Conversations at Ukerbarley

Anne Dickson, Lynne Hosking and Helen Webb

Jane Judd arranged for us to visit Ukerbarley, a Gamilaraay-NPWS co-managed Gazetted Aboriginal Area covering an area of 1,483ha. It was created in February 2011 after the land was sold to NPWS by Jane and her husband Milton. This was a singular privilege as the area has no public access at present.

Ukerbarley is very special.  National Parks often just cover ridgelines. Ukerbarley is a small catchment along the Namoi watershed including both ridgelines and valley floors capturing water and conserving life.  It is now managed for conservation.

This area is a microcosm of The Pilliga. It demonstrates how the full extent of The Pilliga is a large, varied and important landscape. It is an overlap between eastern and western ecosystems. At Ukerbarley there are birds, kangaroos, wombats, emus, frogs, healthy vegetation, green bracken, large trees, intact middle story and under story, beautiful sandstone rock walls and rock overhangs. It showcases a typical brigalow mix and an abundance of species – ironbarks, red stringybark, different box species, Angophora floribunda, cypress, Kurrajong, daisies, grass trees, cycads, kangaroo apples, Styphelia. There was a special smell to the vegetation and a beautiful wetland, dominated by Carex sedges and also with phragmites, clear running water and frogs calling.

We were delighted to hear, smell, touch and see the grandeur in the sandstone, living water, and plants. Sharing with friends the vibrancy and subtleties of a beautiful wetland in the middle of a drought was remarkable. There was no dust blowing about on Ukerbarley in contrast with much of the north-west slopes and plains where the wind was busily transporting tonnes of topsoil away.

‘It nourishes my being to be here and to share this place with friends’

It is land that has not been flogged.  It has been looked after and not over grazed – a natural evolving balance. The utter beauty and peace of the place was special and our group, who were participating in Armidale NPA’s three-day event, Sky-Earth-Water-Life; Conversations in The Pilliga, lit up when they saw it. We were happy to be there and hear Jane’s particular knowledge. She was visibly delighted to share her long association, understanding and knowledge and specially to share it with Leo Butler, the new NPWS Ranger, and a local of the area.

At Ukerbarley there is a clear association between Aboriginal people and the land, demonstrating the degree of understanding Aboriginal people have of the land. Jane’s stories made life as it once was vividly imaginable, and she also explained how the vibrancy of Gamilaraay cultural connection and care for country continues. We saw thousands of years of activity and management and how this foundation can sustain Ukerbarley into the future.

Jane shared with us an intriguing story of a thin stick that her son had found hidden in a rock shelter. It had a pronged end and could be inserted into a crevice in a tree trunk (often a wattle) to prise out a witchety grub. It is now housed in an Aboriginal Keeping Place at the Coonabarabran information Centre along with other artefacts from Ukerbarley and the Coonabarabran district.

The Plan of Management for Ukerbarley is being developed by the Gawambaraay Pilliga Committee and NPWS and will be of critical importance to defining how this unique place will be protected and managed. 

Gamilaraay….Ukerbarley….Jane, Milton and Family….

Lynne Hosking 9 August 2019

Hushed grandeur in sandstone’s

sweeping embrace of valley cycads,

Grass-trees; scent of crushed leaves.

Eagles on high, myriad birds flutter,

Frogs pobblebonk; soft winds sigh.

Springs and wetlands giving life to a

White & yellow box/red gum Wonder Wood

Land for koalas, gliders, earthworms,

Insects, turquoise parrots, flitting bats.

Together, with Jane and ranger Leo, we

Gratefully glimpse fire sticks, hear of

Carved witchetty-grub-fetch sticks, see

Worn grinding grooves for tools, kiln bricks,

Charcoal; learn of stories and signs that

Are all intriguing subtleties, easily missed.

Echoes of laughter and singing and tears

Resounding through thousands of years.

Mysterious ochred images could easily be

Imagined to disappear, slipping into sandstone

Crevices where fig’s tenacious fingers cling.

Wallaroos, wombats, emus still find a drink at the

Homestead pool, a generational good place for

Families, for ground-ovens of emu bake; for

More recent settlers, conservationist farmers who

Cared for this place, traditions, for longevity.

Ancient sentinels in this valley are resting, curled

Gap-toothed in wisdom, in the rock’s embrace : Life

Sensed everywhere – above in Sky, below in Water,

Earth, in the soil of a majestic gnarled tree’s base.

Connecting culture and country ….Ukerbarley ….

Caring…Gawambaraay Pilliga Committee and NPWS.

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