Thursday, 30 August 2018

What if we thought of Barrm Birrm as a Park?

In the depths of winter, I drove north to Darwin, and came home with my soul full of this big land and park management on my mind. 

Yellow Waters, Kakadu National Park

Ulluru, on Anangu Country

It was still winter in Riddells, and the weeds and veggies had barely moved, but two new houses on Gap Road had their framing up, and another bush block ‘for Nature Lovers’ was up for sale.

You know what it's like when you come back from a good trip: half of me was still at Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The National Park is a case study in crowd control. The week before our stay, the camping ground stretched to 2000 people a night, in caravans, trailers and tents. Then there’s the four hotels and a couple of low-rise apartment complexes. All full: the winter months brought us greying nomads in droves, and it was the school holidays too.

Most of us were up before dawn, off to watch the dawn break over Uluru or Kata Tjuta, and quite few came back for the sunset, bulging 4wds and campers disgorging happy campers at strategically located car parks to sip vino and wait for that precise moment when the big rock turns bright crimson, a brief flare of luminous light before it sinks into the darkening horizon. 

Again, as it has for a long time.

We were all pretty well-behaved, but then, we were all very well managed. Excellent places from which to view the attractions, with good gravel paths and unobtrusive fencing to keep us in. Sealed roads, no access for off-road driving, good signage, toilets, water points on walks, thoughtful routes, and information at key points to tell us what we were looking at and how it was once used.

The Park is under joint management with the Anangu people, and a high point for me was a video at the Cultural Centre on the 1975 handback. People talked about what the handback meant to them. They were proud to have legal title to their Country, and happy that so many people now come and enjoy the Park, but behind the spectacle of this Park is the politics of white and black. Friends in Alice Springs told us the community is unhappy, ans that many feel that few benefits have flowed through to the community. Aboriginal heritage brings in the visitors, but just what ‘joint management’ means is an on-going struggle.

When I got home, I took a walk through Barrm Birrm, 120 hectares of bush uphill of Royal Parade and Gap Road in Riddells Creek. Eroding tracks run off into this place of many yams, a beautiful but troubled no-man’s land. Sub-divided into 165 lots in 1975, there’s never been permission to build. People hoped there might be, but the conservation value of the area now has priority.

Grsslands meet forest in the woodlands of Barrm Birrm

Who manages this de facto park? Precisely …. no-one. With no signs saying what you can and can’t do, and no fence to keep people out, Barrm Birrm showcases the best and worst of human nature. In the last two months: a truck-sized dump of soil and three trailer-sized dumps of garage rubbish; winter wood gathering and a frenzied axe attack on a cluster of trees; a deer shot, alive and left to bleed out, two foxes shot and laid out as trophies, a dumped sheep and a steel trap with a kangaroo leg in it. 

It's open season on deer at Barrm Birrm

Exotic acacias blooming. Tracks eroding. Bikes and 4WDs bashing more tracks to get around fallen trees. Spring will bring city campers who don’t know this is private land or the damage they do. When I despair, I think of the long game:

“Once a multiplicity of nourishing terrains, there is now a multiplicity of devastations. And yet, the relationship between Indigenous people and country persists. It is not a contract but a covenant, and no matter what the damage, people care.” (Deborah Bird Rose, 1996)

Come to Riddells Landcare’s AGM 15 September, 2-4 to find out what you can do to look after Barrm Birrm, and to learn from Yvonne Cabuang, Waterwatch Coordinator, what’s in our creeks. Then join us Saturday 22 September, 10-12, junction of Gap Road and Royal Parade, to clear rubbish and weed trees in Barrm Birrm and set priorities. If you’re handy with a 4WD pickup or a chainsaw, bring them. 

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,