Rebirth on Roe

A SOLITARY eucalypt sprouts among the glade.

Further east, a number of recently planted trees blanket the lacklustre soil.

The regeneration of Roe 8 is underway, following the controversial clearing works last year, and the spring shoots betoken hope.

“As the trees grow, the community can heal,” says Noongar Gail Beck, part of the advisory team for the restoration.

Miss Beck says the revegetation will re-establish a sense of community, for both Noongar and non-indigenous people.

• Photos by Duncan Wright

Led by the Rehabilitating Roe 8 Working Group, most of the initial remedial work has been completed, which has included spraying the weeds, clearing the asbestos and removing mulch piles, while rehabilitation fences are replacing the higher temporary fences that were designed to keep protesters away from the bulldozers.

Removing mulch was the first priority to avoid suffocation of plants.

The winter rains has helped facilitate natural growth along the seven different damaged ecosystems, which include the Beeliar, Banksia and Tuart woodlands, says restoration leader Dr Guy Boggs.

Dr Boggs is co-chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee, a collection of university, government and local experts providing advice on the restoration.

“A key priority for us is having a better understanding of how to restore ecosystems on the Swan Coastal Plain,” Dr Boggs says.

“We’re excited about bringing together the best scientific expertise to support this important project.”

With the assistance of the SAC and newly appointed environmental consultants, the Roe 8 working group will develop a 10-year management plan to rehabilitate the area.

The topsoil wasn’t removed, so some areas have already naturally germinated, but the revegetation won’t be without challenges.

The Banksia woodlands are unlikely to reseed because they hold their seed in the canopy and wouldn’t have dropped during the clearing, say botanists.

According to a study by Murdoch University the biology of banksias are not well understood, and germination rates and early survival is dependent on a plethora of volatile factors, including the amount of broken down organic matter, nutrients, and organisms in the soil. And, most importantly, weed cover.

• The old Roe 8 site is slowly recovering. Photos by Duncan Wright

Weeds vie with native plants for nutrients and shelter foreign invertebrates that feast on new growths.

Scientists have started to keep an eye on plots of land to monitor natural growth with the long-term aim of a self-sustaining habitat.

While Ms Beck’s glad the bulldozers have stopped, she believes the regeneration is a mere hiatus in an ongoing struggle for unrestricted access to, and unassailable protection of, the lake areas.

“Not ownership in the mainstream sense,” she clarifies.

“We want access to it for cultural purposes without fear…a meeting place for a ranger program and a place where we can take our people.”

She nods west to a forest reserve where urban development has already encroached.

“We’re not fussed about all over there,” she says.parliament house.”

“All we’re saying is”—as she thumps the table with each word— “Don’t. Touch. The. Sacred. Places.”

“This place, in modern terms, is a cathedral, a university, and a parliament house.”

The area is also a birthing place and cemetery, and indigenous people from across the Canning River down to Pinjarra—and on special occasions leaders from Kalgoorlie—would congregate for ceremonies, discussions and celebrations, she explains.

Miss Beck, a manager at the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, says the site intersects with ‘massive songlines,’ which are labyrinths of atavistic stories and pathways connecting the whole country, and to all the people that inhabit it.

Miss Beck pensively gazes onto Walliabup (Bibra) Lake, demonstrating a reverence for the sanctity of the site, a reverence that she claims has been ignored: the Barnett government took Bibra Lake off WA’s Aboriginal sites register, saying there was “no Aboriginal cultural material” after controversially digging just one, 20cm hole.

Joe Dortch, a research fellow at UWA, had told the Herald that from a series of one metre excavations, the team of archaeologists and the aboriginal community uncovered quartz crystals and granite and chert that may have been used for grinding stones or cutting tools.

The artefacts were up to 33,000 years old, making the site one of the oldest on the swan coastal plain. The area includes a number of interwoven ecosystems spanning over 26 lakes and 3400 hectares of land.

The ecosystems work in sync to provide an ongoing habitat for 220 plant and 123 bird species, including the endangered Carnaby’s Cockatoo and migratory bird species which convene along the swan coastal plain as a stop-off on a 25,000 km journey to breeding grounds in the tundra of Siberia.

Although the site has not been relisted on the Aboriginal sites register, Kim Dravnieks, Community Wildlife Corridor co-convenor, says an application has been lodged with the state government and they are waiting to hear back.

While the site continues to be unregistered, Miss Beck says it’s not over.

But she does believe that the restoration has sparked a new wave of enthusiasm that’s creating awareness in the greater community.

There will be a celebration of the wetlands on October 21 (a smoking ceremony followed by dancing) to pay homage to the custodians of the land, and to heal as a community.

As Miss Beck talks of a 500 year-old mooja Christmas tree—a shrine and spiritual link to the ancestors just east of Bibra lake—a willy wagtail flutters onto her foot.

The bird twists and flicks its tail, nearing closer. Miss Beck smiles. “That’s my totem,” she says.

The rain abates and the birds begin to sing in concert. Grinning, Miss Beck has to raise her voice to be heard.

“I noticed that during the whole drama the birds stopped singing like this—and it’s really quite beautiful they’ve started to come back.”


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