Dja Dja Wurrung Country is entirely within and comprises 58 per cent of the north central region. It extends from the upper catchments of the Bulutjal Yaluk (Loddon River) and Golipan (Coliban River) to Lalgambook (Mount Franklin) and the towns of Creswick and Daylesford in the southeast, to the Yaluk (Campaspe River) Kyneton, Redesdale and Rochester in the east, Yung Balug Djandak (Boort Lakes) in the north, Lake Buloke, Donald in the northwest, to the Avon Richardson River, Navarre Hill and Mount Avoca marking the south west boundary.
In 2013, the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans Corporation (DDWCAC) signed a Recognition and Settlement Agreement (RSA) with the Victorian government, under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. The Dja Dja Wurrung RSA involved transfer of six parks in the region, to Aboriginal Title. In collaboration with partner organisations the Dhelkunya Dja Land Management Board developed a Joint Management Plan (JMP) for the parks which include:
- Greater Bendigo National Park
- Hepburn Regional Park
- Kara Kara National Park
- Kooyoora State Park
- Paddys Ranges State Park
- Wehla Nature Conservation Reserve
DDWCAC also has Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) status under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. The boundaries of the RAP and RSA areas are consistent. For more details see the Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians Policy Context page.
To inform RCS renewal, DDWCAC representing Dja Dja Wurrung Traditional Owners, were engaged. As for other Traditional Owners of the region, we have sought to reflect Dja Dja Wurrung values and aspirations in this RCS, at a high level. For more specific information, RCS partners should engage directly with DDWCAC and reference the Dhelkunya Dja, Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan.
All Traditional Owners engaged for RCS renewal were asked if they would like to identify values, including places of value in the RCS. We also discussed a range of concerns and aspirations for the future. Those identified by Jaara (Dja Dja Wurrung people) who were engaged for RCS renewal are outlined on this page. Together these have informed the development of priority directions and outcomes for all Traditional Owners as outlined on the Traditional Owners page
Values, concerns and aspirations
The following values, concerns and aspirations were developed through discussions and provided by Dja Dja Wurrung in writing (written contributions are shown in italics). In relation to biodiversity, we have referenced outcomes of DELWPs regional Biodiversity Response Planning engagement with Dja Dja Wurrung. In relation to water, we engaged the Dja Dja Wurrung water knowledge group Kapa Gatjin. Dja Dja Wurrung made it clear that all areas of Djandak (Dja Dja Wurrung Country) are of great importance and that the naming and identification of specific locations and species in this RCS, is intended to provide a focus for this RCS and should not compromise the importance of those not listed. They also stressed that cultural values identified here do not fully define the interests and beliefs of Jaara, which are multifaceted and cannot be defined through a single standpoint or response.
Vision for Country
From Dhelkunya Dja, Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan:
“Our Vision for Country is to ensure that:
The health and wellbeing of our people is strong, and underpinned by our living culture.
Our lands and waters are in good condition and actively managed to protect our values and to promote the laws, culture and rights of all Dja Dja Wurrung People.
As this Country’s First People we are politically empowered with an established place in society and capable of managing our own affairs from a strong and diverse economic base.”
Bunjil, the creator being, bestows Jaara with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life. Mindi the Giant Serpent is known as a protector and enforcer of Bunjil’s Lore and is a large and powerful creator being that was not to be messed or disturbed with. Mindi holds the powers of justice for Lore breakers and death/destruction. Mindi the Giant Serpent guides and enables the Lore keepers, punishes Lore breakers and continues the cycles of life force and creation.
Waa the Crow is known to be the protector of the rivers and waterways, ensuring that water (Gatjin) continues to run through the veins of our Country and provide for Bunjil’s creations, the animals and the plants across Djandak. Waa is also the discoverer of Wi (fire), having stole the secret of Wi, burning his feathers black in the process.
