The community has spoken on what it wants to see for six parks and reserves on Dja Dja Wurrung country.
A joint management plan is being developed with the aim of empowering the traditional owners of the land, the Dja Dja Wurrung people, to manage the land in collaboration with the government.
Greater Bendigo National Park, Hepburn Regional Park, Kara Kara National Park, Kooyoora State Park, Paddys Ranges State Park and the Wehla Nature Conservation Reserve will fall under the plan.
The Dhelkunya Dja Land Management Board has released a summary of the feedback received from stakeholders - including the Dja Dja Wurrung community, recreational users, conservation groups, tourism bodies, government and farmers – which will inform the plan.
People of the parks and surrounding landscapes
The engagement process revealed that positive partnerships offered opportunities for the Dja Dja Wurrung and other members of the community to work together.
Already, the voluntary efforts of those connected to the parks and reserves gives them a feeling of ownership, but it has been acknowledged that there are competing interests: while some people would like more access to the parks, others would like greater protection.
However, people reported they would like more interaction so they better understood different views and learned about Dja Dja Wurrung culture.
It was also suggested stakeholder advisory committees be established for each park, and traditional owners have opportunities to be in the parks.
Recreation, cultural practices and customs
For Dja Dja Wurrung people, priorities lie in connecting with and practising culture on country. Recreational activities – such as orienteering, trail bike riding, cycling, and fossicking – are also highly valued by stakeholders.
The enjoyment one gets from walking in the forests and also hearing and seeing the birdlife and wildlife is exhilarating.Survey respondent
But it was noted that the presence of people in large numbers and poorly controlled recreational activities can cause harm.
It was suggested that initiatives such as clean-up days, walking tracks, bike trails, picnic areas and signage be increased, and Dja Dja Wurrung practices and language be incorporated more. Users also want to see recreational facilities and tracks maintained, and codes of practice developed for potentially harmful activities.
Both Dja Dja Wurrung people and members of the wider community identified the protection and management of cultural sites and stories as vital, while goldfields heritage was also flagged as important.
But it was found many Dja Dja Wurrung cultural heritage sites were not properly recorded and were at risk from erosion, feral animals and lack of respect, while goldfields history was not widely known.
Stakeholders suggested cultural heritage surveys be undertaken to register and manage sites, while the heritage of the parks be promoted and Dja Dja Wurrung names be used. It was also put forward that a memorandum of understanding be developed about responding to artefact discoveries.
But Parks Victoria were acknowledged in the feedback for their commitment to management, and some users, including orienteers, already have protocols in place to ensure cultural heritage sites are avoided.
Plants and animals
Feral animals, invasive weeds and inappropriate fire practices are all challenges present in the parks, but healthy ecosystems are valued by all and threatened species are a focus for park management.
Balancing access to firewood with maintaining woody debris for animal habitat was identified as important.
To combat these challenges, it was put forward that traditional burning practices be returned to the landscape, weeds and pest animals be removed, and native plant revegetation be promoted.
Rivers and waterways
All users prize the springs and soaks, mineral waters, rock wells, and clear creeks of the parks.
Stakeholders said fencing off water sources from feral animals and testing mineral waters were important, and proposed restoring natural water flows and boosting the focus of the unique value of the mineral springs.
Land and climate
The diversity of the landscape across the parks is valued and stakeholders want to see the land damaged by mining – referred to by traditional owners as “upside-down country” – healed.
Stakeholders said they would like traditional owners and other users to be involved in efforts to rehabilitate the “upside-down country”, liaision with councils to better manage rubbish dumping, and compliance with existing codes of conduct enforced.
Self-determination of Dja Dja Wurrung people
The profile of the Dja Dja Wurrung community is growing, while Dja Dja Wurrung people have established their own organisations and enterprises.
It is important to me that Aboriginal people get the opportunity to develop a strong culture and strong bond again with country after many years of being separated from it, or not being allowed a say in the way the parks are managed. There would be more centuries of wisdom about country and how to care for it compared to the few centuries of white devastation. I’ve always appreciated too that Aboriginal people care for country as a living thing for future generation.Survey respondent
To improve knowledge of Dja Dja Wurrung people and cultural heritage, it was suggested that there be field days, walks and talks with traditional owners in the parks, as well as signage with traditional place names, language and acknowledgement of Dja Dja Wurrung self-determination.
Dja Dja Wurrung people have identified jobs in cultural and natural resource management as a priority, while opportunities lie in tourism, especially nature-based tourism.
But there are insufficient resources to employ enough people to meet community aspirations, so stakeholders would like to see more government funding, and potentially licence and visitation fees. Dja Dja Wurrung rangers at each park was also proposed.
Under our recognition settlement agreement we’ve got, between Dja Dja Wurrung and the state government, we have rights as traditional owners of this country. It’s important that we all acknowledge that and we work with our elders, we talk, we yarn, we communicate, that way it better helps.Dja Dja Wurrung focus group participant
All stakeholders value joint management, seeing it as an opportunity for more community participation.
Many different pieces of legislation and policy will have to be co-ordinated, but delegation, contracting and co-operation can make it possible, stakeholders say.