Listening to the Hopevale Community

Hopevale Council outlook

We met with council to begin our data collection visit to the community. The Mayor, Greg McLean was keen to pursue Sea Country Projects which also promoted entrepreneurial spirit. He wanted to “back the winners” from the existing enterprises and develop environmentally conscious business people as role models.  He sees that stewardship of the reef and a conservation attitude should enable local Indigenous businesses to have a long term outlook. We discovered that in the near future, Hopevale families will be able to lease small blocks of land from local land holders and it would be expected these families would pay rates and other annual expenses, as well as develop their blocks and build houses.  Thus local people will need to develop profitable enterprises to meet their commitments and sustain their families.

Tourism enterprises seem like a logical opportunity but it won’t be possible for everyone to begin tourism. Although the community’s natural resources lend themselves to tourism, the early entrepreneurs will soon capture the market share and creative unique niches. There is not sufficient tourism traffic yet for too many businesses. There are also opportunities for cattle, farming and support services to those industries.  The concern for everyone, including the GBRMPA  is that the sudden large scale development of farming, cattle, tourism and other enterprises could have large scale environmental impacts.

As the ownership and block leasing arrangements occur, there is a need to raise environmental awareness and improve knowledge of sustainable land and sea country management practices. After further meetings on Friday the significance of opportunities for a Sea Country awareness program became increasingly apparent. This might involve assisting community or family groups to model sustainable building, environmental friendly designs and sustainable practices for others to see and follow. Helping people develop a holistic understanding of their ecological footprint may be a priority for this program, so decision making has a sustainability and future-oriented culture. There is opportunity for the council to develop a strong program on these matters as part of its quest for Reef Guardian Council status. There is similarly an urgent need for the GBRMPA to encourage council to design and implement a community awareness program, and to establish environmental standards for development applications.

Thus there is an opportunity for the GBRMPA to look for synergy between council’s Action Plan (to become a Reef Guardian Council) and an awareness raising program (through action projects) to help people develop environmentally sustainable enterprises and lifestyles. We need to meet with Hopevale’s Congress and council next visit to pursue this idea.


Core ideas from the workshop and other meetings

We hosted a series of activities which helped us understand what older people had learned culturally and what hope they had for their children’s learning. We also unpacked some ideas about how people learned.

The most powerful outcome for us was finding out about the “Look, Listen and Learn” strategy. It was used to teach practical skills, cultural knowledge and ways the community worked. Children were expected to respect the teacher and learn from older experts, who may have been parents, grandparents, uncles and older siblings. There was less deliberate teaching than today, as children absorbed knowledge by watching others. As they were old enough to try things, they were expected to “try, try and try again”. In general, responsibility for learning was placed on the learner. 


What to learn

Hunting, tool making, shelter making;  but in an environmentally sustainable way

The lore and laws which invoke responsibility and respect

How to work for the common good of the group/community

The connections between knowledge

The connections between these ideas was the real message from the workshop to us. Environmental and sustainability concerns are new ideas in Indigenous communities where for a long time the lore and law governed what was hunted when, who hunted and how the community shared food information and work. This reinforced the main ideas that are emerging from all our workshops. Hopevale, as has happened in other communities had their unique interpretation of the commonly held beliefs and ideas about what young people might learn if they are to respect and sustain the sea country. 

Respect – for country, people and culture; with the key message that “Respect is a broad responsibility” that unpins everything.

Language – fluent language use may disappear but names of things can be preserved and honoured.

Being on country – that there is a strong link between being on country and the well being of individuals and groups; with the key message that young people have to be on country to develop an understanding and respect for it.

Lore and Law – that the “take nothing” and “do not disturb” laws can guide future use of resources and that old clan laws are a stronger force to prevent over hunting than any modern legislated laws.

Sustainability –  If animals and plants disappear, the dreaming can not be sustained. Our land may change but connection to the country/land (the relationship) won’t change. Climate change may be a holistic way of addressing sustainability – the old lore is no longer as accurate and so habits and practices need to change also.

We believe there is community polarisation about hunting,  with stories of the extreme views  - hunt everything verses no hunting.  We noted that the Traditional Owners had more concerns about sustainability of hunting than others who were not Traditional Owners. There was also concern about “who” could hunt where and  the changing respect of those laws.

It appeared to us that connection between hunting and ceremony not as strong here in Hopevale. Hunting was a passage to adulthood and excess “demonstration” of hunting skills concerned some. There is concern about numbers of dugong and turtle with locals  noticing decline and some beginning to undertake monitoring and preservation actions. There is increasing debate and so there is now an opportunity for GBRMPA to contribute to awareness raising and to facilitate informed community debate. Perhaps workshops like that held in Lockhart to talk to local clans up there about the population trends would be a useful start.


Project ideas

Young people

Mayor McLean is keen to pursue a local leadership program or junior council concept where each of 13 clan groups are represented.

Men’s group

With a focus on abstinence from substance abuse, the men’s group work with individuals to develop self esteem, purposeful habits and capacity to lead families. Undertaking worthwhile community projects is a common strategy to enable people to develop skills and then involve the family in a purposeful project. The group has undertaken Beach cleanups in the past.

Russel Gibson, chair of the men’s group was excited about adding depth to his occasional beach cleanup with Men’s group families and agreed to bring people to our community meeting.

We shared the story of Tangaroa Blue and how their cleanups contribute to long term data collection of the sources of journey of rubbish. Tangaroa Blue acknowledge the teams who participate on their web site. We also told the story that Tangaroa Blue are looking for teams to work along the length of beaches on Cape York.

The Tangaroa Blue approach to rubbish cleanups and contributing to long term data collection was received very excitedly and the group were keen to talk about how they would do it. Russel took the lead in the workshop and discussed the idea with his group directly.

After the initial workshop, the men talked about it throughout their community and  made some decisions  about  how to start off the  data collection, recording and analysing processes. We offered them our Digital Pack and ideas on how to involve Tangaroa Blue in a training process.

They developed a three stage project;

1) The men’s group coordinators would take men to the beach to facilitate their decision making using the 5W and a H method we used in our workshop;

2) Running a camp and clean up with the men to give them confidence and receive training from Tangaroa Blue

3) The men taking their families to the beach for a cleanup. It’s a terrific model.

Taking a choice

We spent some time with Des Bowen to talk about strategies to address over hunting and decreasing stocks.  Des was keen to embed respect of old laws and practices as the key message to begin a new way of thinking. He said “Land is claimed because of forefathers, so now we need to remember the lore and laws of our forefathers when preserving the hunting stocks” 

This has led to a preliminary discussion of some strategies and ideas to work on during our next visit to community.

The school

We had two opportunities to visit with the school and met with some of the Indigenous teachers elsewhere in the community. We spend some time in one class with year 7 students.  

We learned students may not know which country they connect with and what totems are, or may have been told by families not to share this with strangers.

Students had ideas about broader environmental actions to “reduce rubbish”, energy efficiency etc and knew terms like climate change. They seemed to have less specific understanding of local actions and immediate threats in their country.

They did have knowledge and experience in camping, fishing, hunting and cooking. Students had some rudimentary knowledge of environmental impact issues but did not really connect it to their local area. There is therefore opportunity to develop local projects which would make the ideas concrete and real. Projects could capitalise on students experience and pride of practical camping knowledge. It may be that students need to show elders what they know and can do through development of media products. This would assist the schools too, to develop English and local language literacy.

The science curriculum at the school provides us with an opportunity to enable teachers, especially the Indigenous teachers meet new national science curriculum guidelines and meet local demands of raising awareness of environmental sustainability actions.  We have been invited to work with teachers on some science unit ideas.