The roles that these creators play are central to the Lores and laws that dictate Jaara today. Similarly, Wi and Gatjin are essential for life, essential for the regeneration of Country and central to the restoration of ecological balance across Djandak. These lessons begin in childhood with the stories of Country, teaching the relationship and cultural worldview that make the foundation of the relationship to all the aspects of Country.
Impacts and threats to healthy Country
After the frontier wars, after the surviving Jaara people were forced onto missions to free up the land for more migrants to occupy, many drastic changes to the Cultural Landscape took place. Goldmining, agriculture and urban development had inadvertently been the downfall of living in balance with our Djandak in a way that all things could live sustainably. These drastic changes are what we refer to as ‘upside-down Country’.
Gold mining tempted many people from all over the world to come with much haste. The race was on in a ‘free for all’ manner, digging up the Country to find the precious Kara Kara (gold). Alluvial mining added mass sediments to the water and leached out the arsenic, poisoning groundwater systems which are alarmingly expensive to mitigate or just keep at bay. This is the legacy of mining that still interferes with the health of the land and the people today. Many of these practices are no longer legal due to the environmental harm caused. However, mining continues today with different methods that still require large amounts of water and by process still contaminate it. The mines go for kilometres underground with tunnels honeycombing Jaara Country and eventually will destabilise it.
The introduction of foreign crops, animals and mindsets completely changed the landscape in a radical nature. The land was cleared for farming, removing many of the mother trees that supported and stabilised the forest and water table. This triggered the main problems of the future, our present dilemma of erosion and salinity. This was accelerated by the introduction of hard-hoofed animals: cattle and sheep. Widespread clearing has caused much of the productive topsoil to erode away and allowed the establishment of many pest animals and plants that are displacing and preying on our native species. In some cases, the shift in ecosystem composition is causing an over-abundance of native species like kangaroo, which is increasing the demand on already limited food resources. The majority of native animal habitat has since been fragmented and reduced to small pockets, islands and parks.
Up to 81 per cent of Dja Dja Wurrung Country is privately owned and 65 per cent of this is used for agriculture. Having crops is not something new or since colonisation in north central Victoria, Aboriginal People were farmers as well. However, they were farming native grains and perennial grasses and tubers that could be eaten all year round and did not require watering after establishment. Some surviving remnant patches of Buwatj (Kangaroo grass), Murnong (Yam Daisies) and other tubers can still be found around Jaara Country today.
The natural and seasonal flow regimes on Jaara Country have been significantly altered by the creation of reservoirs and channels, enabling the control and release of flows when farmers want it for foreign crops that need it all year round. This is not in line with breeding times of many native species and therefore affects levels of sustainable populations. It also effects the movement of animals to have to go where the water is stored. Irrigation would have been a strange concept to our ancestors. Meddling with the natural course of water for human only purposes would have caused more harms than gains and breached the Lore’s of this land. It has undermined the spirituality of water and its integrity of the knowing the best path for its role in Country.
All of Bunjils creations
Instead of Biodiversity, Dja Dja Wurrung refer to ‘all of Bunjils creations’ as more easily understood and appropriate for Djandak (Dja Dja Wurrung Country). In relation to all of Bunjils creations, they highlighted the following priorities:
Returning of Murrup
The landscape that is Djandak is of great importance to Dja Dja Wurrung. The returning of Murrup (spirit), practice and people to landscapes is vital to enable Dja Dja Wurrung to lead the decolonisation of the landscape to allow for reconciliation to occur. Important Murrup to return to Country are those that are connected with our Stories and identity, Gal Gal (Dingo) has a named connection to clans which were dispersed from the southern section of Djandak, including the Gal Gal Balug and Gal Gal Gunditj. Lalgambook (Mt Franklin) the ‘Emu’s nest’ is conspicuous with the absence of Barramul (Emu). Yung Balug in the Boort landscape have spiritual connections to the Yung (Quoll). To return Dja Dja Wurrung to the landscape we must ensure that we return the people and their Murrup to enable these landscapes to heal again.
