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Tammy Gilson is a Wadawurrung ba-gurrk (woman) who lives on Wadawurrung Country. She grew up in Gordon – her Nan’s Country. Tammy acknowledges her ancestors and elders who have stood before her and all first nations people. Her spiritual connection to her ancestors and Country has guided her to revitalise and continue cultural practices today.
Tammy works as an Aboriginal Inclusion Coordinator in the Grampians region and has extensive knowledge of cultural heritage and natural resource management including traditional fire burning practice, mapping cultural values and awakening Wadawurrung language. She is also studying a Graduate Diploma in Land and Sea Country Management at Deakin University, which Tammy says has immense benefits for her work.
She has performed ceremony for Prince Edward, Xavier Rudd, the AFL and danced with Yothu Yindi and the Treaty band.
She also has a creative and passionate side to practice an old craft of basket weaving, which has recently won her the RMIT emerging artist award for a woven flower basket at the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne.
Living, working and Caring for Country
Read more about Tammy's passions, views on Victoria's first-ever Nature Festival and hear one of her Mob's stories.
Tammy’s career has included working for the Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation where, as the fire woman, she could explore her passion for cultural burning, which is used to manage the land.
“Fire is central to healing for us, we not only use fire as a land management practice to care for Country but also to heal Wadawurrung people,” Tammy said.
She is currently looking at how cultural burning can be implemented into Victorian Government fuel reduction burn programs.
“Wadawurrung Country is quite diverse, with both mountain and sea Country and because I live in Gordon which is in the Country, about an hour inland, I’ve been missing the beach, as well as hanging out with my mob, camping and having a yarn around the fire.
“Usually this time of year we are preparing to perform the opening ceremony, Tanderrum for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Due to the pandemic, this has been postponed. I miss my cousins and everyone who would normally come to my property and rehearse for that.
“On the upside of this, it’s been an opportunity to spend special time with my kids and reflect on all the things that are closest to my heart. I love being outside, hearing the birds sing and smelling the fresh air.
“But like many of us, I’ve also been worried about our Elders and hope that they are all keeping safe.”
Public health measures have also turned the first Victoria Nature Festival from a live to an online event.
Tammy sees some positives in that change. “Going online means we’ll reach a broader audience across Victoria and we can get a glimpse of how different mobs practice culture and care for Country.
“You’ll see differences, but you’ll see similarities as well amongst Traditional Owner groups.
“I want Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians to work together to provide our future generations with the best opportunities in life. The more of us who respect and care for Country and each other, the bigger the benefit for everyone.”
“There’s a hill here that I see from my back deck in my hometown, Gordon called Kirritt Barrett (Black Hill). It’s the place where Wadawurrung man and woman were first made.
“Bundjil our creator spirit along with his family, gave us life, Bundjil also gave us lore, he created all the animals, the plants, our rivers and our mountains. He also made a beautiful place near Gordon called Lal Lal Falls (meaning falling waters) which is where he rested. Once Bundjil was happy upon his creations, my mob believe that he returned to Gordon, took the form of the wedge-tailed eagle and asked Bellin Bellin, the keeper of our whirlwinds, to open his bag and blow him and his family up into the sky. When we see the shiny stars in the night sky those are our ancestors looking over us.
“When we see a wedge-tailed eagle or Bundjil, on Country we know it’s our ancestors keeping us safe and I feel blessed, it’s a good sign.’
Jackson Chatfield is a Gunditjmara man who was born and raised in Warrnambool. He now lives at Port Fairy, where he works as the State-wide Aboriginal Landcare facilitator.
Jackson spent 4 of the past 5 years in Melbourne and while he didn’t lose his connection to Country, he is glad to be back home. “It definitely felt a little like something was missing while I was in Melbourne,” Jackson said. “Being home the past 12 months has left me refreshed and re-energised which shows the power and value of being on Country.”
Connecting with nature outside your front gate
Read more about one of Jackson's most important places on Country, why the history of Australia is important to him and how he has stayed connected to nature during Coronavirus (COVID-19).
One of the most important places on Country for Jackson is the Framlingham Forest, which his family and community remained connected to for more than a century before it was returned to them in 1987. The 1130-hectare Framlingham Forest is the largest remnant of native vegetation within the Warrnambool area and was then declared an Indigenous Protected Area in 2009. It is now managed by the Aboriginal community. “I love the bush,” said Jackson. “It tells a very long and important story of our survival and strength and holds significant cultural and environmental values. It’s a place I visit quite often.
“I think the fact that it belongs to the community, makes it more special. It feels like your own home - a place where you can come and connect with the cultural landscape. It’s such a peaceful place.”
Jackson has a lot of great childhood memories centred around Framlingham. “We would jump off the falls, spear the Kooyang (short-finned eel) that migrate through the Hopkins River, and then smoke them on the riverbanks.”
“We have some really rich cultural landscapes down here on Gunditjmara Country - places with significant cultural value to not just the Aboriginal community, but the whole community.”
The World Heritage-listed Budj Bim Cultural Landscape on Gunditjmara Country in Victoria’s far South West is home to the world’s oldest aquaculture system, dated at 6,600 years old. The Budj Bim cultural landscape is the first in Australia to receive World Heritage listing for its Aboriginal cultural heritage value.
'The history of our Country is what’s important to me,' said Jackson. 'Colonisation dramatically changed our landscape, culture and society. So, it is really important to learn and understand the history of what was here before European settlement.'
He’s grateful for the efforts of his Elders and community in fighting for land rights and recognition.
“People of my generation are able to reap the rewards of all the hard work of our Elders, both past and present, who laid the foundations for us younger ones.
“We must continue to carry their legacy into the future.’
While coronavirus continues to impact our daily lives, Jackson has found strengthening his connection with the environment during this time has been something of a silver lining. “I’m pretty lucky that I live in such a nice place and can take the dog for a walk along the beach or the river and enjoy things like the local birdlife more than I have before.”
Gardening has also helped. “I just turn on a podcast, get into the garden and get my hands dirty – it’s really good for your health and wellbeing.
“I think that’s one of the really important things about the virtual Victoria Nature Festival – you don’t have to travel 4 hours to get into nature when it’s literally just outside your front gate. Finding out about things like the history of landscape or the threatened species in your area will definitely change the way you see the environment.”
When travel restrictions change, Jackson is looking forward to getting back to Gariwerd (the Grampians). “I spent a lot of time there growing up and have a very strong and sentimental connection with it. It’s also a very special place for Aboriginal people – the cultural values of the Gariwerd landscape, it’s such a unique place. I miss being around the wildlife and even the smell of the bush. I just can’t wait to get back there.”
There are many ways you can connect with nature – including by doing it online, as part of the virtual Victoria Nature Festival 28 September – 11 October.
Reviewed 30 October 2020