Nineteenth Century.” Counterpoints 3, No. 1 (2003): 80-88.