The south-west of Western Australian is the home of the Noongar nation, the largest Aboriginal group in Australia. Over more than 60,000 years, Noongar people have developed a blueprint for ecological, social and cultural harmony within boodja / land / country. Boodja provides food, shelter, medicine, stories and the foundation for a strong society. Land management – through cultural burning and many other practices – expresses an understanding of, connection to, and caring for the land and spirits therein.
A key Noongar story, as told by Noongar Elder and former park ranger Dr Noel Nannup OAM, about the creation of all that lives on Noongar country, can be found here: Moondang-ak Kaaradjiny / The Carer’s of Everything
But the Noongar way of doing things became disrupted when Europeans colonised the land just under 200 years ago. Vast areas were converted for sheep and wheat industries – in some parts of Western Australia more than 90% of the native vegetation has been lost. Noongar people were forced off their country in places, and the imported land-management techniques resulted in reduced soil fertility, loss of biodiversity and degraded land.
Today, the negative symptomatic, structural and cultural consequences of colonisation are still being experienced by Noongar and other Aboriginal people. This takes place side-by-side with farmers struggling with mineral deficiencies in the soil and increased production costs in order to extract yields and remain financially viable. There is a lack of opportunity – including social opportunities – in many rural areas. Overall, biodiversity numbers are plummeting.
A growing number of Western Australians have now reached the point where they no longer wish to simply keep extracting and taking from the land – it is time to care for it together as part of a bigger picture.
So now, in an Aboriginal-led approach, Noongar Elders are sharing their blueprint for ecological, social and cultural harmony with those working with the best of Western, holistic, scientific thinking to co-create a better future for all. This is an approach that goes beyond just farming, but includes land-management practices as a whole, including how to work with fire. This approach has been named by Noongar leader, farm-owner and ex-career firefighter Oral McGuire as Aboriginal-led Regenerative Land-Management.
Individuals and organisations in Western Australia – including all of Commonland’s partners – are now coming together across sectors, disciplines, locations, and cultures, with guidance and leadership from over 60,000 years of wisdom from living sustainably in this place, to co-create a better future for Western Australia and everyone and everything that now calls it home.
Danjoo Koorliny / Walking Together Towards 2029
This approach to land management exists as part of the Danjoo Koorliny Walking Together project. Danjoo Koorliny is a large-scale, long-term, systems-change project designed and led by Aboriginal leaders to help us all walk together towards 2029 (200 years of colonisation in Perth) and beyond, be it on Noongar country, throughout Western Australia, nationally, or around the world. It is hosted by the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia, in partnership with Commonland and various other organisations. The Danjoo Koorliny Social Impact Festival is an annual event that brings us together to see what has shifted in the last year and set our focus for the year(s) ahead.
Learn more about Danjoo Koorliny here.
4 Returns and 3 Zones
Commonland’s 4 returns framework fits hand-in-hand with Noongar land-management practices. The 3 Zones approach can also be found within an Aboriginal-led approach to regenerative land management. These are not necessarily three delineated and firmly-fixed zones in space or time, but can shift across physical environments and across times of the year. A more fluid thinking based on thorough and objective observation is therefore required.
(Feature photo: Oral McGuire’s farm, photo credit: Zal Kanga-Parabia)
Caring for Country in Western Australia
Dr Noel Nannup OAM (Photo credit: Zal Kanga-Parabia)
Practices and processes are guided by Elders and are therefore spirit-led and culturally grounded in this place, with experiential outcomes / ‘returns’ for those involved.
Practices and processes are based in Aboriginal understandings of interaction involving a comprehensive social order, totemic system and governance structures, with demonstrable outcomes / returns across social measures.
Land is more healthy when all of its elements are cared for through totemic systems, appropriate governance structures, the six-season cycle, and the sharing of knowledge through story, song, dance and art. This can be clearly demonstrated by the practices of the Noongar Land Enterprise Group, amongst others.
Financial outcomes can be assured when based on a thorough understanding of how relationships and business have taken place on this country for more than 60,000 years through the knowledge that comes with kinship systems, family groups, the totemic system, governance structures and more. This can be demonstrated through the work of the Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, amongst others.
When everything is looked after and cared for, nature is able to thrive. This provides a foundation for all other activity.
At one time of the year some parts of nature provide an economic basis, and at another time of year other parts of nature provide an economic basis, even when intensive practices are used as part of an Aboriginal-led approach.
Nature supplies us with everything required to live on this country, when taken in the right amount at the right time. This can create economic opportunities that exist within the context of the whole (oikos, the root word for economics means, literally ‘the whole house’). Even intensive farming practices can still exist as part of the whole if aligned to an Aboriginal-led approach that takes in the bigger picture.
Food and land: Danjoo Koorliny and Commonland are coming together with Commonland’s partners in Western Australia – Wide Open Agriculture and RegenWA – and with government, not-for-profit and business organisations to better care for land and food production by using an Aboriginal-led approach together with the best of Western scientific thinking.
“We must take care of our land, otherwise those beautiful creatures won’t be with us much longer. We’re already in a state of devastation I believe. And on top of that there is a need to heal our land…So I say, for us as a people, Australia – unite with us; Western Australia – unite with us. Talk to our people…We have so much to give…There is still more to come”
– Aunty Elizabeth Hayden
Fire: Danjoo Koorliny and Commonland are coming together with Commonland’s partners in Western Australia, and with government, not-for-profit and business organisations to better care for country by using an Aboriginal-led approach to fire and cultural burning together with the best of Western scientific thinking.
“Our spiritual connections are the things that make our country sacred…Boodja needs us – our country, our land, mother nature, the Earth – needs all of us as human beings to come together to find the best ways and the right ways to care for her…This is about fire being sacred. Our knowledge is sacred. And of course our country or budjar is very very sacred. And budjar needs us to actually understand how fire and how Noongar people and Aboriginal people globally have used fire in a very very constructive way. As Noel said, we made fire our friend, but unfortunately our country is also way out of balance…Cultural buring, when done properly, when led by the right people and when practiced appropriately is very safe and very clear and very good for country…Starting a new fire is I guess what this conversation is about”
– Oral McGuire
Water: Danjoo Koorliny and Commonland are coming together with Commonland’s partners in Western Australia, and with government, not-for-profit and business organisations to better care for our waterways by using an Aboriginal-led approach together with the best of Western scientific thinking.
“So the big picture is, when you’re born you have to go out and follow and find where every drop of water comes from in your catchment…We need to understand that catchment. A whole of catchment management plan is what I dream of…it has to be about the collective…this is the rivers talking – we’re their voice”
– Dr Noel Nannup OAM