30 July 2023
THE GITHABUL RANGERS ARE BRINGING CULTURAL FIRE AND KOALAS BACK TO COUNTRY
On a cool November morning, Githabul Ranger Coordinator Gabriel Boota ignites a small patch of dry scrub on Nick Lazaredes’ property in Upper Eden Creek, situated in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. “Fires like this at the perfect time; it helps preserve culture, preserve the environment, and preserve nature and its animals.”
This is Githabul Country. And when it comes to Traditional land management’s role in properly nurturing this sacred part of Australia, Nick couldn’t agree more.
“My grandfather operated this property here at Upper Eden Creek, just north of Kyogle (NSW). Our relationship with the Githabul Rangers began about four years ago. I'd heard about their work with cultural burning, which was just being understood [by non-Indigenous Australians] at the time,” Nick explains.
Slowly, over time, Nick and his grandfather built a relationship with the rangers. The Githabul Rangers are now coming to the property once a year to do cultural burns. Nick is incredibly proud of this collaboration and its fruits.
[The Githabul Rangers] helping us with this project in regenerating koala food trees, the fact that we're healing Country together, is wonderful. It feels like family now.
“[The Githabul Rangers] helping us with this project in regenerating koala food trees, the fact that we're healing Country together, is wonderful. It feels like family now.” - Nick Lazaredes, property owner at Upper Eden Creek on Githabul Country.
These restorative cultural burn patterns adorn a landscape that bears scars. Githabul Country and its community have experienced painful moments and subsequent hardship in recent years.
“We've been through a lot of natural disasters. Through floods, through big fires,” Githabul Ranger Coordinator Charlie Ord reveals.
Situated in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, Githabul Country has suffered major impacts from climate change including droughts, bushfires and most recently flooding. Koala populations on the east coast of Australia have been in sharp decline due to climate fuelled disasters, habtiat destruction and disease. In the past 20 years, koala numbers in NSW have decreased by around 62%, and they are now listed as Endangered to extinction under national environment laws.
Andrew Moye, a botanical consultant to the Githabul People, explains why Githabul Country is so prone to such destructive fires. “When the wind changes and there's fuel (such as dry vegetation), that can end up with catastrophic effects, like what happened at. It's quite devastating.”
Invasive species like lantana have also become problematic parts of the landscape on Githabul Country, hindering the koala’s ability to move through vegetation.
“If you're a koala, to travel through an understorey full of lantana, that's not ideal habitat,” Andrew explains. It has become a major issue allowed to spread significantly to a stage that threatens surrounding fragile areas, including World Heritage-listed sites.
These, along with recent socioeconomic shifts, have posed multiple challenges for the local community to meet. The Githabul Rangers are one of the groups answering this call to action. They are a natural resource management team working with the Githabul community, WWF-Australia, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and others to protect and improve important natural and cultural sites across 110,000 hectares of Githabul Country.
The Caring on Country with Githabul Rangers project is a positive shift towards holistic restoration of Country and community, and is a story of true partnership. Together with other organisations, they are working to implement projects that combine contemporary and Traditional Knowledge.
“When I was a young fella, always knew I was gonna be coming back up home, working on Country,” Charlie reveals as he supervises the cultural burn. “There's all different layers of looking after Country. Fire is a big part of it.”
As WWF-Australia Landscape Restoration Project Manager Tanya Pritchard explains, the environmental and ecological benefits ofare what sets it apart from other conventional bushfire prevention methods such as backburning. “Cultural burning is cool, it's patchy. It lets the wildlife escape and also creates these amazing little hot spots of regeneration as the plants regrow after the burning.”
“Every culture, I believe, is an importance, but it's how you use it,” Gabriel explains. “It's good to share that culture too, you know, get an understanding of it. That's what the cultural fire burn does.”
Tanya reiterates how vital this knowledge exchange is. “It's really going to make such a difference to the restoration of this landscape."
"We’re going to see a whole lot of koala food and habitat trees here regenerating and being planted after the cultural burn has taken place.”
Months later, the team reunites for a tree planting at the burn site. For all present, the horizon on Githabul Country looks brighter. “In a few years’ time we're going to see a real increase in the koala activity here,” Tanya predicts.
Charlie is positive the relationship between the Githabul Rangers and property owners is a game-changing example of what’s possible through such collaboration. “It’s sacred ground we all live on. Landowners, they're starting to see the difference in how our land was managed. So bringing our people back on Country and bringing those old cultural practices back into place to manage Country better, its what's deep within us.”
We all need trees. Add your voice and save our trees to save our future.