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Connecting Gippsland through positive storytelling.

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Nature is a language, can't you read?

Through sharing knowledge and stories, this great program aims to build pathways for connection and establish a collective memory of Lake Tyers.

Jul 13, 2021

Words: Jess Reeves & Pat Bonney

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Lake Tyers (Bung Yarnda) is at once a place of quiet contemplation and a cacophony of life.

It is a ‘thick’ place, engaging all of the senses. You can bear witness to the pelicans taking flight at Cherry Tree and hear the ‘thump’ of the mullet that leap from the depths at Mingling Waters. Experience the smells of decomposing algae at Fisherman’s Landing and the menthol of the Blue Box along the Lonely Bay Walk. Feel the warmth of the deep groundwater springs and the stickiness of a web on a dawn walk.

Many who have the privilege to call this place home have a deep connection to Bung Yarnda. An emotional, visceral bond. The lake speaks a language that can be understood by those who make the time to listen.

Nature connection

Our connection to nature runs deep. Whether we know this consciously or not, we have all been shaped cognitively and emotionally by our relationship to the natural world. We are part of nature, not separate from it — something well-understood by Indigenous Australians.

This sense of belonging to nature is vital. It is known to encourage positive environmental behaviours and engender a sense of responsibility and care. More than this, it promotes individual wellbeing — a pathway to social cohesion and a shared purpose.

Thankfully, governments are beginning to create policy with this awareness, such as the “Explore, Connect and Protect” themes of Victorian Biodiversity 2037 strategy.

Living Bung Yarnda

Living Bung Yarnda is a community-led environmental stewardship program designed to care for Lake Tyers and its catchment. It seeks to create a space
to share the community’s love of the lake — how it changes, what they value and what they want to protect. All are welcome to join Living Bung Yarnda to share their knowledge and protect this special place. Be part of environmental monitoring programs or share your stories, photographs and artworks that have been inspired by the Lake.

The program started with a story. Back in 2017 at Stories on the Hill in Nowa Nowa, Wayne Thorpe read from his book a conversation between Warna the salt water and Yarnda the fresh water to highlight the importance of natural cues for the opening of the sandbar that separates the Lake from the sea. Warna and Yarnda were discussing when they could swap places across the Lake Tyers beach sandbar.

They would have to wait until “the season with the sound that fills the sky, creating the music like the gunyurra (big song and dance). When the rain season is here, the water will flow down the catchment of Boggy Creek and Toorloo Arm and I can begin to fill up, then I will spread out onto the land… I’m going to collect some food as gifts to give to the saltwater fish.”

Through sharing knowledge and stories, the program aims to build pathways for place-connection, establish a collective memory of Lake Tyers, and connect accumulated knowledge with those who have the ability to enact positive change.

The challenge for the way forwards is how to integrate these different ways of knowing — science, art, local knowledge — to both develop more holistic land management practices and to encourage connection and belonging to nature.

Beyond science

To do this, we must go beyond science as the only way of knowing nature. Although science is clearly a powerful tool to identify problems and offer solutions, it is a process that breaks down the language of nature into syllables, objectifying its awe and wonder.

For all its benefits and possibilities, science often neglects to acknowledge our deep connection to the natural world and our place within it.

Local experience, feelings and place-based observation are different to science as we conventionally see it. They are often considered anecdotal — an informal way of making sense of the world. As they often sit outside formal scientific processes, these experiences and knowledge are often regarded as ‘lesser’.

This goes some way to explain why it has taken so long for natural resource managers to begin to listen to and incorporate the knowledge of the Indigenous custodians of this land, who have both managed and adapted to a vastly changing climate and landscape over thousands of years.

A way forwards

Valuing and harnessing multiple ways of knowing to create a holistic understanding of the natural world requires us to reconfigure relationships between researchers, land managers and the community. It involves listening to those on the frontline of a changing world to empower a sense of common ownership, responsibility and care.

It is our hope that Living Bung Yarnda gives a voice to Lake Tyers — its environment and community. Through hearing nature — actively listening, observing and sharing her stories — we can deepen our connection to the environment in which we live and act as her advocate. We invite you to listen.

Jackson Gallagher is a storyteller based in Melbourne:
"With international travel grinding to halt, I turned my attention to my own backyard seeking local stories.
Collaborating with Living Bung Yarnda and FLOAT, allowed me to spend time breathing in Lake Tyers. The portrait
series aim to offer a glimpse into the daily relationship residents have with the wonder and majesty of Lake Tyers."

The Living Bung Yarnda project is funded by the Victorian Government through a Coastcare grant, in partnership with Lake Tyers Coast Action, Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust, Federation University, FLOAT and Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation.

Voices of Living Bung Yarnda

I have lived in East Gippsland all of my life. I have sat on my verandah at night, listening to the calls of the Powerful Owl. I hear the wild call of the Yellow-bellied Glider in the tree in my garden. I watch the tiny Rose Robin squabbling with his reflection in my window. The echidna shuffles around under the trees I have planted. The Satin Bowerbird is beginning to build his bower in my garden. The dominant sound is that of bird call. The bush around me is in good heart.
— Excerpt from a recent letter to her local member by Josephine Jakobi.

Sometimes I try to see past this environment and an awe-inspiring spirit seems to emerge which has been deeply embedded in the way nature has put all this together. This parcel provided “Country” for past first people who understood the values of unspoken words of language just being content with being.

Meaningful Language is all around this lake as I try to listen with an open mind, then I know.
Excerpt from Language – Lake Tyers by Jack Whadcoat.

One push of the paddle and my kayak turns slowly like the needle of a compass, with a hiss and surge of water underneath. Not marking my movement against the banks, the momentum is almost unnoticeable. I lie back, still and drift... meditative. There is nothing of my city life at these moments. No time, no obligation, no purpose but to be. Here.

If I were thinking, I’d tell you these are moments of happiness. But no thinking is happening. Because there is no me, I’ve mingled.
Excerpt from The Upside-Down World by Paula Jorgensen.

Birds can give us feedback about the way we relate without all the complications of human relationships. Add all of this together and we can start to tweak our own behaviour, learn how to be settled and calm so that birds don’t flee around us, remember to pause and ask permission and begin to notice if someone’s posture changes when we’re about to cross a behavioural line. We become more sensitive, attuned to all the non-verbal cues.
— Excerpt from Bird Language by Hilary Stripp.
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