Listening to Lockhart people

General impressions

Although we met people informally, the Lockhart consultations revealed a great deal of information and enabled us to build important relationships. We will capitalise on this in a second visit when we have been invited to meet community groups and visit families on country.
We made positive progress in helping Lockhart Shire Council becoming a Reef Guardian Council. Interest is high and there is a healthy range of environmental actions and intentions already in place that will be the basis of an effective Action Plan. Early indications are that small councils are doing more environmentally positive actions than expected. While we would not suggest the “bar” is too low for entry to the program, it is likely the “bar” can be progressively raised over time. We will consider this in more detail after the Palm Island visit.
The Lockhart visit showed us that for this phase of the project (Stakeholder data gathering), there is much to be gained from an initial meeting in community to develop awareness of the project and establish relationships and then to follow up with a second visit to gather information systematically. We will be recommending this in our final report. It clearly shows that one visit would be quite ineffective. Karlina’s involvement now will be crucial to the longer term implementation of Sea Country Guardians as, for communities, the relationship with the people is far more important than the task to be done. Relationship is everything in community. That is one of the reasons they are communities rather than towns.

Background information

In Lockhart, two issues prevented us from hosting larger formal meetings. The Land and Sea Alliance has new management with a facilitator establishing a Lockhart River Committee and a trust, which will determine activity, processes and policy, with decision making by representatives of each clan group on this committee. As we began to organise meetings, we found out that the new committee would like to be the entry protocol into any business to do with “country” in Lockhart. We had been told the committee was established, but once in Lockhart, it appeared to be in its infancy and most people did not know about it. The second issue which made organisation difficult was that the council CEO is about to leave his Lockhart post and although we had obeyed all the letter-writing and phoning protocols to establish meetings with council and him, he simply left the community for other business and did not tell us. A council meeting was thus cancelled, even though we had an appointment to speak.
The Land and Sea coordinator told us we need 4-6 weeks lead time to speak to the Alliance committee and that a meeting with the Committee before June, was not possible. Also, it will be some months now before council management is on an even keel with a new CEO. (The existing CEO has not yet told the council he is leaving while the council he is going to has been quite open about his move to there.) The individual connections we have, means we are confident we can get a collective audience with appropriate groups on a second visit, but we will need to do date claimers well in advance and have an expectation these dates will be honoured.
Community engagement events (Deliverable)
We hired a church hall for one day to establish a base at which people could meet with us, sit and talk, and have light refreshment. People came when they could or we went to visit people in the community to ask us to meet them at a place and time of their choosing.
We did manage to host a one hour meeting at the school and had an extended meeting with the Deputy Mayor and on with the Works manager of council.
Thus our community engagement was a series of small group meetings that gave us a mass of information and opinions and revealed a potential range of projects.
Meetings with
  • Deputy Mayor
  • Community Development Officer, also Traditional Owner (TO) for her clan
  • Two other TOs
  • Land and Sea Alliance Facilitator
  • Manager of Puchiwu Fishing
  • Council Works Manager
  • Principal, curriculum head, Indigenous teacher and computer teacher
  • Jobfind coordinator
  • Three indigenous teacher aides
  • Three representatives from Women’s group
  • McEnvoy family
  • Indigenous Knowledge Centre (IKC) coordinator
  • Three young people

What we learned to assist with Sea Country Guardians

Council wants to support young people involved in Sea Country projects and has, to date, offered support when asked, but there is no proactive approach from council at this stage to design and implement new projects. The council would like the council workers to develop ideas, take personal responsibility and offer what they believe they can achieve. We have been invited to facilitate a workshop with council workers on the next visit to assist them to think through options and design an activity to put to council for support. Council are interested in training local people in that facilitation process, so they can host workshops. We believe there is a good opportunity here to further both Reef Guardian Council and Sea Country Guardian initiatives in a way that is beneficial for council and these programs.
The relationship between the school and the Land and Sea Alliance is strong. Both parties have been working and will continue to work together. There is an opportunity to support rangers and teachers to design and implement learning activities consistent with Sea Country Guardians. We have been invited to work with rangers next visit for this purpose and to support their professional learning about how to host learning activities with young people. We intend to share some simple design strategies with them to allow them to continue to develop local activities.
Note that it will be necessary for a GBRMPA officer to be involved in (or debrief) such activity development if it is to be documented and included in a Sea Country Guardians package for wider sharing. It is unlikely Land and Sea Rangers will document such activities for general use just as teachers have not generally done so for Reef Guardian School purposes.
The old dump has been closed and council has begun to rehabilitate that land to make it available for the community and tourists. There is an opportunity for community-centred replanting projects, signage development and building of shelters/BBQ’s, to make an attractive space. We discussed such an opportunity with the local Jobfind coordinator who is keen to develop a nursery at the farm.
Beach clean ups have been organised in the past by a Local Marine Advisory Committee (LMAC) representative and others. People were interested in extending the impact of the beach cleanups by collaboration with Tangaroa Blue as at Hope Vale and Bloomfield. This type of collaboration between existing
Talking about Sea Country in Lockhart is complex. We were told that the men’s group look after the reef, because they lead all hunting matters. Women support from behind and can influence what the men’s group say and do, but do not speak directly. We need to talk primarily with the men of the community about sea country projects. We were told we will need to learn “the right words” to get people to talk about the reef. This needs to be followed through as there was not an opportunity to explore the comment at the time. The comment was made in the context of some questions about who to talk to about Sea Country Guardians with Dottie Hobson and appears to be an important supportive comment from an important TO.
The women’s group have been hosting NAIDOC activities. The school was pleased with the 2009 event because some old fashioned ball games were played and the community got together. The Women’s group mentioned three times that they would rather have more traditional activities on NAIDOC day – “do some cultural stuff” as one participant said. There is much debate about when the Lockhart NAIDOC Day was in 2010. We never found out. We offered a suggestion that NAIDOC was about helping non-Indigenous people develop a better understanding of Indigenous culture and that perhaps teachers were a target audience for NAIDOC. As people discussed taking students walking on country as a NAIDOC activity, we suggested that perhaps teachers could be taken on country and invited to photograph the event to share with students in classrooms. The idea was warmly received and we need now to follow that through to see if such an event is feasible during NAIDOC time.
Some camps with young people, led by Indigenous teachers at the school have been hosted in the past. Most of the examples that were shared with us were from about 10 years ago.

