It is beyond question that the Strathbogie Forest and the broader ranges have been an existential (material and spiritual) part of indigenous human culture for several tens-of thousands of years. Dispossession and alienation of the landscape inflicted on Traditional Owners, are wounds that may take generations to heal. Giving Traditional Owners a leading role in public land management, policy development and operational decision-making will go a long way toward healing country.
The Strathbogie Forest is at a turning point. In 2019 the Victorian government recognized the significant natural values of the forest, ceased all native forest logging, created an Immediate Protection Area and committed to creating a ‘conservation reserve’ across the entire 24,000 ha IPA. Whilst nature conservation is a priority for the forest, and we must ensure that it remains as such, empowering Traditional Owners to heal country and pursue self determination is no less important. This forest should become a place where indigenous cultural values and practices underpin a flourishing forest ecosystem, one that becomes and remains part of the National Reserve System to the benefit of all Victorians.
We call on the Victorian government to recognize the Taungurung people as custodians of the Strathbogie Forest.
Sign the petition and show the Victorian government that we not only support Traditional Owner custodianship, but also the direction the government is taking on Treaty, cultural landscapes and self-determination.
SOSF endorses the final paragraph in the VEAC assessment:
VEAC supports the future incorporation of Traditional Owners’ thinking about cultural landscapes into the categorisation and management of the Strathbogie Ranges native forests, as well as reforms that enable Traditional Owners to directly manage land.
Culture and in this case indigenous culture goes deeper than parliamentary politics, policies, guidelines and regulations. Institutional behaviour can be evidence-based, effectively implemented and lead to good biodiversity outcomes, but is also top-down, ephemeral and easily ignored, or even corrupted. Indigenous culture, though damaged by 200 years of colonization, goes deeper than the nation-state and offers the opportunity of multi-generational, hands-on cultural stewardship. Enabling Traditional Owners to be decision-makers over some of their traditional lands, a step towards self-determination, will foster culture and heal country. The Strathbogie Forest is an ideal location to develop this opportunity:
- It is of moderate size with existing management infrastructure (eg forest roads).
- It is large enough to allow diverse cultural practice over an extensive area.
- The forest has a history of indigenous occupation, though still poorly understood.
- There is strong community support for TOs and a willingness to share and learn.
- Economic opportunities through employment, cultural practice and tourism for TLaWC and the local rural community are diverse.
- Once achieved, Taungurung custodianship of the forest could be part of a new model in managing Victorian forest ecosystems.
Many local groups and organizations that advocated for an end to native forest logging in the Strathbogie Forest, celebrated the declaration of the Strathbogie Ranges Immediate Protection Area and it’s proposed inclusion in Victoria’s reserve system. It’s a safe assumption that most if not all of these groups would be supportive of indigenous custodianship of of the forest. Critical will be a high and realistic level of support for TLaWC (training, funding, partnerships, time etc) to steward the forest over the next decades and achieve the goal of healing country and culture.