Food and fibre plants
Buwatj (grasses used for grain), Witji (weaving grasses), Gatjawil Matom (tuberous plants with scented flowers) are some key food and fibre plants and include Kangaroo grass, Lomandra and Dianella species, Chocolate, Vanilla and Bulbine Lilies and Murnong (Yam daisies).
These plants where once abundant on Djandak and seasonally the fields would change colour from yellow in Datimn Datim – Wai Kalk (early spring) to purple in Wanyarra – Gurri (late Spring) to Orange bronze in Boyn – Lawan (summer). Removal of Dja Dja Wurrung and our knowledge of how to work with and care for these plants in the landscapes through sustainable use and the intricate unforced use of Wi resulted in the initial collapse of many of these populations. This was compounded by the bringing of Sheep and Cattle by invaders which largely decimated our farming systems and reduced a once plentiful abundance of food and fibre, maintained and cared for over millennia… Returning food and fibre to the landscape, not just in parks and reserves but in the most productive parts of Djandak is key to ensuring healing of Djandak.
When the squatters came to our Country, they saw multiple plumes of smoke in the air, little did they know that was one form of communication to make other nations aware that intruders are coming to be on the lookout. At night time that’s all they could see in the distance was flickering fires everywhere. Wi is a tool with many uses, it comes in many forms, you obviously have Wi to cook, you have Wi to keep you warm, Wi for ceremony, Wi for hunting, lighting strikes can cause wild Wi and you have Wi for Caring and Healing Country. Wi is a tool to Jaara use in many ways and its use is always guided and informed by Our Lore as it has been for millennia.
The name of one of the great Jaara ancestors Walpanumin/Jacky Logan translates to “burning with fire” it was said he was the fire and messenger man for his clan. Jaara have always used Djandak Wi in many forms to manicure the landscape. They say our fire people would be like Picasso with a paint brush, instead of paint brushes our people used grasstree spikes as firesticks to paint the landscape, with the right fire, at the right time, we care for the Country the way our ancestors have for millennia. We have always been told when growing up that Wi is the way our ancestors manage the land and manipulated the environment. We live this today.
In the dreamtime stories about the two feuding volcanoes Tarrengower big and heavy (a mountain situated near the township of present-day Maldon) and Lalgambook (the nest of Barramul now known as Mt Franklin), near Daylesford. The story about the hawk getting a red hot ember from the fire and taking it up to the sky then dropping it further along in the unburnt to start the fire further ahead so he can hunt the insects coming out of the fire. Boort which is our word for smoke and its said that saying consecutive Boort Boort means big smoke, Boort also refers to the town on Jaara country, embedding smoke and Wi in the landscape. There is a hill in the middle of Boort now called Bald Hill where the water tower is located today. Yung Balug Clan would pile up a big heap of green vegetation and light it up to signal to other nations that trading season has begun and that they were open for trade.
Use and cultural heritage
Jaara people used the waterways as travel routes on canoes, fishing with spears and woven nets, water birds were brought down with boomerangs and above water nets. Women would give birth in the birthing trees close by to water holes, swamps, and rivers. Gatjin ceremonies and celebrations were conducted with gatherings in high flood times. Children would laugh and play in the water’s edge while the women dug out water ribbon, harvested weaving plants and reeds for ceremony adornments. Skin bags and tarnuks were filled with water to drink from and soak weaving plants. Food that needed to be leached was put in dilly bags and tied to the banks of flowing water. Fish traps were made at different elevations with knowledge of the river flows and fish breeding times. In the dry season, holes would be dug in the sand of the riverbed to access water from the lower ground waters. Rock wells found on travel routes held water for periods of the drying out rivers, these had rock or bark lids to prevent leaves or animals falling in and contaminating the water.
