I hope you liked the first overview post of my Australian semester last week! This is the second installment to catching up on writing about the hundreds of photos I’ve been itching to share since September, and it’s on the first excursion I had with my School for Field Studies peers at the Mandingalbay-Yidinji Country.
One of the first things we covered in Environmental Policy and Socioeconomics was the colonial history of Australia’s “founding” and oppression of Aboriginal people groups under the British empire and later governments. It’s a narrative following a similar pattern to the little I know of the United States’ oppression of Native Americans. Several indigenous people groups were in our region once but have since been relocated or displaced.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the government allowed petitioning tribes rights to their land for traditional cultural and religious purposes, forcing a long uneducated and unemployed population through long trying legal processes for their homeland.
Our professor Justus had a well-established relationship with a group that was awarded their Native Title. We met with rangers in the Djunbunji Land and Sea Program Center in Mandingalbay-Yidinji Country to learn about their program and instutition. You’ll notice I don’t have many photos of people, not to omit them from a narrative about their land, but that I was also there as a guest and I chose to engage with my camera last out of respect.
This is a to-scale map of the Mandingalbay Yidinji area, where the land is surrounded by hills and mountains, one resembling a croc and another a stingray. The rangers told me that they made this by hand and won an award for it at a conference in Brisbane, if I remember correctly.
The Djunbunji rangers manage several plots of government-protected land. I can’t speak to their operations completely, so you should read more about them at their website! Our first day there, we learnt about their feral pig management project and set a couple pig traps ourselves at the center and learnt about traditional uses of native plants for medicine and construction of vessels and shelter. We helped them set up a couple in the grasslands the next day with bananas and molasses as bait.
Later during dinner, some of the tribe’s elders, all of whom were women, came to show us baskets woven in a technique used for millennia using Pandanus leaves. These baskets took months to make but would last for decades, carefully constructed by knotting. This knowledge is specifically passed through generations through oral traditions and only to women, so being able to see this process was all the more valuable.
I think that was it for our first day, and we returned to our campsite out near the wetlands to set up and relax a bit. It rained quite a bit later, but we ate Tim Tams and Shapes crackers (give me a box of barbecue Shapes and I will get nostalgic) and played Oh Hell through the night. Fun detail to add: there was a croc that lived around the streams nearby and apparently liked the banks and roads by our campsite, so we needed a croc fence. Australian ruggedness, check!
Our second and last day at MY Country was spent on a boat tour around the inlet’s streams, mostly looking for that croc we heard about, and learned about their water management in East Trinity. It was once so acidic due to fertilizers reacting with the soil when the land was cleared for sugarcane fields that they are still adding lime to the water to restore the pH of the area.
I foolishly left my hiking boots outside the tent under our “covered” entrance overnight, and the rain soaked it completely. Nevertheless, I finished the hike at the end of our stay in my Chacos and it was still an enjoyable walk! It was in the end a little devastating to see how much hard work was needed on the part of the traditional land owners of the Yidinji people to get where they are, to work to preserve their heritage, keep their people afloat and reconnect with a land they lost. However, I find that viewing this in a context of merit and empowerment honors them much more than pity and anger could ever do. They are incredibly warm and are doing great work in wildlife and land management. Pay them a visit if you’re ever in Cairns!