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Revitalised Kaurna tree is a door to the future of cultural education

Dechlan Brennan -

A combined effort from local Indigenous Elders and a heritage group has helped a culturally significant heritage tree to be brought back to life in the Adelaide foothills.

The Willawilla Karra Kuu or Kaurna shelter tree, is a river red gum, estimated to be more than 450 years old. It was under threat from stress caused by erosion, soil compacting and weeds.

The tree, which is around 20 metres in height, has been regenerated with the help of Kaurna Elder Aunty Lynette Crocker, who has led the planting of ngampa, also known as yam daisies, which are a native root vegetable.

Aunty Lynette told National Indigenous Times Kaurna country is spread across multiple councils in Adelaide, all of which have culturally significant native flora and fauna like the Willawilla Karra Kuu.

"The thing about the trees is that these particular trees that cross the Gawler River had a double scar on them. And they were an indicator, like a cultural marker, to say either there was a burial ground or women's business or men's business," she said.

She said trees were incredibly important to the work they do, but so is the rejuvenating of undergrowth - such as Kangaroo grass - which had been routinely "slashed."

Highlighting an instance where slashing was stopped near the racecourse, Aunty Lynette said the return of native flora and fauna was stark.

"They didn't slash anything for about five years, they just let it grow back normal," she said.

"But what happened then in those five years? These tubular orchids came back. And so did these butterflies that they thought were extinct, they came back. And these green ants immediately came back within those five years. So, it's about the earth and the land regenerating itself."

In 2018, the Brownhill Creek Association partnered with elders and other community groups to protect the tree, which lies at the entrance to the Brownhill Creek Recreation Park/Wirraparinga.

A spokesperson for the Brownhill Creek Association said the Willawilla Karra Kuu had come on in leaps and bounds since they started the project and enlisted an arborist, who made a report with recommendations to both help revive the tree and the flora around it.

"It's incredible. It's such a miracle even," they said.

"Because there was virtually no leaves on it in 2011 and then in 2018 there was a development and a huge trench was dug through the root zone."

In the resulting five years, volunteers have planted close to 3000 native plants around the nearby creek, known as Willawilla.

Brownhill Creek Association says they have teamed up with six schools and colleges in the area to offer a "big environmental education".

"We have had a lot of workshops, environmental and heritage works," they told National Indigenous Times.

"One of the aims of the project is to actually engage with Kaurna schools and get them engaged in the educational activities here. There's the Firesticks Alliance (activate and increase the use of cultural burning) and to directly seed yam daisies. That, and promoting the growth of Kangaroo Grass, is a vision."

Aunty Lynette said she wants more mandatory education for people to understand the erosion of natural elements since colonisation. The ngampa, for example, hasn't been planted in the area since before the 1830's.

"We need to educate people about this sort of stuff, it needs to be in the curriculum…it needs to be mandated" she said.

"It takes a lot of energy and it needs to have this holistic approach, we can't just pick out one thing…all of this is connected to one another…We need to sit down with a lot of other traditional owners and just talk to people and get some of their advice. Because they have had the lived experience about all of this and it's just now coming out.

"Culture revival is all of our survival."

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