Within the Cultural Landscape there are memories and stories of past visits and management of Country pre-colonisation. All waterways are culturally sensitive areas that trigger the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. There is extensive, vast and recorded cultural heritage all over Dja Dja Wurrung Country, especially around water sources. Cultural heritage surveys have given us some insight into the extent of the resource use by Dja Dja Wurrung people. Revealing intergenerational meeting places and travel routes, artefact scatters, culturally modified trees (scarred trees and ring trees) midden sites and earth ovens (amongst many other artefacts, sites and places).
Artefact scatters can show us that whilst visiting that site there was plenty of food around to designate time to knapping stones and creating spear heads, scrapers and other implements. It can also show us their path where the stone came from or trade routes where a stone has been traded from other groups. The scar trees showed us where the water was suitable for canoes and fishing was practiced from them. Ring trees show us that this was a path used navigating from one place to another. Midden sites and earth ovens can show us what types of food were eaten there and what was abundant at the time of visiting and seasonal movement over the land. It also reveals how often the site was used by the soil layers over time. The past use and history of our living culture is read from the land and not from a book.
Today, via DDWCAC and Dja Dja Wurrung Enterprises, Jaara people are engaged in recording and documenting these important places to ensure their conservation and preservation under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. This work includes conducting cultural heritage surveys to document and protect cultural heritage, and salvaging artefacts affected by land use activities. Contemporary use and connection are maintained through a deep relationship with Country and respect to the ancient traditions and Lore that still govern Jaara today.
Dependent values and stories
There are many stories shared about water and water spirits describing the simple and also complex role of gatjin in our lives. There are many Lores around the use and protection of gatjin. There were highly spiritual waterbodies that were not for swimming or drinking but were known for the presence of spirit beings that reside there. There are stories of water bodies that are women’s places and men are forbidden, with song lines and stories that speak of water as women’s business, and animals like the Brolga representing life and birth. There are Lores of water sharing in times of drought and ceremonies to bring the water and celebrate it.
The Brolga is a waterbird native to many wetlands across Jaara Country and are highly important to Dja Dja Wurrung people. The Brolga’s natural movements are often referred to as ‘dancing’, due to their mating rituals that look similar to dancing. Today, the Jaara people have ceremonial dances that have been passed down through generations, that mimic the movements of the Brolga, and the calls that they make to each other. In Jaara Lore, the Brolga is known as a symbol of self expression, a symbol of life and birth linked closely to water and women’s business. The Brolga is representative of our connection to Country, and the transformation between a human spirit and the spirit of the creature. The Brolga holds close ties to the ceremonies and Lore that surround water and birth, such as the use of birthing trees to bring new life to Djandak. It represents that birth and life is what unifies us as Bunjil’s creations. Brolga populations have declined rapidly due to the degradation of their natural nesting habitat over time, meaning they struggle to breed successfully due to a lack of water and food sources. Tang Tang Swamp is a well-known Brolga nesting site that has a close connection and rich history with the Jaara people.
The Murray Cod has its birthplace imprinted in its stomach as a memory of its creation. The stomach lining shows the imprint of the tree on the river where it first came into this world. This demonstrates the dendritic connection and reflection of Country – the very relationship shared between the Cod and the tree through the river. Fish populations across Country are seeing a drastic decline due to introduced exotic fish species such as mosquitofish and carp that threaten water quality as well as take over the habitat and food supply of native fish. Most of these pest species are aggressive, causing detrimental impacts to native fish and their ability to survive, and thrive.
River systems and places of special interest
Originally, the great waters of Jaara Country ebbed and flowed with seasonal rain events that pumped water to the flood plains and grasslands and forests. Connecting lakes, creeks and rivers and swamps. The periodic wetting and drying phases made for healthy and abundantly diverse swamps. Rivers and waterways would pool and pond in their paths, creating many ecosystems and habitats. In drought, these deep ponds would create refuges for aquatic creatures. Occasional high flows and floods would connect them all up and this was the time for large gatherings, trade and ceremony with neighbouring clans. Jaara people traditionally travelled to meet with most neighbours at seasonal times of sharing. This includes high floods that linked up creeks, swamps and rivers to Kow Swamp and the Murray River. Traditionally, Jaara used the waterways as travel routes as well, either on canoes or walking nearby for the water and the food source that it provides.
