Whittaker’s Lagoon living classroom comes to life

WHITTAKER’S Lagoon in Moree, a culturally significant site for the Gomeroi/Kamilaroi people, has been transformed into a unique “living classroom” for high school students to learn about the environment and traditional ways of caring for Country.

The Whittaker’s Lagoon living classroom encourages Moree Secondary College students to engage in cultural learning and works to protect and boost the health of rivers, wetlands and threatened species.

OzFish Unlimited, Australia’s only recreational fishing charity, is leading the project in partnership with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), NSW Department of Education, Moree Local Aboriginal Land Council, Northern Slopes Landcare, Moree Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and Moree Secondary College. The project has received funding support from the NSW Government’s Water for the Environment and Saving our Species programs.

Michael Kirk, Gomeroi/Kamilaroi Cultural Officer for OzFish, is committed to ensuring the program incorporates important cultural knowledge.

“Back in the day, Whittaker’s Lagoon and other local rivers like the Mehi, were used for all our water needs – drinking, hunting, eating, as a meeting place, even washing,” Kirk said.

“It was full of life, with birds, frogs, fish, insects, plants, other animals and people all working together. It’s incredibility important that this is protected and restored, and through the work of OzFish working with local students, we now have a means to continue passing on cultural knowledge and stories.

“Students can learn from our past and we can learn from them. I’ve never seen anything like it in our region and I’m thrilled to have this living classroom in my Gomeroi/Kamilaroi country.”

Students from Moree Secondary College will spend time in the lagoon building yarning circles, learning about fish habitat, weed control and modern science techniques. Workshops at the unique outdoor classroom will see traditional culture, heritage and land-use knowledge passed from one generation to the next.

“We are proud that the work we have been leading with recreational fishers, the local community and partners, has got us to the point where young people can enjoy Whittaker’s Lagoon as an environment in which to enrich themselves in learning and grow with the project,” said Harry Davey, OzFish Northern Basin project officer.

“This project will deliver benefits for the local community, including enhanced skillsets across fishing, ecological project management and an increased cultural connection.”

The project underlines OzFish’s commitment to building partnerships in local communities with traditional owners, to revive habitats and fishing locations in a sustainable way.

Kerrie Saunders from Yinarr-Ma Bush Tucker Tours welcomed the opportunities the Whittaker’s Lagoon initiative would bring.

“It’s very important to our community to tell our stories and pass on cultural knowledge,” Ms Saunders said.

“The career opportunities will be enormous for these students as it will open their minds to new pathways. To get that experience while at school and kickstart a passion for land management and conservation incorporating traditional knowledge and land practices is exciting.

“They’ll get to know their natural native surroundings from both a biodiversity and a cultural perspective.     

“It’s going to make a healthy place – healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy people.”

The seven-hectare lagoon, which had been disconnected from natural river flows by development and upstream river changes, has been revived thanks to regular deliveries of environmental water since 2009.

“The isolated lagoon is now home to an increasing number of aquatic plants, turtles, yabbies and frog species, including the barking marsh frog and white-necked herons,” said David Preston from DPE’s water for the environment team.

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