Dr Jody Gunn is the Conservation Partnerships Manager for Fauna & Flora International Australia. She is a wildlife ecologist by trade, having completed her PhD on human elephant conflict in Tanzania, East Africa. Having spent over four years living and working in a protected area in Africa, Jody brings solid technical skills to the Australian team. She has expertise in wildlife research and management, conservation planning and strategy development, and strong community engagement. Jody is using these technical skills in FFI’s partnership with the Burnett Mary Regional Group, to develop innovative conservation strategies, particularly in the newly designated Great Sandy Biosphere.
It is not very often that we bring people, partners and stakeholders together to celebrate our successes.
All too frequently, these meetings are saved for assessing milestones, planning or problem solving. But this month, I had the pleasure of being present at one such celebration – that of the official launch of the Bunya Mountains Aboriginal Aspirations and Caring for Country Plan, the Bunya Mountains Elders Council and affiliated Bunya Mountains Murri Ranger Program.
This program has been developing and evolving over the last three years, and has culminated in the launch of the Bunya Mountains Aspirations and Caring for Country Plan and importantly, the formalisation of a commitment by the Bunya Mountains Elders Council (BMEC) to protect and conserve the natural environment, wildlife and cultural integrity of the iconic Bunya Mountains. Further, the celebration was also recognition of the work and support of dedicated partners, friends and supporters, of which I was proud to be representing one.
Bunyas BMEC. Photo credit: C McCarthy
“The Bunya Mountains forms part of a regional landscape where large gatherings of many Traditional Owner Groups took place on an average of every three years when the Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwillii) were most heavy with Fruit”, describes Mal Collinge, the Chair of the BMEC in his opening speech. He went on to describe how archaeology and anecdotes suggest that Traditional Owners travelled to these gatherings from as far away as Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and the far west and north of Queensland.
It is pleasing to see that with the formation of the BMEC, the history and tradition of gatherings is being brought back to the Bunya Mountains.
The Bunya Mountains Council of Elders consists of representatives from the four core groups identified as Traditional Custodians of the Bunya Mountains. These are the Wakka Wakka, Barrungum, Jarowair and Djak-unde. Two representatives from the seasonal visiting groups are also council members. This council will provide Aboriginal leadership and a decision making mechanism for all activities, projects and actions affecting the Bunya Mountains.
It has been a privilege watching and contributing, as the Working on Country Plan came to fruition. To see the aspirations of the Aboriginal people with custodianship for and associations with the Bunya Mountains formalised in text is a significant achievement. Already, some of these aspirations are being addressed. This is evidence of the dedication and passion of the many stakeholders and partners who are helping to achieve these joint targets.
While there are many supporting partners, I would particularly like to note and celebrate the endurance and strength of our partner the Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG) for auspicing, supporting and guiding throughout the years that this project has been developing. The project has seen many challenges and hurdles, and these have been overcome in part by the vision and leadership of BMRG’s inspiring team.
The formal launching of such an exciting program not only deserves a celebration, but perhaps a case study.
So many projects begin, only to fall down at the slightest challenge or complexity. Yet, despite the many complexities (four traditional custodian groups forging a new relationship together, rangers of different levels and capacity under new employment, multiple stakeholders trying to meet multiple needs), I believe the success of this project is a testament to the true dedication and passion of the diverse custodian groups and the multiple stakeholders striving towards a joint vision – to manage, maintain and protect the unique cultural, spiritual and natural values of the Bunya Mountains.