Steamboats were used along the Murray to transport goods and resources, including the trees that were cut down for timber. In order to utilise the river as transport for large water craft, all the logs and snags in the river that supported fish habitat, stabilised the banks and slowed down the flow – reducing turbidity, were removed. This had devastating effects that were not considered by the new migrants, because they didn’t understand that Country. Since then, the important role of logs and snags in the river have been realised and some put back in the rivers.
Like all naturally occurring rivers, the Campaspe River was much larger than it is today, seeing scar trees and artefact scatters on the highbanks (elevation of up 10 metres), tells of a time of a mighty river. It is considered a boundary marker and neutral resource between Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung tribes, both traditionally and contemporarily. It is highly significant to both groups, with scar trees, ring trees, burial sites, stone quarries, artefact scatters and other cultural heritage sites being recorded along the waterway. Large stone tool scatters and significant archaeological sites have been identified along the main section of the waterway, demonstrating continuous use of the land and resources along the waterway for many thousands of years. The Campaspe River is home to many species of fish – redfin, yellowbelly – as well as water rats and many native birds such as black ducks and ibis. It is also a well known platypus habitat.
In the past, the Coliban river was a rich habitat for native flora and fauna. However, the introduction of water catchments and the allocation of water in the Coliban river prevent the waterway from having a consistent flow of water. Sections of the river have been dramatically modified and the construction of levees and sills has altered the course of waterway, therefore the flow is no longer natural. Large stone tool scatters and significant Tachylite quarry sites can be found along the main channel and adjacent to storages in the Upper Coliban.
Gutjun Bulok (Tang Tang Swamp) is a freshwater wetland situated within the Dja Dja Wurrung landscape. It is a culturally significant place for the Jaara people who still practice culture and ceremony there today. The wetland features bial (River Red Gums) with significant marker ‘ring trees’, scar trees, ovens, basket weaving grasses and many other cultural features. The Swamp is managed as a Wildlife Reserve by Parks Victoria, and is registered on the National Directory of Important Wetlands due to Brolga nesting and many other visiting migratory waterbirds. It contains ecologically important plants and vegetation communities such as Southern Cane Grass, aquatic plants and patches of rare native grassland. Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation have previously completed a Cultural Heritage Assessment and Aboriginal Waterways Assessment at the Swamp to record and document cultural and ecological values as well as cultural heritage present across the Swamp. In the past, Tang Tang Swamp was naturally a temporary wetland, with periods of wet and dry phases, fed by flows from Bendigo Creek. However, land use changes upstream and the construction of levees and sills has altered how the swamp gets water so that the water flow is no longer natural. The wetland is not connected to a water source and so relies on natural inflows caused by rain. Currently, Dja Dja Wurrung and The North Central CMA are exploring ways to deliver water to Tang Tang Swamp. The connection of the swamp and delivery of environmental or cultural water will help the Brolga and all other of Bunjil’s creatures to breed and thrive at the wetland, delivering important outcomes for both the environment and Jaara people.
Water holds memory, songs and stories. Water has spirit – Murrup – the life-force in the energy of all things. It must be respected as an entity in itself that knows where it needs to go. The Lores that govern our relationship with our Country are simple – only take what you need. If you must take more, then you must give back. So what are we giving back to the rivers to keep the balance?
The Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan 2014-2034, Dhelkunya Dja, outlines the strategic direction for the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (DDWCAC) and Djandak Enterprises as well as the rights and aspirations of Djaara peoples. Dhelkunya Dja provides a critical framework and policy context for the region in which to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Climate change is not new to Djaara peoples – cultural practices of land management including fire, forest care and water health have been utilised to adapt and mitigate past climate change events. These practices are recognised in Djaara peoples’ current rights to heal and manage Djandak, or Country. The recognition and ability given to DDWCAC and Djandak Enterprises to implement those rights have far-reaching regional benefits to the environment and communities to mitigate and adapt to contemporary, human-induced climate change.
