I alongside several of my classmates recently had the privilege of visiting the Wandiyali Environa Wildlife Sanctuary in Queanbeyan, on the doorstep of Canberra. Our expedition to this privately owned, 400 hectare sanctuary provided our company with unexpected insights into the process of land restoration, and demonstrated how the efforts of just a single family, has made incredible progress in healing the deep scars of colonialism on a natural ecosystem.
Upon arriving at the sanctuary, our band of nine was soon herded to the crest of a hill, where we had a spectacular view of the surrounding lands, including an ephemeral wetland that had been created following the heavy rains earlier this year. At this point, we fragmented into smaller clusters, and soon were all immersed in deep conversation with different members of the proprietary family, myself included. It was at this moment that I was acutely made aware of the indigenous legacy of the land.
“Right over there is a ring tree. That’s when the First Nations peoples would bind young saplings, and let them fuse together over time. We really don’t know why this particular ring tree was created, but it still survives after 400 years.”
These words, whilst uttered casually, drove home the tragic loss of heritage, which had remained unbroken for 60,000 years. Our guide, David, continued on about the loss of native culture, and destruction of vegetation, that had transpired during the colonisation of the area. First Nations stories were lost alongside the undergrowth that housed Bettongs. Age-old legends disappeared with the creatures that inspired them. And yet, the tragedy did not seem to cause either of us pain. Because, we could see, for the first time in 200 years, this area of land once again provided habitats for Bettongs, and havens for wallabies. Great logs, and branches had been hauled in from highway developments, providing new homes for these once-prolific marsupials. The by-products of colonial expansion had been re-purposed to slowly heal this fractured ecosystem. And it was this resilient spirit of restoration that gave me hope that we still have a chance to heal this world.
This article was published in ‘Embers’, a pullout in Honi’s Semester 1, Week 11 edition.