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Mogo environmental rangers protect the cultural heritage of the NSW far south coast #australia #australia_news #ABC_News #Just_In


Updated

July 12, 2018 11:46:14

Leadership comes naturally to Sherrie Nye, the supervisor and only female member of the Mogo Local Aboriginal Land Council environmental ranger team.

“In our families, the mums are the boss,” Ms Nye said.

“The women are the strong leaders. So I don’t have any problem being part of the team. They respect me, but in saying that, I respect them and everything they put into our team.”

Ms Nye is a Walbunga-Yuin woman, from a family of generations of fishermen who travelled along the NSW far south coast and set up camp at Barlings Beach near Tomakin — an area that has been declared an Aboriginal Place in recognition of its rich cultural and archaeological heritage.

Part of this heritage is a number of significant midden sites, which are under pressure from coastal development.

“The easiest way to describe a midden is like a menu at a restaurant,” Ms Nye said.

“You can look at the shells in a midden and see what’s in walking distance that you can safely eat. The way I look at it, if it’s not in a midden, you can’t eat it.”

For Ms Nye, middens are an important educational tool.

Showing children and students — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — how to read the layers of the midden teaches a common respect for the land and its history.

“The midden is the remnants of a shared feed,” Ms Nye said.

“You’d be surprised what it can teach you about what sustained Aboriginal people for thousands of years.”

Over the past three years, the environmental ranger team has been working to halt the active erosion of a large midden on the banks of the Tomaga River at Tomakin.

The site was gazetted as an Aboriginal Reserve in 1884, on land that is now partially owned by the Mogo Local Aboriginal Land Council and a privately-owned caravan park.

“I’ve known about the midden site at Tomakin since I was a little kid,” Ms Nye said.

“I used to cut through the mangroves and collect oysters with my cousins and sit up on the bank to eat them. And then get chased away by the caravan park owners.”

Back then, a thick expanse of mangroves protected the river bank. But with the mangroves gone, the midden has become exposed to storms, tides and wash from passing boats, and has partially collapsed into the river.

Cultivating mangroves to protect the midden

With advice and support from Sonia Bazzacco from South East Local Land Services, the rangers devised a method to halt the erosion of the riverbank. The funding for the project came from the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund through Local Land Services.

Ms Bazzacco, a wetland restoration specialist, said it was one of the worst examples of erosion she had seen.

Over a two-week period, the rangers filled, stitched and placed 2,500 sandbags along the 160-metre stretch of riverbank. Next, they collected seeds of the local grey mangrove Avicennia marina, cultivated them in a tidal nursery and planted over 640 seedlings along the river’s edge.

Eventually, when the mangroves are established they will provide a buffer and help anchor the sediment and the sandbags can be removed.

Ms Nye said seeing the mangroves grow from delicate seedlings has given her a deeper appreciation for mother nature.

“I consider them all my little babies,” Ms Nye said.

“When the very first one got its pneumatophore, it was like my first-born getting his first tooth. You couldn’t be more proud.”

Middens a ‘living thing’

For Ms Nye, maintaining a midden is not just about preventing erosion and damage. A midden is a living thing, that each generation adds their own layer to.

“But it’s sort of broken down between my generation and my kids’ generation,” Ms Nye said.

“Because of all the restrictions, we don’t get to take our kids to the ocean and collect our foods, cook on the riverbank and add to the midden.

“When you can’t practice your culture, it makes you feel sick.”

Ms Nye’s family is one of 52 family groups who have lodged a native title claim that covers almost 17,000 square kilometres of NSW coastline from the Royal National Park south of Sydney to Eden near the Victorian border, seeking formal recognition of their traditional fishing rights and historic connection to the coast.

“My ultimate dream would be sit around a big fire, with a whole group of people, doesn’t matter what race you come from, and just have a feed without feeling like a criminal. That’s what I’d love,” Ms Nye said.

‘Love of the land keeps us going’

The environmental rangers are funded through grants from South East Local Land Services, often working on a very lean budget.

“What keeps us doing what we do when there’s no money in the bank is the love of the land, and doing what our ancestors have done before us,” Ms Nye said.

“We don’t want everything given to us, we want to share what we know, so that we can look after this place for the next generations.

“‘Cause none of us own anything at all, we’re all custodians. And that’s what our culture is about.”

Topics:

indigenous-culture,

aboriginal,

environmental-management,

environmental-impact,

leadership,

family-and-children,

archaeology,

tomakin-2537,

eden-2551,

batemans-bay-2536,

moruya-2537,

narooma-2546,

bermagui-2546,

tathra-2550,

merimbula-2548

First posted

July 12, 2018 11:43:51



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