Land and Sea Facilitator

The Land and Sea facilitator believes that burning practices are the key to land management and that much knowledge about traditional practices has been lost for several generations. He believes that people have a strong sense of responsibility to fire lighting practices but lack both traditional and modern knowledge to do it well. The same story in evident in Yalangi Warranga Kaban, Yalangi People of the Rainforest Fire Management Book Rosemary Hill et al 2004 Little Ramsay Press. This bilingual book is based on the Wujal Wujal area and outlines some fire management principles in traditional practice.
The Land and Sea facilitator also believes that pig management needs to be strengthened and that perhaps traditional owners need to taken across country to see if turtle eggs are still available where they are traditionally found. When they are not found, he believes traditional owners will understand more closely the serious impact of pigs on country. Currently they are seen as a valuable resource rather than as a threat to sustaining traditional hunting. The notion of “sustaining hunting” is a positive way to approach preservation of stock levels.
Fire management and hunting messages need to inform any programs designed for young people.
The Land and Sea rangers are being increasingly involved in the school. They are planning a one-class activity later this year. The facilitator had some ideas about the subject matter for the camp and who might be invited as content experts. We were invited to work with rangers on the next visit to assist in camp design and teaching strategies.
The Land and Sea facilitator was keen to develop “a curriculum” of activities and ideas rangers design and implement. He thought that a five year horizon was required and that year levels could progress through activities. Although he had not yet talked to the school about this ambition, he believed we could help facilitate the conversation between the school and the Land and Sea centre and follow up by facilitating the design of such a program.
Extensive discussions with Brian Benham, the non Indigenous Land and Sea facilitator ranged across:
Fire management;
  • Pig impacts;
  • Ranger responsibilities;
  • Need to allow TOs and Rangers to discover the extent of problems for themselves so they are respected, have ownership of the problems and become actively involved and committed to the solutions;
  • Rangers working with the school;
  • Spotlighting outings for well behaved kids to back the winners;
  • School District Wide Assessment Task (DWAT) support;
  • Australian curriculum provides an opportunity for further involvement of Rangers with the school;
  • Having a process focus to empower local development;
  • The new Land and Sea Management committee is made up of locals who live in the community or nearby, can speak for country, are interested in the work and attend all meetings.;
  • Carbon trading opportunities are extensive and lucrative for Lockhart area;
  • Possibility of work experience placements for students with rangers;
  • Working with kids in holiday periods especially high school kids who return from school early and leave later than the local school holidays;
  • Links to ghost net removal programs;

Lockhart P-10 school

At the school meeting we talked about two possibilities:
1) The alternative program for high school age children needs development and was an opportunity for activities on country. We shared what we knew of the Cooktown Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management program and provided Cassie Sorensen’s contacts.
2) Two rich tasks being undertaken this year can be interpreted from an Indigenous perspective. Paul offered to share his resources and curriculum plans around the tasks.

Young people

We met with three young people (all girls) who had worked with us before. They were happy to talk to us about what they do on country. They had a great deal of camping experience and were keen to build a camp for other young people. They had extensive knowledge of food preparation and hunting for sea animals and gathering edible vegetation. They also shared stories of customs and protocols they routinely used. Their camping experience came from family camping and some camping they had done near adults but separately. They seemed quite competent at bushcraft and had build temporary shelters in the past. It was encouraging to see such a high level and standard of practical “country” knowledge.
They told of being left on a beach for a day by their mother to learn survival skills. They were excited to have made successful fishing gear from what they found in the bush and on the beach and were cooking the fish they had caught when their mother returned to collect them before dark. This is not an approach western society generally values and Sea Country Guardians will need to consider the extent to which it might include higher risk activities such as this. Anecdotal evidence suggests it is an important way of learning and connecting for Indigenous children. One to two generations ago (probably preTV), it was also a common way for non Indigenous children to entertain themselves and develop bushcraft and other practical skills.

