The Barapa Barapa are the Traditional Owners in the middle and lower area of Gunbower Forest, and the Yorta Yorta are the Traditional Owners in the upper Gunbower Forest.
North Central CMA seeks engagement and input from both Traditional Owner groups when undertaking annual water for the environment planning and throughout the year as part of the Living Murray Indigenous Partnerships Program.
Yorta Yorta custodians and Barapa Barapa custodians have clearly expressed their aspirations for an active role in the management of land and water, to fulfil custodianship obligations and contribute to improvements in the health of Country.
Yorta Yorta and Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners have provided feedback on watering priorities for 2022-23 in Gunbower Forest.
Increasing the involvement of Traditional Owners in the planning and management of environmental flows and ultimately providing opportunities to progress towards self-determination within the environmental watering program is a core commitment of the VEWH and its agency partners. This is reinforced by a range of legislative and policy commitments, including the Water Act 1989, the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework, the 2016 Water for Victoria and in some cases, agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010.
Where Traditional Owners are more deeply involved in the planning and/or delivery of environmental flows for a particular site, their contribution is acknowledged in Table 5.2.7 with an icon. The use of this icon is not intended to indicate that these activities are meeting all the needs of Traditional Owners but is incorporated in the spirit of valuing their contribution and indicating progress towards deeper involvement.
Watering planned and/or delivered in partnership with Traditional Owners to support cultural values and uses
Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners have been working in partnership with North Central CMA to deliver the Water for Country project in Gunbower Forest since 2015. The Water for Country project builds on the work of the previous Barapa Barapa Cultural Heritage Mapping of Lower Gunbower Forest project, delivered in 2013-14, to map a catalogue of cultural heritage assets in the forest. The Water for Country project aims to investigate how Traditional Owners’ cultural and spiritual values may be better represented in water management. In 2018, the Water for Country group evolved to also include Wamba Wemba Traditional Owners and continues to have a focus on Gunbower Forest.
Barapa Barapa Wamba Wemba Water For Country project members identified a range of opportunities for 2022-23 watering to support cultural values, which Table 5.2.5 shows.
Table 5.2.5 Cultural values and uses at Gunbower Forest as identified by the Barapa Barapa Wamba Wemba Water For Country project
How the value/use will be considered by environmental flows in 2022-23
Cultural plants, cultural practices
- Water in wetlands and on the floodplain from deliveries of water for the environment and natural flooding supports culturally important plants throughout Gunbower Forest and allows the continuation of cultural practices, including harvesting of food, medicine and weaving plants.
- The watering actions via the Hipwell channel in 2022-23 will support cultural plants that Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners value and provide opportunities for cultural practices to continue.
- The amount of cultural resources available is linked to the scale of watering that can be achieved. Floodplain watering via the Hipwell channel provides a greater amount of
resources and enables abundant harvests with less travel and effort to harvest the desired amount of resources.
- Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners recognise the value of resources that occur on the drawdown after the inundation of the forest floodplain, providing food for animals and cultural plants (such as old man weed). This can be supported by allowing wetlands to draw down naturally after receiving water to expose mudflats.
- Having a diversity of habitat and vegetation responses is a priority for Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners. They consider it important to have a range of water depths, which creates a more diverse vegetation response and results in a variety of resources becoming available over a longer period.
- Delivering water to the floodplain supports this by inundating wetlands of varying depth and condition, which supports a variety of cultural and ecological values.
- Providing drought refugia and maintaining areas with healthy habitat is a high priority for Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners. In the absence of natural flooding, they feel it is
important to ensure that water is delivered to healthy areas (such as Reedy Lagoon) that elicit a good vegetation response and can support wetland and forest fauna.
- Deliveries of water for the environment will ensure water is present on the floodplain and in high-priority wetlands regardless of whether there is flooding. This will provide refuge habitat for forest fauna, and the delivery of water in Reedy Lagoon ensures high-quality habitat is available.
- Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners have also expressed the importance of looking after areas that are in good condition by conducting follow-up watering. This will be done by delivering the Hipwell channel environmental watering event to build on outcomes achieved by the lower landscape watering in 2022.
- Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners value having water in natural creeks and billabongs off main wetlands, which can contain cultural heritage sites, including earth mounds and a large canoe tree on the edge of a large flood runner.
- Delivering water to the floodplain supports this with water flowing through natural creeks and floodrunners on the floodplain. Deliveries of water for the environment result in lower levels than natural flooding, which can ensure that earth mounds or other cultural heritage are not overtopped and harmed.
- Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners have noted that areas of black box and river red gum have cultural heritage values, but the changed watering regime since regulation and climate change is causing the encroachment of black box into areas previously dominated by river red gum. Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners expressed the desire to preserve the tree community that was historically present, which is supported by the delivery of water to the floodplain. The lower landscape regulators can target small areas of river red gum, and the Hipwell channel watering planned in 2022-23 will inundate large areas of river red gum and potentially suppress black box encroachment within the flood footprint.
How the value/use will be considered by environmental flows in 2022-23
- Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners have aspirations to reintroduce traditional fish traps into natural creeks within Gunbower Forest. The flood runners around the Little Gunbower Creek Complex have been identified as potential trial sites, and opportunities will be provided to pursue this in spring 2022.
- Traditional Owners have indicated that a smoking ceremony should be a regular activity each year when water is delivered, as it is something that their ancestors would have done when the floodwaters arrived and would represent a restoration of an important cultural practice. The timing of deliveries of water for the environment will be communicated to Traditional Owners so cultural opportunities can be realised.
- Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners have expressed that the ongoing survival of fish populations is important as a food resource. Wetland fish populations persisting in the Gunbower Forest wetlands following the 2021 watering event will be supported by the large- scale Hipwell channel watering event, ensuring a resident fish population persists across multiple years.
The Barapa Barapa Wamba Wemba Water for Country project has led to the creation of the Barapa Barapa Cultural Watering Objectives Framework, which is a guiding document to ensure cultural priorities and outcomes are considered and incorporated in the planning for and management of water for the environment. The framework considers cultural objectives matched with hydrological considerations, indicators and measures for monitoring success, which Table 5.2.6 shows. These objectives are considered in conjunction with the environmental objectives and expected watering effects for the potential environmental flows shown in Table 5.2.7.
Planning for water for the environment in 2022-23 included a field visit to Gunbower Forest in early 2022. The discussion during the field visit focused on the current condition of the forest, particularly around the wetlands and the dry river red gum forest, and how the 2022-23 watering actions will continue to support cultural objectives and protect cultural heritage.
Applying the framework during seasonal watering proposal engagement with the Barapa Barapa Wamba Wemba Water for Country project members will ensure that planned environmental flows incorporate Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners’ cultural aspirations and that water managers are culturally informed when delivering water for the environment.
All potential environmental watering actions in Table 5.2.7 provide the opportunity to support Barapa Barapa cultural values and objectives, but achieving them will depend on climatic conditions.