Murra Murra & Bendee Downs

A Kooma man who spent part of his childhood on Murra Murra and Bendee Downs stations, says that when he’s not feeling at peace, or has “bad spirits”, he just has to go out there in order to find peace again. 

Murra Murra and Bendee Downs cover around 87,000 hectares of land, located about 130 kilometres east of Cunnamulla. The properties were acquired by the Indigenous Land Corporation and since July 2000 has been managed by the Kooma Traditional Owners Association Incorporated as an Indigenous Protected Area. The IPA listing means that there is funding to pay a Ranger who cares for the land and also acts as a guide for visitors. 

The Kooma custodians act as mentors and teachers for young people – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal - who come to learn more about the country and its history, and those who attend Healing Camps there. The old Murra Murra homestead, a beautiful old Queenslander house with wide shady verandahs on all sides, has been set up as a training centre. While the fabric of the house is old, it can sleep up to 20 people and includes a large kitchen, and a boardroom where the Kooma Traditional Owners Association meets to discuss management of the land. The Association aims to attract as many young people as possible, including young people in crisis, to keep them in the community rather than in jail. They have found that as long as they have access to the internet, young people are happy and learn a lot from their stay on Murra Murra: “Kids change when they come here”.

Murra Murra and Bendee Downs were selected for purchase because of their great landscape diversity, including clay-pans that become lakes in the wet season, box tree swamps, and areas of brigalow, mulga, gidgee and spinifex. There are over 250 lakes, hundreds of types of frog, known for the healing properties in their skin secretions, koalas, and many kinds of bat and other creatures that live in the trees. The landscapes and even the colours of the rocks change dramatically from season to season; a carpet of purple and white flowers appears after rain. Pieces of petrified wood can be found, formed through a process similar to the creation of opal, which is found throughout the South-West region. The properties cover ecologically important creeks and wetlands that form part of the Murray Darling System, including the Nebine Creek and a permanent waterhole 4 kilometres long behind Murra Murra homestead which was never known to be dry (http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/bottles_from_the_basin/ktoai_the_nebine_waterhole), that is until two years ago. In Nebine Creek are fish such as carp, catfish and yellowbelly, as well as crayfish. Bush foods that grow on the properties include bush limes, wild oranges, passionfruit and bush bananas.

Riverview from the Murra Murra Homestead
Murra Murra Homestead
Murra Murra Kooma Canoe

Management of the properties includes caring for its natural landscapes and wildlife, using old and new knowledge. For example the Ranger will tell visitors that if you fold over a gum leaf and it doesn’t snap, then you know that the koalas are getting enough water to survive. Feral cats and dogs are a constant threat to the wildlife, and remain difficult to manage. Spinifex needs to burnt off regularly or it prevents other grasses growing - grasses that were a traditional source of seeds for grinding into flour. Fire is also used to control weeds and burs, although it is generally too hot to burn off in summer. Any land clearing needs to be done in a way that maintains corridors for animals. The drought of two years ago, when the Nebine Waterhole dried up for the first time, also had a severe effect on small birds that relied on the waterhole as a constant source of water. Aboriginal healing-the-river dances used to be performed every few years, all the way down to the mouth of the Murray River, the dancers stopping off along the way with different Aboriginal groups.

The Kooma Traditional Owners Association has in the past leased the land to cattle farmers, but recently acquired 800 sheep and had their first shearing in late 2016.  Eventually two-thirds of Murra Murra will run stock, and one-third will be preserved to return to its natural state. Running stock, the Ranger says, is a “necessary evil” to ensure that the property is financially sustainable and complies with the purchase conditions.  Another contributor to the properties’ financial sustainability is a large free-standing solar panel array which not only provides sufficient power for the properties but also brings in an income by producing excess power that is returned to the grid.

 

 

Of greatest significance for Aboriginal people, however, is the large number of sites that bear witness to Aboriginal occupation, possibly up to 40,000 years ago. These include rock cores and the sharp stone fragments that were cut from them, grooves in rock surfaces where bush seeds were ground to make damper, rocky outcrops where ochre was harvested for painting, stone fish traps that stranded fish after the wet season waters abated, and rock wells fed by natural springs: “You only have to walk two hours in any direction and there’s water in the ground.” The Ranger will explain to the visitor how spinifex was heated over fire to produce a thick resin, used to bind stone blades to a knife handle – large axe blades were bound with twine. Other sites on the property include a vast Bora ground where people gathered to pay respect to the country, and the remnants of rock fireplaces. The Ranger tells visitors that there will always be yet another discovery to be made on Murra Murra.

Murra Murra Homestead

Riverview from the Murra Murra Homestead

Murra Murra Kooma canoe

Murra Murra Clay Pan

The Kooma Traditional Owners Association has in the past leased the land to cattle farmers, but recently acquired 800 sheep and had their first shearing in late 2016.  Eventually two-thirds of Murra Murra will run stock, and one-third will be preserved to return to its natural state. Running stock, the Ranger says, is a “necessary evil” to ensure that the property is financially sustainable and complies with the purchase conditions.  Another contributor to the properties’ financial sustainability is a large free-standing solar panel array which not only provides sufficient power for the properties but also brings in an income by producing excess power that is returned to the grid.

Murra Murra clay pan

Murra Murra fish trap, with seed-grinding grooves adjacent

Of greatest significance for Aboriginal people, however, is the large number of sites that bear witness to Aboriginal occupation, possibly up to 40,000 years ago. These include rock cores and the sharp stone fragments that were cut from them, grooves in rock surfaces where bush seeds were ground to make damper, rocky outcrops where ochre was harvested for painting, stone fish traps that stranded fish after the wet season waters abated, and rock wells fed by natural springs: “You only have to walk two hours in any direction and there’s water in the ground.” The Ranger will explain to the visitor how spinifex was heated over fire to produce a thick resin, used to bind stone blades to a knife handle – large axe blades were bound with twine. Other sites on the property include a vast Bora ground where people gathered to pay respect to the country, and the remnants of rock fireplaces. The Ranger tells visitors that there will always be yet another discovery to be made on Murra Murra.

Murra Murra spring-fed rock well, now silted up
Murra Murra fish trap

Murra Murra spring-fed rock well, now silted up

While natural springs were a source of water for Aboriginal people before colonisation, the heavy demand for water by colonial farmers for their stock meant that different kinds of wells were built, using Aboriginal labour. One such well, cut by hand through stone and many metres deep, can be seen next to the now disused water tank that it fed. Nearby is an ancient Aboriginal rock well, where water is near the surface and filters through one basin to settle in the next basin, ready for drinking. However the location decided for the station-owner’s well meant that deep excavation through rock was required to reach water. The Ranger explains that over-use of artesian water and bores left constantly overflowing, have caused a drop in the water levels, making it harder to reach, but as the land is being cared for more sustainably and bores are being capped, the water level is recovering.

Elsewhere on the property, the labour of Aboriginal people in the early 1900s has been preserved in a remarkable rabbit-proof fence. Running alongside a barbed wire and mesh fence are short vertical split timber logs buried over two feet into the ground, closely abutting each other and standing out of the ground to a height sufficient to stop the rabbits. This line of buried timbers runs in each direction as far as the eye can see, and is a testament to the invaluable work that was performed by Aboriginal people on properties for little or no wages.

Rabbit-proof fence, Murra Murra Station
Natural spring-fed pond, Murra Murra

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Rabbit-proof fence on Murra Murra Station built with Aboriginal labour in the early 1900s

Natural spring-fed pond at Murra Murra

We would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and the areas in which we work. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community and pay our respect to the

Elders, past, present and future.

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