Words By Noel Butler
This is the beginning of a series created with Indigenous elder and Budawang man Noel Butler from Yuin country, who we’ve asked to share his knowledge and deep connection to country. He wants to help Australians develop a connection with their place as well as an understanding of where they live, the plants and animals which exist in their environment and, in turn, develop a deep respect and concern for the environment. Because once we truly connect and understand our environment, we can’t help but want to protect it.
To learn about country and culture you need to live it, rather than read or talk about it. You need to develop a connection with your country, your patch, the part of the world you belong to. Whether it’s your garden, nature reserve, national park, beach; a place you feel a connection to and care about.
Look And Listen
Getting to know it starts with simple observation. Observe what happens at different times of the year, the plants that are growing, the animals. Observe how they interact.
Walk through your streets and parks and get to know them; notice the different trees, the different birds and familiarise yourself with their calls. Get to know the plants and when they fruit or flower. All this helps you feel more connected to a place.
You will then be able to notice if something isn’t right. If plants aren’t fruiting, if birds aren’t appearing, then you can try and work out why. Once you know your land, it’s important to share it with others. Take your family and friends for walks and point out things you’ve learnt.
How has it changed?
The next thing to do is ask what came before. What was it like when you were a child or when your parents were children? What was it like 100 or 200 hundred years ago? Think about what has changed, what has been affected. Did people once swim in the now-polluted rivers, was there food growing, were there more trees and animals? Think about why this is no longer the case and what you might be able to do to restore it.
See And Do
Once you come to better understand your country, you’ll be able to identify problematic areas. Examples might include eroding river banks, bushland being overrun with weeds or diminishing wildlife habitat.
Anywhere you see that the environment has been affected, ask yourself how you can help. In many cases, it’s better to create your own direction rather than being told what to do. Do what you feel drawn towards doing, big or small, because a number of smaller projects can often be more beneficial than one large project. Do what you can yourself, or form a group which might meet regularly to weed areas, plant trees or pick up rubbish. Put aside time to help make the place you live a little better and to help nature regenerate.
Seek Indigenous Plants
Get to know your area’s indigenous plants and which ones are edible. And once you discover what you like, enquire about them at your local nursery. It may not stock them, but if enough people make similar enquiries, they’ll start propagating these plants and then we’ll see change.
Most of the food people grow today is food that was brought here 200 years ago and a lot of the varieties don’t belong, so try and complement the European food species with indigenous ones. Choose two or three plants and grow them in your yard and share them with your neighbour. Then share them with your street, your block, then your suburb through public and community gardens, or at your local market.
If you plant two a year, and then if nine people in your suburb do the same, in ten years 200 indigenous food plants will be growing in your neighbourhood.
If it grows in your backyard, on your balcony or on your street, then you’re not buying it, you’re not spraying it and we’re all far better off for it.