THE MURNONG TRAIL
From the time when a parcel of land in Mt. Clear, Ballarat was designated in 1964 as the place for the senior campus of the former Sacred Heart College Ballarat East, staff and students at what is now Damascus College, Ballarat have been aware of the beauty of the native bush that occupies around a quarter of the College site.
In 2012, a move was made to designate a section of track through the bush as a biodiversity trail. This was prompted by Damascus Sustainability Coordinator, David Neate’s attendance at a professional development session on Indigenous Agriculture led by Catherine Henbest and Gwen Michener (CEO Melbourne) and held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne. A feature of the session was the great importance to the first Australians of the yam daisy or murnong, which was cultivated by their women. A couple of months after this event and now knowing what the plant looked like, David was stunned to discover a sizeable patch of murnong growing in the bush at Damascus and subsequently found it quite widespread there. It was once found extensively across western Victoria, but most has disappeared under the onslaught of exotic pasture and grazing livestock.
Creating the Trail
Together with the previous Sustainability Coordinator, Justin Brennan, David prepared a grant application in April 2014 for Communities for Nature funding which successfully gained $10,000 to pay for trail materials, signage and plants. Preparation for the Trail involved a range of groups and individuals. Student Amelia Johnson put her art skills to work to provide beautiful line drawings of the murnong and other native plants which will be showcased on the interpretative signage throughout the trail. Amelia said that she is very passionate about the environment and feels a sense of duty to protect it. “I also love to draw and was thrilled to be involved in the creation of the pictorial elements to be used by the College to showcase the Murnong trail,” she said.
Wadawurrung staff were generous in their provision of information about Indigenous use of plants and the significance of key species, and energised the group by their enthusiasm for the project. On a practical front, College groundsman cleared a large number of wildling pines from the bush and there was tremendous support from the College’s student Green Group, from staff members and from College family members. Several working bees saw large piles of fallen timber tidied up, weeds controlled, and finally 500 specimens of indigenous trees, herbaceous plants and grasses were planted.
Opening the Trail
The Trail was opened in November 2015, with a smoking ceremony led by Uncle Bryon Powell, and prayers led by Sr Therese Power rsm. It has been used by classes as diverse as French, Science and English and offers an introduction to the culture of the Wadawurrung for our Humanities students. Its value as a reflective walk is appreciated by individual staff members as well.
Damascus College aims to provide QR code links at the various stations along the Trail to websites for animal and bird identification, nesting box design, and other related topics in Science, Humanities and Sustainability. With improved care for the murnong, it may be that the College can bring it back to the size that would have been harvested by Indigenous women, and enjoy it more widely. The long-term goal for sustainable management of the bush that surrounds the Trail is to initiate a mosaic-burning programme, providing bushfire protection for the College and renewal of the bushland, and honouring the wisdom of Indigenous agriculture. Public use of the Trail is limited by its situation at the back of the College, but if you would like a guided tour, we would be happy to oblige.
Significance to the College
The Year of Mercy, with its call to hear “the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth”, has brought renewed focus on the stewardship of nature, not just for what it can give the College, but for its intrinsic worth. The humble yam daisy is a resilient symbol of the rich biodiversity that was on the campus before the gold rush and of the agricultural husbandry of the land by the traditional owners – an aspect of their culture which had been largely ignored. It is significant that it is the logo for the Wadawurrung people and Damascus proudly displays this logo on the information sign for the Trail.
Messages to: David Neate – Sustainability Coordinator Damascus College
1) Amelia Johnson
2) Walking on the trail.