A Victorian Aboriginal group has urged the State Government to let it take the lead on healing a 70,000ha national park-earmarked forest on the outskirts of Naarm (Melbourne).
Wombat State Forest, about 50km west of Naarm on Dja Dja Wurrung country, was subjected to extensive logging during the 1800s and is today a popular 4WDing, bushwalking and bird-watching site.
The Victorian Labor Government in 2021 committed to turning the forest into a national park, a process expected to be completed by 2030.
Djaara chief executive Rodney Carter said Traditional Owners should be at the head of the table in efforts to heal Country.
"Let us be what our ancestors expected us to be."
Of concern to Djaara is a lack of recognised rights to manage water and other resources in the forest.
Djaara has a deal to use timber from the forest, but the State has the power to override that authority through emergency powers.
Mr Carter said current laws were not good for the Dja Dja Warrung people.
"The problem we've got is we're so small but we're really useful in our influence. Let us at least lead and influence other resources to do things our way," he said.
"(Consultation) hasn't been easy, but it's better than most groups.
"Governments need to think how can we empower first nations people"
Djaara's plan revolves around protecting cultural heritage and restoring health to rivers, waterways and land to meet the needs of their people.
Their strategy for forest gardening involves thinning, revegetation and regenerative practice to ensure the health of forests.
The cultural thinning would leave significant timber leftover, something Mr Carter said should not be wasted.
Neither major party has committed to adopting Djaara's plan should they win the November State election.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney said the State Government and Djaara worked together to restore Country.
"The works being undertaken in the Wombat Forest are limited to collecting windthrown timber from the catastrophic storm events impacting the Central Highlands area last year. These are not logging operations," she said.
Shadow Aboriginal Affairs minister Peter Walsh said the Liberals would work with Djaara should they win the election.
"I have held detailed discussions with Rodney Carter, the chief executive officer of Djaara, about this proposal," he said.
The Victorian Greens did not respond to a request for comment