‘Walking Together’ to care for Country
Dja Dja Wurrung describe ‘Walking Together’ as the roles and ways in which they are comfortable to work or would like to work with partners.
Dja Dja Wurrung would like to be participating at a level of ‘Collaborate’ or Empower’ (IAP2 spectrum). They see a need for more Dja Dja Wurrung people in leadership roles, mentorship and capacity building of Jaara youth to work in caring for Country roles, for roles on advisory groups relating to RCS delivery, and roles in monitoring.
Connecting to Country, Talking to Country,
…there is a need to first and foremost reconnect Jaara with land and to reconnect stories and knowledge to place. Our knowledge is stored in our stories, in our landscape and in our Murrup.
As we continue to return to Djandak we need to be enabled time to talk to Djandak to understand what are all the places that need to be cared for and what are the steps we need to take to begin the healing Journey with these places.
To enable the return of Dja Dja Wurrung practice to Country including the intangible connection to Country and the practices that have been passed down through our Elders we need to ensure that there is a supportive and enabling environment. This environment needs to not only allow Dja Dja Wurrung to return practices in a culturally safe way but implement a measurable approach to allow us to celebrate with partners and stakeholders who actively and systematically look to overcome barriers.
Cultural values, healthy Country
Our cultural places need to be adequately protected for us to truly be able to call a landscape ‘healthy’. This includes Cultural sites that may not be considered a priority under the current ecological Western-based frameworks. Things that are considered healthy to us, are not the same things that CMAs, water corporations consider healthy. This perception needs to change and cultural values protected the same way that ecological values are, in order for us to be able to truly call a landscape ‘healthy’.
Stop looking at the system in isolation ‘If you take the landscape away – there is no culture. It is all intermingled. If we are only taking care of pieces, we are not properly caring for Country’
Our knowledge has been built up over generations of observation and management and passed down. We are gardeners of the environment. We care for the land and it provides for us. We use Lomandra and matt rush to weave baskets. We hunt wallaby, emu and goanna. We eat the eels, mussels, crayfish and yellow belly from our streams. We gather bardi grubs and duck eggs, nardoo and yam daisies and wattle seeds for food and medicine. We use buloke and red gum timber for our tools and ceremonies.
We know the place where Mindi first emerged. It is still a sacred place, but sadly it is a desecrated space. We know the places where our waterbirds nest, and what Bunjil’s other creatures need to breed and thrive. We remember when the rivers were once mighty – our Elders hold memories of their crystal clear waters with an abundance of platypus, water plants and good fish.
We know where to go to collect our medicine, food plants and weaving grasses – many of these can still be found in the landscape today. We know where these plants will flourish and thrive, and we the best ways to harvest them. Many species require harvesting at specific times of the year or in specific ways, and others will not grow without certain seasonal conditions such as rainfall. These are the things we continue to pass down to our children.
Regarding sharing of intellectual property, there is a constant battle between fear that information may be lost forever (as much already has) vs the fear that it may be stolen or misused.
…there needs to be a levelling of the knowledge fields between Western Science and Dja Dja Wurrung knowledge. There is currently a high level of bias towards western science-based decision support tools with little active and or resourcing to support the development of Dja Dja Wurrung knowledge-based tools.
Until this relationship becomes equal, the risk to Dja Dja Wurrung people of sharing knowledge remains significant and unfair.
Education is required on both ends, to be able to understand one another, particularly the more complex components of Aboriginal culture, so therefore we must work together to learn from each other, using past experiences as a guide to shape the future.
Jaara want to build partnerships, including with private landholders and engage with the broader community to raise cultural awareness.