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Indigenous cadets connecting culture and science in the Murrumbidgee catchment

Authors: Damian Michael, Paul Tomczyk, Jamie Turner and Skye Wassens

The Murrumbidgee catchment in southern NSW is rich in cultural heritage and supports many important assets, including ceremonial areas, burial sites, scar trees and a diverse range of artefacts. The Murrumbidgee River and associated wetlands are particularly significant as they have cultural values that are important to the practices of Traditional Owners to this day. The Flow-MER Murrumbidgee program is conducted on lands of the Wiradjuri, Wathi Wathi, Daddi Daddi, Muthi Muthi and Nari Nari peoples.

Four wetland monitoring sites are located within Yanga National Park, a reserve that was officially gazetted in February 2007 following the purchase of the 160-year-old Yanga Pastoral Station. The park is rich in cultural heritage and continues to have a strong connection to country with Indigenous staff from the National Parks and Wildlife Service managing the reserve. Three Murrumbidgee Flow-MER wetland monitoring sites are located on Gayini, a conservation area east of Yanga National Park owned and managed by the Nari Nari Tribal Council (NNTC). On this land, the NNTC plan on reinstating management tools such as cultural burning to enhance the health of the landscape. A cluster of monitoring sites are also located near the town of Darlington Point in the mid-Murrumbidgee region, an area that supports several culturally significant semi-permanent lagoons.

Waterbird monitoring at Nap Nap Swamp. Photo credit: Damian Michael.
Paul Tomczyk engaged in water quality monitoring. Photo credit: Jamie Turner.

Charles Sturt University’s Indigenous Cadetship Program is focused on providing paid work opportunities for Indigenous students. Our cadets assist with activities conducted under the Flow-MER program, gaining skills in freshwater ecology and floodplain management, and bringing a different cultural perspective to the program. In March 2021, we were fortunate to have our first cadet, Paul Tomczyk, join us on the mid-Murrumbidgee surveys. After his visit, we asked Paul to reflect on this experience. Here is what Paul had to say.

“I’m a proud Wiradjuri person. I also love my Polish and Scottish heritage. I belong to Wambuul, which most people call the Macquarie river. But I was born in Gedumba (Katoomba) on Dharug and Gundungurra country, so I feel very connected to the Blue Mountains.

“Right now, I’m studying the Bachelor of Applied Science (Parks, Recreation and Heritage) at CSU. Which are just fancy words, but my dream in life is caring for country and honouring my culture. It’s been almost a year now, studying through distance education (which has its challenges). But I’m also very fortunate to be a part of the Indigenous Cadetship Program, which has been a valuable opportunity. Having the chance to do some real work on the field as opposed to the computer screen is just fantastic.

“Recently I participated in the Murrumbidgee Flow-MER Program – what an experience! Darlington Point was a long way from home, and the world out there was so flat! (I come from the mountains see). But anyway, it was truly special being out on the mighty Marrambidya (Murrumbidgee river). I helped to set fish traps in the evenings, then collected, counted and measured fish (and turtles!) the following sunrise.

The highlight for me though, was the frog surveys that we did. We had to catch frogs and measure them, as well as listen out for the distinctive calls of the different frog species. We also found possums, kangaroos, emus, owlet-nightjars, tawny frogmouths, huntsman spiders the size of your face, and also a water rat (Rakali). It was really cool. At one point we found a freshly dead brown snake. Which was on the table as to whether or not to take him back to the university for research.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and will always appreciate the experience.”

Paul Tomczyk processing a broad-shell turtle. Photo credit: Jamie Turner
Fyke nets set in a mid-Murrumbidgee wetland. Photo credit: Damian Michael.

We thank Paul for his tremendous effort and for sharing his experience and story – we also look forward to working with Paul and all the Indigenous staff involved in the management of the lands on which we work.

Further information

 

Main photo: Flow-MER staff checking a fyke net. Photo credit: Jamie Turner.

Our work in the Murrumbidgee

The Murrumbidgee is a lowland river system with large meandering channels, wetlands, lakes, swamps and creek lines. Our work here focuses on understanding how native fish, waterbirds, reptiles and amphibians, as well as wetland vegetation communities, benefit from these targeted environmental watering actions.

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