Cultural Connections in Caring for Country
  • Last updated:
  • 09 Dec 2022

Wallum, it is a significant part of our ecosystem on the coastal floodplains on the Sunshine Coast and is deservingly protected by national parks conservation areas, with the Noosa-Maroochy Wallum having been listed on the National Estate Register almost 20 years ago. As with many place names or references on the Sunshine Coast, the word 'wallum' comes from the local KabiKabi/GubbiGubbi language, and refers to the species Wallum Banksia (Banksia aemula), noted for its large, creamy and green flower (Henderson, 2000).

Over August many people and community groups have been visiting the heathland and enjoying events celebrating the Wildflower Festival. These areas are habitat to a range of endangered species such as the Ground parrot, Water mouse, Jabiru or Black-necked stork, and a variety of bats as well as the Beach stone-curlew, Glossy black-cockatoo, Sooty oyster catcher and Eastern curlew. Three fish species, the Oxleyan pygmy-perch, Honey blue-eye and Ornate rainbow fish are largely restricted to coastal acid drainage systems. Other vulnerable species include the Swamp crayfish (Tenuibranchiurus glypticus) which has a narrow distribution in south east Queensland as well as three skinks, Ophioscincus truncatus, Lampropholis guichenoti and the Arcane striped skink (Ctenotus arcanus) which is also confined to coastal wallum. Some of the more common and much loved species found here include the Eastern grey kangaroos, Swamp wallabies, Echidnas, Lace monitors and native bush rodents like the Melomys.

This abundance of diverse native plant life and fauna may be thought of as a very natural occurrence or the result of evolution in the absence of man. Yet, for nearly all the time that humanity has lived here on the Sunshine Coast as we know it now, these wallum areas have been extensively managed by Aboriginal people for at least the last 8,000 to 10,000 years. This legacy is apparent in the reproductive needs of a variety of species such as banksia, xanthorroea, hakea, eucalypts and an array of native grasses. Not only has this management shaped the evolution of the flora but it also has a considerable influence on fauna such as the ground parrot which is dependent on the availability of seed from the plants that inhabit this area as a result of burning techniques or mosaic burning (giradjoonga).

Historically, before colonisation, these wallum areas were and still are, a vital part of the Aboriginal Cultural Landscape, containing a network of Aboriginal pathways and features that later became roads such as the David Low Way. Numerous kitchen middens or Aboriginal shell middens attest to thousands of years of people gathering and harvesting local shellfish such as pippis, oysters, mud whelks and mangrove snails. Thousands of stone tools and food grinders have been picked up by curious collectors over the last two centuries and have been taken away to private and public collections. Yet for generations beforehand, local Aboriginal People collected the Rhizomes of the native yam and bungwall, or the seed of the pandanus and bunya tree for processing and consumption with these implements. Food production was also carefully managed without the need for fences or tree clearing by the use of firestick and mosaic burning to manage the native pastures (birunorbaan) for the emu, kangaroo and wallabies.

Half a century ago, Coaldrake (1961) in his studies of the Sunshine Coast's wallum, determined that the biodiversity and productiveness of such places sustained some of the largest populations of Aboriginal people in Queensland. Barbara Henderson, who studies and wirtes about the wallum, advises that a great expanse of wallum used to stretch from the New South Wales border, along the coast and up to Buderim. In 1842 a portion of this area (through the Maroochy District Bunya Proclamation) was excised and placed out of bounds to white people, including timber-getters and graziers, to protect the bunya tree in the interests of Aboriginal people. This was then repealed in 1860 in favour of timber exploitation and grazing. Parts of this area again received protection as a national park in 1949, which was later revoked in 1959 for developments such as the Maroochy Airport, tourism and housing (Henderson 2000).

Development intrerest and rapid population growth continue to threaten the remaining wallum areas (over two-thirds of which have been lost in the last two centuries). There is still much work to do. While substantial resources have been invested in ecological field-work, research, biodiversity strategies and environmental restoration for the wallum areas on the Sunshine Coast, little has been done to research, record and collate the culutural heritage values, derived from a legacy of humanity being thousands of years old. There is certainly a need to support and resource Traditional Owners and consider the need for an extensive cultural heritage assessment and heritage conservation management plan. Members of Bunya Bunya Country Aboriginal Corporation, who include KabiKabi traditional owners and historically connected Aboriginal people, have been fortunate to work in short-term projects in parts of the Noosa-Maroochy Wallum and surrounds by helping in weed control, restoration and wildlife surveys.

This work has provided valuable experiences in re-visiting the traditional estates of their old people and re-telling stories about traditional ways of life and the overwhelming abundance and diversity of plant and animal species that once occurred in the wallum. In this spirit, members are working with the community and council to raise the awareness of the heritage and biodiversity values of the wallum areas and are seeking partnerships and resources to implement cultural heritage studies and a management plan, as well as an Aboriginal Ranger Program. If you have an interest in Caring for Country and have time to help out please call Kerry Jones on 0401 205 367.

Article: Kerry Jones, Sean Fleischfresser, Loretta Algar, Helen Jones, Anne Miller and Genevieve Jones