All of our land and sea country is divided into clan estates that are owned and managed by landowners (who have inherited the country from their father) and djungkay (who have inherited management responsibilities for their mother’s country).
Each clan estate is home to many culturally important places and there are more than 100 clan estates within the Bawinanga operational area. These culturally important places include burial sites, rock art galleries, important historical contact sites with Macassan traders, seasonal camps, trading routes and hunting and gathering sites.
Many of these culturally important places are sacred sites, ceremony sites and totemic sites that relate directly to cultural law and knowledge.
Our ancestral beings emerged from and travelled the country, creating and naming everything in it and laying down laws and culture. Our songlines and stories map the journeys of these ancestors through the landscape and that is how we learn about our law and culture. Each clan has its own stories connected to the country where spirit resides, the sacred sites on their country. Some stories are sacred and can be known only by the right people, and some stories have an ‘outside story’ that is safe for others to hear and see.
All of this is part of djang / wangarr, a complex concept sometimes inaccurately called ‘Dreaming’. This is the ongoing, eternal, life-giving transformative power that accounts for every aspect of existence. Every part of our country is animate and vested with djang / wangarr, as are we through our conception and birth.
Of all of the things we help look after, our culturally important places are most at risk, in terms of the potential scope, severity and irreversibility of damage. Land and sea country is healthy when the right people are looking after the right country in the right way and at the right time. Landowners and djungkay want the Bawinanga Rangers to assist them as directed and when appropriate to address specific issues. They are particularly concerned that knowledge about cultural sites is being lost and that cultural places are being damaged by feral animals, fire, people who should not be there, and climate change.
Our goals for our culturally important places are that the old people’s knowledge about these places is shared, used and transferred through Bawinanga’s ongoing participation in community-led cultural education activities, including the Learning on Country program and documentation projects. We aim to actively care for at least 40 culturally important places as directed by landowners.
The main threats to our culturally important places are:
- Loss of knowledge
- Empty country
- Unhealthy fire
- Climate change
- Commercial and illegal fishing
Together with landowners and djungkay, we monitor how effective our threat mitigation activities are by checking:
- Ownership of country
- The health of rock art and sacred sites
- Cultural knowledge is shared in the right way to the right people
- Culture is being practiced; and
- Natural resources are being used by the right people.