Second Reading: Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

I rise to make a contribution on the Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, a largely procedural bill, but one which will make some significant changes to a special place within my electorate.

I know this bill makes amendments right across the state and seeks to add the Anglesea Heath to the Greater Otway National Park, amend the names of Mount Eccles National Park and Canadian Regional Park in relevant acts to reflect their Aboriginal names, streamline various administrative processes in several acts so that they are more efficient and fit for purpose, modernise the governance arrangements applying to several government boards and advisory bodies in the Crown land portfolio, and make several other improvements and amendments. But I will focus my contribution on the proposed change of name for the Mount Eccles National Park in Macarthur in my electorate.

This bill will change the name of the park to Budj Bim National Park, recognising the Indigenous name of the peak from which the park takes its name. It comes at a time when the area is opening up for more nature-based tourism and makes it clear that Mount Eccles is an important part of the wider Budj Bim landscape. This is a significant change and recognises the deep cultural connection the Gunditjmara people have with the Western District’s volcanic plain.

‘Budj Bim’ means high head, and is recognised by the traditional owners as their ancestral creator’s body. It is an extinct volcano with the roughly conical-shaped peak rising to 178 metres. Estimates of the age of the last eruption are that it occurred at least 30 000 years ago. The eruptions produced the Tyrendarra lava flow, which flowed towards the ocean at Tyrendarra. These eruptions and lava flows altered the drainage in the area, producing wetlands and swamps, which became incredibly important for the Gunditjmara people in a couple of ways.

The Gunditjmara community developed a system of channels to divert the water of the Darlot Creek into adjacent low-lying areas, trapping eels and fish in a series of weirs and ponds — and I will speak a bit more about that later. The rocky landscape also helped them survive the Eumeralla Wars. Settlers disturbed the hunting grounds, spreading out the kangaroos, which meant the Gunditjmara people would hunt cattle and sheep into the stony rises and use them for food. Settlers were not able to ride their horses onto the stony country, meaning the Gunditjmara people were able to fight a guerilla campaign and save themselves from genocide.

The peak was named Mount Eeles in 1836 by Major Thomas Mitchell after William Eeles of the 95th Regiment of Foot, who fought with Mitchell in the Peninsular War. A draftsman’s error meant that the name was rendered ‘Mount Eccles’ in 1845. The area was proclaimed a national park in June 1960, and covers some 55 square kilometres and has around 40 000 visitors a year.

Mount Eccles National Park is Victoria’s first co-managed national park. The partnership between Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and Parks Victoria was formalised with the establishment of the Budj Bim Council. The council forms part of the 2007 native title settlement agreement between the Gunditjmara people and the Victorian government, bringing them together to manage the area’s significant landscape. In 2004 the national park, Lake Condah, the former Condah mission and the Tyrendarra area were put on the Australian National Heritage List as the Budj Bim National Heritage area, one of only three landscapes in Victoria on that register.

In January this year I was pleased to be at Lake Condah to be with the traditional owners as the Prime Minister announced the landscape had been included on Australia’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage listing. It was a momentous day, one that the traditional owners have long worked towards. They knew this part of their country was special and significant, and they have worked tirelessly to ensure its significance has been shared with the wider community. We were shown through the site’s aquaculture system, and the guides’ connection to country was clearly on show. They were passionate and protective of this special place. It is a place where you get a spine-tingling sensation, knowing you are looking at a system which redefines history.

The 30-kilometre system of channels, weirs, holding ponds and trapping areas used to farm eels and fish has been carbon-dated back some 6600 years, predating the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. The large settled Aboriginal community used woven baskets to trap eels, which were smoked in the hollows of trees and used for food and trade with other tribes. Further down the road at Tyrendarra a fire in 2006 uncovered remnants of about 70 stone huts. Built in a horseshoe shape, they are unlike anything else found in Australia and indicate settled villages.

