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Yaluk LangaIndigenous Garden

The Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people hold an important cultural association to the Birrarung/Yarra River. The Heide grounds and surrounding areas are central to the traditional homelands of their Wurundjeri willam ancestors and creation beliefs. Yaluk Langa (‘River’s Edge’ in Woiwurrung language) is a collaborative indigenous garden project developed between Traditional Owners and the Heide team, together with landscape architect Katherine Rekaris. Yaluk Langa provides opportunities for Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people to achieve their responsibilities in caring for Country, what is known as Bunjil’s Law, and to highlight their living culture.

The river’s edge of the Heide site has a different character to the rest of the gardens. In 1934, a year of record floods in Melbourne, indigenous seed borne by the floodwaters self-sowed in this area, eventually resulting in vegetation that contrasted with the highly managed exotic garden planted by Heide founders John and Sunday Reed. In the 1960s, prompted by a broader environmental awakening and by his observations of the changed nature of this section of Heide, John Reed decided to preserve and rehabilitate as much as possible of the river frontage. Hoping to re-create a sense of the pre-colonial environment, he researched and planted indigenous species endemic to this part of the river valley, with some of his plantings remaining today. In many ways Yaluk Langa is a continuation and significant expansion of John Reed’s vision.

photograph: Clytie Meredith

Yaluk Langa has become a vital and evolving chapter in the Heide story, transforming our relationship with our Traditional Owners and with the land and waters on which the museum is located. Funding from the Albert and Barbara Tucker Foundation in 2018-20 provided the means to undertake essential weeding and revegetation work along the river’s edge and the development of a Concept Design Framework led by Urban Initiatives Landscape Architects in consultation with Wurundjeri Woi -wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, Wurundjeri Elders and community and Heide staff.

During the consultation process the Heide team learned much about the significance of the integrated billabong and river system in the wider Bulleen-Banyule Flats area. We were privileged to be given access by Wurundjeri Corporation to a pilot Cultural Values Study for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) (see overview here), which details First historic and contemporary use and occupancy of the flats and surrounding land. The study determined that present day Heidelberg and Bulleen is a cultural landscape shaped and constructed across millennia through Wurundjeri Woiwurrung occupation, land management, and social and cultural practice. This deepened our understanding and appreciation of the vital significance of the Birrarung/Yarra River and its landscape for First Peoples, and the role we can all play in Caring for Country.

photograph: Clytie Meredith

photograph: Clytie Meredith

photograph: Clytie Meredith

photograph: Clytie Meredith

The Yaluk Langa Concept Design Framework sets out Heide’s plans to protect, rehabilitate and transform a 10,000 square metre area across the museum’s entire river frontage into five experiential zones, including a dense bushland, ephemeral wetlands, grasslands, a gathering space, and a reconciliation garden. The implementation of the Design Framework in the coming years will create an accessible and culturally safe space for Wurundjeri, First Peoples and the broader community for learning, ceremony, cultural knowledge sharing, storytelling and reconciliation. Work is already well underway on revegetation works, with the Heide gardeners assisted by the Friends of Yaluk Langa volunteer group, following a land management plan developed in consultation with the Wurundjeri Narrap team (Natural Resources Management team). Another culturally significant milestone in the Yaluk Langa journey has been the ceremonial scarring of trees in the ephemeral wetland zone by Wurundjeri Elders and Narrap Rangers, made possible through a grant from Manningham City Council.

While consultation and collaboration continues, Yaluk Langa is attracting local interest and greater active use of this peaceful and secluded area of the Heide gardens. Research is underway for an interpretation plan, including the creation of signage and co-designed school and community programs, with more exciting developments to come.

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