Hand-back day: Mt Yarrowyck Nature Reserve becomes Bulagaranda Aboriginal Area

Lynne Hosking, President, Armidale Branch

Bulagaranda (Mount Yarrowyck) Aboriginal Area is 30km west of Armidale. It is managed by the Anaiwan and Armidale Local Aboriginal Land Councils in joint partnership with NPWS on behalf of the registered Aboriginal owners.

Wedge-tailed eagles soared high above the 1,153 metre granite batholith Mount Yarrowyck, getting a bird’s eye view of a large group gathered for the Bulagaranda hand-back celebration, after decades of negotiations by numerous and diverse members of the Anaiwan Nation, some of whom are now deceased.

Participants began arriving early, and entered the reserve through a smoking ceremony to sounds of didgeridoo.

In a large marquee the formalities began with a Welcome to Country by Brian Williams and a minute’s silence, followed by speeches from Bulagaranda Interim Advisory Committee members Cheryl Kitchener and Greg Livermore; Atticus Fleming, Coordinator General Environment and Heritage; Stephen Wright from Office of the Registrar, Aboriginal Lands Rights Act (ORALRA); Ben Franklin, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Arts and Regional Youth and apologies from James Griffin, Minister for Environment and Heritage.

Outside, the new sign was unveiled and celebrations continued with dance and didgeridoo performances followed by lunch.

The NPWS staff and Aboriginal community did an excellent job setting up facilities and activities including an invitation to people to bring old or new photos along to contribute to the photographic history of the reserve; a media tent played some past oral histories and a film and had a display board with the capacity to add in the names of people in old photographs. There was a kids’ tent – with the invitation to create a special piece of art that may become part of the Bulagaranda logo, and everyone enjoyed adding to the hand stencil roll.

Guided walks for the 3 km walk to the painting site were offered, and staff from ORALRA were on hand all day to assist people applying to register as an Aboriginal owner.

Mt Yarrowyck Nature Reserve was created in 1983 to protect important Aboriginal heritage, and has been expanded over the years (to 589 hectares) to provide a haven for a diversity of habitats surrounded by grazing properties, where clearing of the area began in the 1830s.

Scattered tors stand as sentinels to the long term occupation in, and pathways through, the traditionally resource rich valley. Diet included ducks, fish, shrimp and yabbies from the the Gwydir River and creeks, and honey, native fruits, seeds and vegetables such as yams. Animals were hunted or trapped using nets made from the bark of Kurrajong trees.

The long occupation of the area is evidenced by ochre paintings in a granite rock shelter and this is a very significant site for local Aboriginal people.

A walk to the cave painting site along a meandering path passes Blakely’s Red Gum, Rough-barked Apple and Apple Box on the lower slopes with an understorey of  Kurrajong, Black Cypress Pine, wild rosemary, wattles, daisy bush, native blackthorn and tea-tree. Groundcovers include perennial tussock grasses and smaller grasses and forbs such as lilies, daisies, orchids and sedges.

There are good views west across the landscape, especially at sunset, and dramatic views of the upper slopes and ridge tops, covered with  Silvertop Stringybark, Red Stringy-bark, New England Blackbutt, and Yellow Box. Rusty Figs hug some of the boulders.

The diversity of habitats support animal species such as Wallaby, Grey Kangaroo, and Wallaroo, possums, gliders, bats and a large range of birds, mainly because Bulagaranda is situated where the slopes meet the high tablelands.

Surrounded by private property, Bulagaranda Aboriginal Area is a link between the past, present and future; a special place to appreciate, respect and protect.

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