Together with the extensive aquaculture system, the remnants of the huts have changed the perception that Indigenous Australians were nomads and foragers. Budj Bim shows that the local Aboriginal people were the first organised, intensive farmers in the world. These weirs and channels are equivalent to the way sheep and cattle farmers farmed, with fences put up to contain their stock and to manage their feeding, breeding and numbers. This aquaculture system did exactly the same thing, but for eels and fish rather than sheep and cattle. The ingenuity is incredible.

The Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation is running increasingly popular tours of the landscape. You cannot help but be in awe of the fighting spirit and ingenuity of the Gunditjmara people, and I would encourage every member of this place to make a visit to and experience this wonderful place for yourself.

I have known many of the people involved with preserving and promoting this extraordinary landscape for many years. I met many of them during my time as the unit manager of the Kirrae Health Service at Framlingham — people like Aunty Eileen Alberts and her niece Tanya, Michael and Sandra Bell and their beautiful boys who have grown into amazing young men, Denis Rose and of course Damien Bell from the Winda-Mara community. They are just a few of the many terrific Indigenous people across the electorate of South-West Coast that I have met, worked with and called friends for many years.

I gained a deep understanding of the local Aboriginal culture while working at Framlingham, where I had many interactions and dealings with the other Aboriginal cooperatives right across Western Victoria, in fact across the whole state, particularly Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative in Geelong, Winda-Mara in Heywood, Dhauwurd Wurrung in Portland and Gunditjmara in Warrnambool. From my work there I began to get a better understanding of the challenges the Indigenous population face. This name change is a small gesture, but will go some way towards healing. The connection the traditional owners have with the land has spanned generations and it is really wonderful to see the next generation — young adults I have known since they were small children — taking an active involvement, ensuring the stories of their ancestors will live on for generations to come.

I understand this is a beautiful place, a special place. I spent much of my primary school years living in Hawkesdale, just a few kilometres away from the park. Our family picnics and outings were often to what we knew as Mount Eccles. I have spent hours exploring the lake and the lava caves, and enjoying picnics in the picturesque grounds with my brothers and sister. It is a special place for many different people for many different reasons, particularly for the traditional owners. But I am really excited about the plans to better promote this special place; it is going to be of huge benefit to both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

There is so much potential for cultural tourism in the South-West Coast electorate. In Warrnambool, where the Hopkins River meets the sea, extensive research has uncovered artefacts that have been identified in some research as being at least 35 000 years old, and there are indications it could point to civilisation some 80 000 years ago. Shells, rocks and charcoal found in the cliff faces at the headland, now known jointly by its European name Point Ritchie and its Indigenous name Moyjil, is probably the oldest human activity site in Victoria.

This is an extraordinary opportunity to tell the story of our first peoples. Imagine an Indigenous tourist trail linking the significant sites across the south-west region. When cruise ships visit Portland, the cultural experiences at Budj Bim and around Portland itself are favoured highly among tourists. The Glenelg Shire Council expects cruise ship visits in Portland and tourism in general to boom when Budj Bim becomes a World Heritage-listed site.

There is an extraordinary thirst for knowledge around Indigenous history and this is something we should be looking at developing. I know there has been a significant investment in Budj Bim, and that works on tourist infrastructure at the site are progressing well, but there is so much more that can be done. Roads and rail leading to these areas are of incredibly poor quality. What sort of impression does this leave when visitors are travelling on roads that are full of potholes, with warped and cracked surfaces? We need to look at the bigger picture and make comprehensive plans for tourism that also look at how people get to and from these places safely. This is a potential World Heritage site, and the 6000-year-old channels are in better condition than some of the roads built in the past decade; it is shameful.

While this bill is relatively procedural, it could bring massive benefits to my region, but we need long-term strategic thinking to make the most of this opportunity.

I congratulate the traditional owners of Budj Bim, who have worked so hard to protect and promote their sacred land. This name change is down to their efforts. I look forward to visiting and experiencing the landscape again very soon.