Restoring sacred land
A parcel of land in McLaren Vale on an ancient Kaurna Meyunna camping place is being transformed from neglected farmland to a place with thriving ecosystems and bi-cultural activity.
When artist and cultural geographer Gavin Malone purchased 16 hectares of land in McLaren Vale in February 2015, the sandy soil was a mix of neglected pasture and waist-high weeds.
Now, Lot 50-Kanyanyapilla (L50K)—located in the south-western corner of Pethick and Branson Roads on an ancient Kaurna Meyunna camping place—is past the halfway point of a 10-year regeneration plan.
The plan adopts a bi-cultural approach recognising the cultural, spiritual and ceremonial practices of the Traditional Owners and the non-Aboriginal stewards of the land.
Most of the land is a registered Aboriginal heritage site under the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act, having been occupied by Kaurna Meyunna ancestors for up to 6500 years. Gavin collaborates with the senior Traditional Owners of the Mullawirraburka Meyunna, or clan, whose parngkarra clan country it is. In 1993, an archaeological survey of Lot 50 revealed campsite artefacts over much of the property. For this reason, the traditional locality name, Kanyanyapilla, has been adopted for the project and place as part of the bi-cultural naming. Cultural and archaeological research about L50K is ongoing.
“Bestowing or adopting a Kaurna Meyunna place name is a considered process which takes into account known place names, the source of the name, cultural practices and the physical topography,” Gavin says.
“Kanyanyapilla has different possible meanings depending on how it is deciphered linguistically; place of many camp ovens, two crowds or heaps, two lots of rocks and a multitude of eagles. L50K was a well-used camping place with many camp ovens there. Wedge-tailed eagles were common in the Willunga Basin and still visit.”
In 2016, Traditional Owner Karl Winda Telfer led a back-to-country camp at L50K with his nephews. They lit the first Meyunna cultural fire on that country in approximately 170 years and camped overnight.
“This rekindled the living cultural relationship with this small part of Meyunna yerta country and the first full moon fire soon followed,” Karl says.
Gavin has planted 5500 Indigenous seedlings to revegetate three distinct ecosystems; the remnant reed swamp, remnant sedge lands and grassy woodland. The Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board, now Landscape SA Hills and Fleurieu, has assisted with the supply of 2600 seedlings and technical advice. Another 1200 seedlings are to be planted this year.
“The reed swamp area is the largest remnant of its kind in greater Adelaide and is of both ecological and cultural significance. It would have been rich in both mai vegetable foods and paru meat–game, along with permanent water,” Gavin says.
Council’s Natural Areas Conservation and Urban Forests teams have supported Gavin’s efforts by undertaking extensive control of feral olives, boxthorn, dog rose, blackberry and other weeds on adjacent closed reserves and assisting with Indigenous replanting. Council’s Free the Tree program has also removed feral olives that were choking the remnant Grey Box along Pethick Road.
A diversity of plant species is also being established within the degraded roadsides, including colonising species such as Acacia pycnantha, to supress weeds and improve soil condition. In areas where patches of native understorey remain, scattered canopy species are being re-established to recreate a woodland structure. Species include Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa), Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata) and Dryland Teatree (Melaleuca lanceolata).
“Within a region with very little remnant left, it’s critical that we retain the old remnant trees and bushland and continue to enhance and buffer them where possible to ensure the remaining habitat and wildlife movement corridors are not lost,” says council’s Senior Natural Areas Conservation Officer Ben Moulton.
Council has also recently undertaken a number of capital works projects surrounding L50K, including bituminising roads, and constructing a formal floodway on Pethick Road across Maslin Creek. Low water flows were banking up against Pethick Road and creating an upstream dam that disrupted the natural stream flows, while high flows submerged the road for significant periods and caused washaways.
“The culverts now installed under the road have been spaced apart to distribute low flows across the full width of the natural watercourse and replicate the environmental flows across the roadway. The shoulders of the embankment have been strengthened to reduce erosion when the flow does cross the road,” says council’s Team Leader Technical Services Richard Dekker.