Caring for Gunditjmara Country with Winda Mara Aboriginal Corporation in Australia

by isvolunteers on Sunday, 1 November 2015

ISV Australia Project Leader Brenton Peake shares his experience leading a Conservation Project with ISV Partner Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation on our 2015 May to September Program. 


The ISV team with local Budj Bim Rangers from the Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation. (c) ISV

The Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation is a community based organization that aims to preserve and support the strong Indigenous roots of the region. Situated four hours west of Melbourne in Heywood, Winda-Mara is surrounded by Australian bushland, rich wildlife and the treacherous southern Australian coastline. The Gunditjmara people are the Traditional Owners of the local area, which stretches from ‘Budj Bim’ (a now dormant Volcano) along a spectacular lava flow out to sea.


One of the sites volunteers helped transform by planting thousands of native trees. (c) ISV

The Budj Bim Rangers of Winda-Mara each have strong ties this Indigenous Protected Area and are working to restore it back to the state it was in prior to European settlement. Natural resources may have diminished over the years, but the history of the Gunditjmara people can still be seen through an original stone house and eel farming structure – some of the earliest examples of aquaculture in the world!

ISV has been working with Winda-Mara for over 8 years, and their presence is seen through the growth of Manna-Gums, Blackwoods and Wooly Tea-trees that have been planted by previous groups. This season, ISV volunteers worked alongside local Rangers to plant over 10,000 indigenous trees and grasses over two weeks.

Volunteers spent 40 hours erecting 6600 feet (2000m) of fencing to protect newly planted trees from cattle. (c) ISV

The area is home to many unique animals that require indigenous vegetation for their survival, so a large focus of this revegetation project is to restore the original dynamics of the region to encourage wildlife to thrive.

The overall goal is to connect ‘islands’ of native vegetation between Portland and Broken Hill  (spanning 620 miles/1000km) to provide a wildlife ‘highway’ that will support genetic diversity.

The landscape charms volunteers with spectacular sunrises in the morning, countless rainbows across the working hours, and iridescent stars in the evenings. Magpies and kookaburras act as natural alarm bells in the morning, whilst koalas and wallabies often join us in our daily rituals preparing for work.

The people of Heywood are equally as welcoming, acknowledging the efforts of ISV volunteers also being somewhat chuffed that nine Americans would choose to spend their summer in this unassuming country town.


The ISV team practicing their ninja poses – one of the many games played during the day to break up the work day. (c) ISV


Volunteers also spent 60 hours improving 1300 feet (400m) of walking tracks. (c) ISV

But the reasons are clear. Working with Winda-Mara provides a rich cultural and educational experience for ISV volunteers in a spectacular environment. There is much to learn from the once neglected wisdom and understanding the Gunditjmara people had of this land and our group had a truly life-changing experience thanks to Winda-Mara.

Brielle Piterski of Montclair State University says:

“Words cannot express my gratitude for my experience. It was both educational and inspiring. Thank you ISV for opening my eyes and for this exceptional opportunity.”

Jennifer Bogue of Virginia Commonwealth University adds:

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Working with Winda-Mara was a lot of fun and very educational at the same time. We got so much done in so little time, which was a great feeling of accomplishment.”

When our bus driver, Brian, picked up our volunteers at the end of the project, he could see how much they had connected with the land and told them: “I should’ve warned you. You’ll never want to leave this place.”

Brenton Peake, ISV Project Leader

Check out how ISV volunteers made the local news and click here for more information on volunteering with ISV in Australia. 


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