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Restoring cultural places and landscape after fire: the Marbellup project

An intense wildfire impacted one of the most significant cultural landscapes within Tjaltjraak Country, near Esperance, Western Australia, causing damage at two major granite outcrops, major cultural wetlands and known burial sites. Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (ETNTAC), Applied Archaeology Australia, and South Coast Natural Resource Management, have been coordinating a natural resource management project within the fire scar across UCL lands in the Esperance region.

This project work was to ascertain the damage and potential threats to the cultural landscape, including invasive weed eradication where possible, and limit off road vehicle access into these areas. This project was co-ordinated under the direction of the Circle of Elders of Esperance Tjaltjraak, using junior Traditional Owners, and with assistance from Applied Archaeology Australia, South Coast NRM, and the Centre of Excellence in NRM. The project involves cultural mapping to assess the condition of heritage sites, and undertake front-line control of invasive weeds and erosion issues such as sand dune erosion. Funding was provided by the Western Australian Government State Natural Resource Management (NRM) Program.

Cultural sites within the Merivale Fire Scar are threatened by erosion, weeds and recreational impacts. The fire scar is undergoing natural restoration supported by cultural conservation actions. Managing this cultural place and corridor is critical to protect the range of values of the wider cultural and ecological landscape. While most cultural plants enjoy regular low intensity fire, the intensity of this fire has decimated cultural plants. The main threat now is the spread of weeds, that may take over vast areas. Invasive weeds if not controlled, will over time, degrade the areas ecological, biodiversity, cultural and heritage values. The main observed threats include Victorian Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum), Black Berry Nightshade (Solanum nigrum).

Due to unseasonal weather including heavy rains and storm tides, the crew faced many logistical challenges just to access the area. Heavy rains, localised flooding and pooling water prevented access to much of the project area due to Dieback spread risks. Due to the changing conditions and challenges of this project area, the team has re-focused efforts on targeted weed control around a central heritage complex. This is seen as both a necessary response to ensure the project does not contribute to the expansion of Dieback into unaffected areas; and also, an effective outcome for building the capacity of the community in collaborative NRM. As part of this, the team underwent formal Green Card Training (Dieback) delivered by the Dieback Working Group and South Coast NRM. This involved practical field training in Dieback identification, recording and management.

Additionally, the team carried out training in weed control methods and methods of heritage survey, recording and mapping. Working together to rehabilitate and monitor the area will protect the many plants and animals associated with this cultural landscape, and will improve the recovery process to the natural and cultural landscape.

A short video of the first stage of the project can be viewed here:

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