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Arrawarra Headland, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, is a site of strong significance for both Aboriginal people and marine scientists. For thousands of years, Garby Elders, from the Gumbaynggir Nation, have relied on the headland for a wide variety of resources; it is also a site that is central to local cultural activities and spirituality. Evidence for Aboriginal use of the headland and adjacent areas can be found wherever you look, ranging from the large stone fish traps on the headland, to the midden adjacent to Arrawarra Creek.

Much more recently, the headland was recognised by scientists as a site with a large range of marine habitats that supports a high biodiversity. This led the University of New England to establish a marine research station on the headland in the 1960s. Since then, the field station has attracted researchers and students from all over the world. Their discoveries have made an important contribution to our understanding of the marine biology and ecology of the region, and have been instrumental in helping to conserve and manage marine biodiversity.

While Aboriginal people and scientists have made the most of Arrawarra Headland, until recently, these respective activities were conducted separately. However, proposed changes to marine park zoning in 2006 provided the perfect opportunity for a meeting of cultures; this project is the result of that opportunity.

Arrawarra Headland Aerial PhotoThe Beginnings of the Project

Following the declaration of the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve in 1991 (upgraded to a marine park in 1998), Arrawarra Headland was zoned as a Sanctuary. This classification meant that all exploitative activities were banned, including traditional harvesting. Following the re-zoning of the Solitary Islands Marine Park in 2002, Marine Parks Authority staff and Garby Elders mapped out a strategy to re-establish traditional harvesting. An important step in this process was to develop guidelines (a Conservation Plan) for use of the resources, and to monitor effects of harvesting. This provided a fantastic opportunity for Garby Elders, scientists and managers to work together, sharing respective cultures to achieve a common outcome. Thus, the idea for the project was born: Arrawarra: Sharing Culture. In 2005, a successful application to the Environmental Trust for an Environmental Education grant allowed the idea to become a reality.

Project Objectives

Arrawarra: Sharing Culture is an educational project with a number of key objectives. First and foremost, the project seeks to summarise knowledge about traditional harvesting, and related activities, as part of the process of educating future generations of Gumbaynggirr people. Secondly, the project provides an ideal opportunity to educate the wider community about the rich traditional and cultural knowledge held by Garby Elders. Although the information necessarily focuses on a small geographical area, the harvesting methods and sustainable principles that are described are more widely relevant. Another important objective of the project is to exchange information between scientists and traditional users to establish the monitoring program that is required under the terms of the Conservation Plan. This means that scientists were taught about the species that are commonly collected, and that Garby Elders were taught scientific monitoring methods. This exchange of information has been a highlight of the project involving some memorable field trips to different collecting sites.

Turbo Militaris PhotoProject Components

From the outset, it was important to involve of all the key groups with interests in traditional harvesting and the management of Arrawarra Headland. For this reason a Steering Committee was formed from representatives of the Garby Elders, Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporation, Jalumbo Cultural Heritage Unit, University of New England, NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (Marine Parks section), Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, and Australian Government Land and Coasts.

The first step in the project was to commission traditional artworks that summarised the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Garby Elders, focusing on Arrawarra Headland. These stunning works by Alison Williams depict a wide range of activities, stories and places, and were used to illustrate the primary output from the project, the Fact Sheets.

The Fact Sheets comprehensively summarise information on 20 topics. They are designed for use in classrooms, and for field work, but are also a useful tool for project work and wider education on traditional harvesting and culture. They took an enormous amount of time to compile requiring input from all project members as well as from all Garby Elders (traditional knowledge holders).

Another important component of the project was the field work. It was carried out to provide training in scientific monitoring, and also to measure changes in the number and size of the species that were the primary targets for harvesting: turban shells (gugumbal). Sampling was conducted regularly over the duration of the project, generating useful information about the biology and ecology of the dominant species Turbo militaris.

Gumbaynggir Nation
Arrawarra Headland
Fish Traps
Traditional Fishing
Other Food from the Sea
Hunting and Cooking
Arrawarra Midden
Bush Calendar
Useful Plants Trees
Useful Plants Fruit
Useful Plants Leaves
Scientific Monitoring
Gumbaynggirr Language
Gatherings and Ceremonies
Oral Histories