Taungurung Traditional Owners say a long-awaited agreement with the Victorian Government will provide benefits for Country and greater self-determination for community.

The Taungurung Land and Waters Council is creating over 17 new roles to work with Parks Victoria as joint managers of the nine parks and reserves the Taungurung people have Aboriginal Title over, under the new agreement.

Spanning central Victoria, the new positions include park rangers and field services officers.

Taungurung Land and Water Council CEO Matthew Burns said the agreement is “vitally important” for the self-determination of community.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to reassert Taungurung as land managers on their Country,” Burns told NIT.

“At colonisation, Taungurung were all forcibly removed from our own Country, or the majority of Taungurung people were.

“For a long period of time, not many Taungurung people were living on Country.

“So, it’s really important for employment to get Taungurung people to come back to Country … and that we have our own people playing an active role in caring for the lands that we descend from.”

After more than three years of negotiation, the agreement recognises the Taungurung people’s rights to access Crown land to hunt, fish, camp, and gather natural resources.

It was negotiated under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (VIC), which enables out-of-court settlements to recognise Victorian Traditional Owners’ rights.

The agreement has provided approximately $26 million to support the Taungurung people’s economic development and resource management.

Burns acknowledged the Taungurung Elders’ “long, hard fight to challenge policy and law that tried to deprive us of our Country”.

“The commencement of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act happened in 2010, and Taungurung started the process in 2012, which is effectively having to prove who you are, and prove that you’re the right people for the Country,” Burns said.

“And then we got to the point of proving that we are the right people for Country. Then we started negotiations with the State in 2015, which finalised in 2018.”

Burns said the Taungurung Water and Land Council will start with minor changes to the area and implement cultural practices to managing Country “in a more active way”.

“Effectively, Taungurung Country is about 11 per cent of Victoria and 45 per cent of that is forest or National Park. So, it’s about 945,000 hectares of land.”

He said much of the area is heavily forested or overgrown and, apart from forestry, hasn’t been actively managed since colonisation.

“In the long term, it’ll be good for Country because we’re bringing just a little bit of a different lens to … western ways of managing parks and reserves and managing Country more broadly.

“We want to see active management through the strategic use of cultural fire in the right context, to manage Country, but that’s going to take a long time, because it’s 200 years’ worth of fuel on the ground, and you can’t come in and culturally burn something that hasn’t been burnt for 200 years.

“Gradually, that’ll be what we’d be looking to implement.”

Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams welcomed the new agreement.

“We’re empowering Aboriginal communities in the pursuit of self-determination and land justice — this agreement is another positive step forward for the Taungurung people,” she said.

By Grace Crivellaro