Central West communities, along with visitors from Sydney and Canberra, gathered on Wiradjuri Country for a weekend of Indigenous science immersion entitled Wyangala for part of National Science Week 2023.
The First Nations science program presented by the Corridor Project, lead partner in the Orange Cowra Cabonne Science Hub, featured presentations from two respected Wiradjuri leaders, elder Aunty Esther Cutmore and cultural educator and artist Aleshia Lonsdale.
Creative Producer at the Corridor project Phoebe Cowdery was the host of the weekend. She developed the unique program with Aleshia Londsale
“As part of National Science Week we welcomed participants from Sydney, Canberra and local Central West communities to WYANGALA. The First Nations science program was mentored by Wiradjuri cultural holders with a focus on habitat, natural ecologies, land and riparian health. The program aimed to deepen an understanding of the symbiosis between humans, natural events, and the environment, whilst highlighting the conservation of local ecosystems and habitat. Participants overwhelmingly expressed the benefits of cultural learning delivered through place based activities mentorship and peer-to-peer exchange”, she said.
At the beginning of the day, participants were Welcomed to Country by Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Esther Cutmore.
The extensive program included an introduction to tools and techniques, cultural burning, a walk on Country down to the Galari (Lachlan) River and a moving reflection about life on the Erambie Mission from Aunty Esther, who shared an incredible account of living with her family at Erambie Mission in Cowra under the control of the Aboriginal Protection Board from 1937-1965.
It was a privilege for us to hear firsthand from Aunty Esther about her life at Erambie Mission. To witness an Indigenous elder speaking so candidly about their life on a mission and the hardships endured at such a personal level was extremely moving as well as illuminating.
Throughout the day, Aleshia told stories about many Wiradjuri customs and cultural practices as we examined tools and walked on Country. We discussed tree scarring, fishing, hunting, cultural tools and construction techniques.
We even got to try cool burning as Aleshia explained both the cultural methods and environmental factors that are taken in to account as we discussed how this practice is increasingly helping land managers prepare for fires.
Among other knowledge shared was grass species for weaving, fish trap construction and many plants, medicines, and trees carved for canoes, coolamons and weapons adjacent to the Galari River.
It was fascinating to witness the environmental effects to habitat and riparian health due to the flooding caused by the Wyangala Dam release, a topic of particular interest to the local farmers and land holders attending.
Aleshia also explained many of the Wiradjuri protocols for observing, respecting, and protecting sacred sites, rocks, shells and natural ecosystems.
A highlight of the day was playing the kinship game, a brilliant way to illustrate the links between Country and Kin, and how the processes that caused the Stolen Generations had such a destructive impact on 60,000 years of Indigenous knowledge systems.
Thank you to Phoebe Cowdery, Dylan Gowler, Aunty Esther Cutmore and Aleshia Lonsdale for a wonderful weekend learning on beautiful Wiradjuri Country.
Guest post by Jackie Randles. Images by Sammy Hawker.