For Riverland locals Billy Cook and Tyson Lange, it has taken a journey to one of the Murray’s most remote water storages to help truly appreciate the heritage and natural beauty in their own backyard.
The young pair recently joined SA Water as Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Trainees at the historic Lake Victoria, which is a culturally significant site for the Barkandji and Maraura people near the border between New South Wales and South Australia.
Lake Victoria is a naturally-occurring water storage providing off-river water supply to help regulate river flow into the lower River Murray stretch in South Australia.
“I’ve grown up in bushland along the River Murray spending most of my down time fishing, camping or boating, so working in the Aussie bush is where I’ve always wanted to be,” Tyson said.
“It is exciting to work every day in such a beautiful and remote part of Australia, and knowing that the work we do every day to help protect the area’s rich culture and environmental health is an amazing experience.”
Billy and Tyson, Ngarrindjeri and Kokatha men respectively, are tasked with protecting the site’s environmental health and cultural heritage as part of their two-year placement, including native plant propagation and revegetation around the lake, fencing, weed control and managing pests like feral pigs, cats and other animals.
More recently, the team have started using drones to help monitor vegetation around the lake, count kangaroo numbers and seed areas to encourage plant growth.
“While we like getting our hands dirty in the name of conservation, the most important part of what we do is the monitoring and protection of Aboriginal ancestral artefacts and burial sites,” Billy said.
“We also got to take part in the annual ‘emu bob’ event with traditional land owners, which involved trekking more than 20 kilometres over four days to help uncover new burial sites and artefacts.
"I have learnt so much more than I already knew about the amazing cultural heritage and history of Lake Victoria, and why it’s Important to preserve this for future generations.
“While the cold and frosty mornings can be a struggle at times, I love that what we’re doing is helping recover the environment to be what it was originally, and for all people.”
Also completing their part-time studies in their certificate 4 in conservation and land management at the Mildura TAFE campus, Billy and Tyson both hope their future career remains in the bush.
“I’d like to keep working around Lake Victoria for SA Water after my two-year traineeship is finished, but I am also considering working closer to home around areas like Pike River or Lyrup Flats in conservation and land management,” Tyson says.
“I know Billy also has his sights set on heading to university to studying archaeology, so this is an amazing stepping stone to our career goals in conservation and environmental studies.”
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