The Traditional Owners of Buchan Caves Reserve were severely affected by the 2019/20 bushfires but have used the opportunity in rebuilding to embed cultural practices and knowledge.
The Buchan Caves Reserve on Krauatungalung Country is a site of great cultural significance for the Gunaikurnai people and marks an important rest stop between the Gippsland Lakes and the High Country – where the Gunaikurnai would head to collect Bogong moths during the summer months.
When devastating fires swept through East Gippsland, including Buchan, in late 2019, much of the surrounding bush and many homesteads were lost.
Joint Management (JM) Ranger, Shay Terrick was fighting fires in Sarsfield as a member of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Fire Crew and recalls vividly what it was like when the fires hit.
“I do have memories of seeing people’s homes go up and people just sitting in their cars, not knowing where to go and what to do – my blood was pumping the entire time, I remember just operating on auto-pilot. I worked for 98 days straight and 14-hour days were the norm,” Shay recalls.
Shay works as a JM Ranger for the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) which jointly manages ten parks and reserves across Gippsland with Parks Victoria, including the Buchan Caves Reserve.
Joint Management aims to bring together the combined skills, expertise and cultural knowledge of the Gunaikurnai people and the Victorian Government in the management of these parks and reserves in a way that respects and values the culture and traditions of Traditional Owners.
After the Black Summer bushfires destroyed 75 per cent of the surrounding area around Buchan, the Victorian Government stepped in with $2 million to support its reopening after the fires. GLaWAC’s JM Rangers are involved in this work, rebuilding bridges that were burnt down during the fires and rehabilitating trails closed during the fire season, alongside their Parks Victoria colleagues.
GLaWAC is using the opportunity to further embed cultural practices and knowledge, including a new cultural trail that will teach visitors to the park about local flora and fauna.
Cultural knowledge is also being applied to help reconnect Traditional Owners to Country with several cultural burns planned for the coming year.
“Cultural fire burns all the undergrowth, and that allows all the new growth to thrive,” says Shay.
“It’s a practice that’s been around for thousands of years, and it’s always been effective for our mob – but in the new world it’s important to make sure that we’re working together and preserving our way of doing things.”
Embedding traditional cultural practices with more modern land management techniques sits at the heart of joint management. Shay feels positive about the possibilities.
“Connection to Country means everything to me,” says Shay. “This is where I grew up, this is what I know.
“It makes me feel like this is home, and I want my kids to feel the same. That’s what I teach them – be proud of who you are never take anything for granted.”
In some good news for those who want to visit the Buchan Caves Reserve, the reserve and the caves have now reopened to visitors.
For more information about bushfire recovery efforts taking place please visit Bushfire Recovery Victoria.