Puchiwu visit

Wayne Butcher, Project Officer manager of Puchiwu provided information about the cooperative that is managed by representatives of 6 local sea country clans covering coastal areas from Shellburne Bay to Stoney Creek south of Cape Sydmouth. The cooperative is modelled on traditional decision making processes with one male and one female representative on the board. Each representative is responsible for gaining agreement from their clan for decisions made by the board. While slow, this provides a robust process with high levels of acceptance by the community.
Puchiwu is a successful operation catching and processing a range of seafood from lobsters to mixed reef and inshore fishery fillet and mud crabs. They hold a current charter licence facilitating offshore dive operations. Techniques for shipping live lobster have been perfected over time to allow high quality product to arrive at market. Fish is processed on site, cryovaced and frozen for both local sale and shipment to southern markets.
Workers have a history of staying with the organisation and learning and expanding range of skills. Of 25 trained to use Hooker breathing apparatus, 17 earned their certificate and a full complement of 8 currently work for Puchiwu. It is anticipated further training will be needed in about 3 years.
Workers built most of the processing and living complex in partnership with Indigenous Volunteers Australia who recruited a building supervisor for the project. The pride the workers have in their achievements is tangible.
In recognition for the support form the local and wider community, Puchiwu would like to give something back. Wayne discussed several options including:
  • Taking TOs back to country. TOs have difficulty in getting back to country because of the local roads. Best access is by sea and Puchiwu can legally take up to 10 people in their two boats back to country.
  • Could take a couple of Elders and some young people back to country. Would need help to get child size life jackets and perhaps some other support.
  • Interested in working with high school students to develop marine survival skills and a connection to sea country. Some are simple understandings such as going north in the morning when the north easters blow so you come home with the waves. Others are more critical such as knowing where to find fresh water along the coast. Some of these students could be future employees.
  • Puchiwu is interested in possible monitoring work and feeding information back to organisations who could use it. Later we explored the Eye on the Reef monitoring sheet and discussed the subset of information on that sheet that the group could provide sustainably. The current information is too detailed to be reported on regularly. Paul will discuss the usefulness of cut down information with the Eye on the Reef coordinator to see if this would be a useful way to go. The main advantage in Puchiwu monitoring is there seems to be little regular monitoring happening in the Lockhart section of the reef. Puchiwu divers are underwater for several hours a day five days a week for about 8 months of the year so have extensive opportunities to monitor. Other possibilities will be explored.
  • Community bonding activities such as community shirts, shared fishing trips, sporting teams like the Lockhart Scorpions of the past, possibly clean ups or repairs to the church which is quite run down. “Things that people can see and be proud about.”

There is a big need for one TMMRA covering all the local groups – perhaps with parts that are specific to each group if needed. One TUMRA would help bring the community together. It is also important to deal with the lots of pressure coming from neighbouring groups taking Lockhart resources. “We need an agreement to control it.”

Wayne told how his Aunties and Uncles told stories and showed how to do things. Look Listen and Learn was the basis of his experience. He worked with the experts in the famil. While the eldest male was responsible for passing on knowledge to younger people, there were a lot of people who taught me the things they were best at. Sadly, most of them have died young so “I need to do what I can before my turn comes.”
Wayne talked of the importance of discipline in a hunting group. The group worked through hand signals from the lead hunter and woe betide anyone not paying attention and spoiling the hunt. Developing hunting skills in youth would demonstrate the need for such discipline.
Wayne had other stories of great effort including one about his grandmother who walked from Lockhart back to the mouth of the Nesbitt River when the clans were told to disperse near the start of the 1939 war. He is a source of many inspiring stories, is very well read about the history of the community and is a charismatic speaker. He has much to offer local youth through his example and personality. He is keen to begin looking for the next generation of workers – “girls as well”.
Wayne recommended others who may contribute to the program including:
  • Chris Dean who lives and works on a block near Stony Creek running a crabbing business.
  • Patrick Wasu is currently the PCYC coordinator and has applied (successfully) to be the Men’s group Coordinator. We met Patrick briefly on the plane back to Cairns and need to follow up with him on the second visit once he has had a chance to settle into his new role.
More information available about Puchiwu at:

What we learned to help with Reef Guardian Councils

We met with the Deputy Mayor and the Engineering Services Manager separately to compile information about Lockhart council’s environmental achievements and plans. The council has undertaken some measures and we were able to compile a reasonable list. They are keen to work with us to build environmental measures into their operational plan.
The Engineering Services Manager warmed to us as we talked with him, so much so, we have an invitation to undertake specific tasks with him in the next few weeks and with council upon our return. We will offer ideas to put into the strategic plan, assist him to present to council and plan a workshop for council employees on out next visit. It was a very productive discussion.
This council will work towards becoming a Reef Guardian Council with GBRMPA over the next year and is quite positive about the possibilities.