Ponnun Pulgi - Resting Places - Healing Country Together
Monday 5 July, 2021
The cultural landscapes in the northwest of Victoria are ancient, fragile, and rich in Aboriginal values. These values include vast burial grounds that are succumbing to the impacts of human activity and, imported pest species like rabbits, pigs, and, cattle have caused soil disturbance and exposed Ancestral Remains to harm.
Ngintait Elder Uncle Tinawin, Chair of the First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, says he felt helpless at the sight of the Ancestors exposed resting places. “When you see the bodies out there, we felt so helpless and so ashamed of ourselves, we didn’t even want to talk about it. These poor fellas are wandering round here like lost souls. Until they rest, we can’t rest.”
But with the work of the Ponnun Pulgi (Resting Places) Healing Country Together project, Traditional Owners have been able to begin restoring and protecting Ancestral burial places after decades of trying to look after the Ancestors and raise awareness of the issues.
The project is a unique partnership between the First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, Parks Victoria and the People and Parks Foundation which began in 2018.
Uncle Tinawin remains grateful to the People and Parks Foundation for funding the project: “When we went back to do the job, we felt so proud. You felt like crying when you walked in there cos you know you’re going in there to help them. To put these people at rest. They are resting in peace now.”
Parks Victoria working with Traditional Owners and the People and Parks Foundation on the Ponnun Pulgi Healing Country Together project, Murray-Sunset National Park
One of the first locations to undergo restoration is ‘First Dune’ in Murray-Sunset National Park. A number of cultural heritage specialists from Parks Victoria’s Managing Country Together team worked with the First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation using an innovative approach.
Sand bridges were built out across the dunes to allow vital earthmoving machinery to distribute soil across the site while minimising disturbance. Jute matting and logs were placed over the sites which were then revegetated to stabilise the dunes.
First Dune, Murray-Sunset National Park
The approach provides a template for expanding the work to other dune systems where Ancestral Remains are exposed and at risk of harm.
For Damien Jackson, Cultural Heritage Specialist with Parks Victoria, the work is about showing respect. “I’d like to thank the Traditional Owners for allowing me to work on their important sites. It means so much to me as an Aboriginal person myself.”
“For any person who goes to a cemetery and sees someone exposed to the elements, you’re not going to be able to sleep. You’re not going to be at rest. You want to see your Ancestors, whoever they are, covered up and at peace.”
“For our team, it gives us closure. We see a lot of stuff on Country and we go home and think about it. It’s not closure for us until we go out there with Traditional Owners and cover up those remains.”
The project partners are committed to continuing to bring together traditional ecological and cultural knowledge with government park management services and government/philanthropic funding to address this large-scale landscape issue.
For more information on how Parks Victoria works alongside Traditional Owners, visit Managing Country Together.