RMIT students have met with Aboriginal elders on a field research trip into the natural and cultural resources of Lake Condah and the Budg Bim National Heritage Landscape, in south-west Victoria.
The field trip – the fifth of its kind coordinated by the University – was the culmination of a semester’s worth of “acculturation” by Diploma of Conservation and Land Management students into the history and culture of the area’s original inhabitants.
The trip included visits to significant cultural sites such as the Last of His Tribe monument in Camperdown cemetery, the summits of extinct volcanoes Leura and Noorat, infamous massacre sites, Aboriginal story places, ancient aquaculture systems, and sites of mythological importance, such as artefact scatters and ancient campsites.
The Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has been pushing for the 6600-year-old Budg Bim National Heritage Landscape site to receive recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage area.
On the first night of the field trip, Gunditjmara Elders welcomed the students to their camp besides the Lake Condah Mission, and charged them with responsibility for spreading the word about Aboriginal struggle and disadvantage.
Gunditjmara Elder Aunty Eileen Alberts generously shared her knowledge of the Gunditjmara homeland:
“For many students teaching them to read a landscape is exciting and challenging,” Alberts explained.
“Gunditjmara were not nomadic.
“We built stone houses and had an extremely rich food and resourceful landscape to live upon.
“We had a lifestyle that allowed us to live in a structured society that was sustainable and ecologically and economically viable.”
Alberts also described the field trip in terms of its reconciliation potential.
“The difficulties we have in coming together – to talk, to work, to lead change – are core to our challenge to come together as a country,” she said.
“We need to start having a different conversation and I hope that we provide that conversation gateway as a result of the south-west Victoria field trips by RMIT students.”
Albert’s granddaughter, Gunditjmara woman and RMIT student Talara Harrison, felt the honour of joining the trip.
“Going home to my country for this field trip was a privilege,” she said.
“I’m so happy I got to share it with everyone. Thank you to everyone who came along with an open mind, and respected and learnt from the elders and country.”
Story: Ash Hibbert