24. January 2022

‘This is our story’: the Indigenous land managers bringing life back to the state’s south-west


When it rains in the Gayini wetlands, the dust monitor is treacherous; driving is like skating on ice. But the land managers of the virtually 88,000-hectare property in NSW’s south-west are used to this, and skilfully navigate their four-wheel-drives off-road over the sweeping floodplains as they test water channels, conduct pest management and guarantee normal maintenance of the property.

Storms are a daily incidence in the area, as are floods and droughts. The harsh situations are usually not for everybody, however for Nari Nari man Jamie Woods and Ngiyampaa man Mark Schneider, managing the property is the greatest job there is.

Water flows into sections of Gayini that have been largely dry since 2016.

Water flows into sections of Gayini which were largely dry since 2016. Credit:Brook Mitchell

It’s been simply three years since the space was handed back to its conventional custodians, the Nari Nari Tribal Council, for administration. But already it is teeming with birds, kangaroos, emus and snakes as its custodians work arduous to shield the area’s previous, current and future.

As he stands in his favorite spot on the property — a bridge underneath which yabbies and fish thrive, overlooking a marshy ibis breeding floor — council land supervisor Mr Woods says he’s blessed to have the job of taking care of his nation.

The water flowing underneath the bridge will filter down to the remainder of the property, bringing wildlife back to areas broken by inventory grazing over a few years.

“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” Mr Woods says. “Land management is about doing the right thing and creating the right environment and everything takes care of itself.”

Eight years in the past, the state and federal governments purchased 19 properties and their water extraction rights in the Lower Murrumbidgee Valley. In 2017, the authorities put the amalgamated property to tender, looking for caretakers to guarantee its ongoing administration. A consortium involving The Nature Conservancy, the Nari Nari Tribal Council and others received the deal in 2018, and a 12 months later, conventional house owners have been handed the authorized possession of Gayini, which is the Nari Nari phrase for water.

Since then, the personal land conservation space’s new caretakers have been busy returning the land to its authentic situation.

Gayini gives a singular administration strategy in that it is a personal land conservation space with a signed conservation covenants, which is a signed settlement between the Nari Nari Tribal Council and the NSW authorities. The settlement outlines how the property shall be used and informs the land and water administration plans.

State and federal governments nonetheless present help for the property, together with recommendation on managing hydrological points.

There are many approaches to conservation, but environmentalists say it depends on the area’s history and landscape as to which is the most appropriate.

There are many approaches to conservation, however environmentalists say it depends upon the space’s historical past and panorama as to which is the most applicable. Credit:Brook Mitchell

This strategy means Gayini doesn’t fall to the care of a public company, similar to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, as is the case with nationwide parks or nature reserves.

Director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy Australia, James Fitzsimons, stated there have been many approaches to conservation used throughout Australia, and the greatest strategy was depending on the land’s wants, similar to its Indigenous heritage or sort of panorama.

Nari Nari Tribal Council members and land managers Mark Schneider and Jamie Woods stand with Rene Woods as they watch a severe storm roll in over Gayini.

Nari Nari Tribal Council members and land managers Mark Schneider and Jamie Woods stand with Rene Woods as they watch a extreme storm roll in over Gayini. Credit:Brook Mitchell

Gayini was considered one of the largest wetland restoration tasks in Australia. Dr Fitzsimons stated that whereas there have been vital variety of Indigenous protected areas in central and northern Australia, there have been few in the jap and southern components of the nation.

“Land buyback for First Nation people is the only way that land comes back into the system,” he stated. “It’s very important to protect natural assets and cultural assets,” he stated.

“Gayini is unique in many ways… [This type of agreement] could be replicated in other parts of the Murray Darling. We’ve never restored wetland types of this scale.”

National Parks Association government workplace Gary Dunnett stated whereas the public company strategy supplied safer long-term conservation efforts with scientific experience, these made by different environmental teams additionally performed an important position.

“We are quite open to any mechanism that sees land being protected,” he stated.

He added that the key to good land administration, no matter governance strategy was used, was making certain that threatened species have been monitored and that fundamental infrastructure, together with applicable fireplace mitigation, was in place.

Mr Dunnett stated that the majority nationwide parks have been on land that had not been fertile sufficient for agricultural functions, so conserved land in fertile areas was distinctive.


“There is absolutely a place for state agencies or private organisations to look for places that are within the heart of those high fertility soils and high rainfall areas because they actually punch above their weight,” he stated.

“Their value in the landscape is very high and they are not well represented in the reserve system. There is a fantastic opportunity to regenerate those places because they will potentially support higher biodiversity, including breeding sites for more diverse species.”

Gayini additionally depends on the efforts of scientists who monitor the varied ecosystems in and round the property, together with monitoring the fluctuating fowl populations and not too long ago rediscovered gray snake species.

Mr Schneider, who is additionally on the Nari Nari tribal council and considered one of the property’s land managers, has grown up in and round the Gayini. He stated considered one of the venture’s key successes has been the shut working relationship with scientists, combining native information with Western science.

Some of the water that flows through the 88,000 hectare property is destined for the state-owned Yanga National Park, while part of it will flow into the regenerating wetlands.

Some of the water that flows by the 88,000 hectare property is destined for the state-owned Yanga National Park, whereas a part of it’ll move into the regenerating wetlands.Credit:Brook Mitchell

“All the data they get, we get too. There are definitely opportunities to learn from people — there’s a lot of knowledge out there,” he stated. “We were always determined to make it work, and we will make it work.”


After working for National Parks for greater than a decade, Mr Schneider stated it’s rewarding to return to his nation and shield it. While he stated it’s straightforward to get misplaced in the great thing about Gayini, there’s far more to it than simply the wetlands.

“We’ve still got culture and heritage to protect out there,” he stated.

Nari Nari man Rene Woods, who additionally works for The Nature Conservatory, stated he hoped the strategy to conservation adopted at Gayini may very well be embraced elsewhere due to the advantages it supplied not solely to Indigenous individuals, but additionally to the local people.

“It’s not a project to us — this is our life and story,” he stated.

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