Friends of the Earth podcast history series made in collaboration with 3CR 855 AM community radio show Acting Up! Monday 2.00pm. Ratbags, peaceniks and agents of change, resistance radio that explores the movements that made us.
45 years of Acting Up! Friends of the Earth Barmah-Millewa Collective audio episode
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Presenter: Megan Williams.
Guests: Aunty Monica Morgan (Yorta Yorta), Jono La Nauze, Indira Narayan.
River Red Gum forest and wetlands (photo: Environment Victoria)
Follow the mighty Murray River 200km north of Melbourne to where the Barmah-Millewa forest grows. This ancient expanse of woodlands and vital wetlands is the largest River Red Gum forest in the world. In 1998 Yorta Yorta leaders, the Indigenous custodians, asked Friends of the Earth to join them in a campaign to protect Barmah-Millewa and re-establish their right to manage their river country, forming the Barmah-Millewa Collective in 2000. Listen and learn how 12 years of resistance, resilience and activist alliances led to the creation of Barmah-Millewa National Parks and Protected Areas in Victoria and NSW, to be returned and co-managed by Traditional Owners. Read on to find out how you can help Friends of the Earth to protect rivers and forests in 2020 into the future.
Key moments: Friends of the Earth Barmah-Millewa Collective
Since European invasion, Yorta Yorta people maintain an unbroken campaign for their land rights and the health of country.
1998 The Barmah-Millewa campaign is proposed at the Dharnya Centre occupation on the traditional territory of the Yorta Yorta people, to protect Native Title, stop land clearing and protect water rights. Many Traditional Owners and supporters including FOE activists and trade unionists attend the occupation where new alliances and campaigns are created with Indigenous leaders to protect the forests along the length of the Murray river.
Downstream at Nyah-Vinifera, 1,000 ha of River Red Gum forest on Wadi Wadi country is also threatened with renewed logging after a twenty-year absence. A parallel campaign forms the Friends of Nyah-Vinifera.
Friends of the Earth Melbourne hosts an Indigenous solidarity gathering to push for protection of Barmah-Millewa, to stop uranium mining and to support Indigenous land rights.
2000 The Barmah-Millewa Collective (BMC) forms after a request from the Yorta Yorta people for Friends of the Earth to join their campaign to protect Barmah-Millewa land and water rights and for traditional custodians to reclaim and co-manage River Red Gum country. Founding members of the BMC Peter Barker, Indira Narayan and Lisa Ward, are soon joined by Emmaline Schooneveldt-Reid, Lindy Orthia and Jono La Nauze. Native Title claims and sustainable economic plans are developed to support the Yorta Yorta people’s justice for land and people strategy.
The Yorta Yorta people lead protests against the Kennett and Howard governments’ racist “10 point plan” to water down Native Title legislation.
An alliance emerges from discussions at the Dharnya occupation forming the Murray and Lower Darling rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), an Indigenous federation that becomes a driving force in the fight to protect the cultural and ecological integrity of the Murray-Darling system, one of the BMC’s key allies.
The following years see extensive lobbying of both State and Federal governments to have Red Gum forests protected. Direct actions include blockading illegal logging operations, lobbying, community education and outreach. Alliances grow and battlelines join along the river to form a unified campaign by Traditional Owners, numerous conservation groups and trade unions.
2008 The BMC campaign grows along the length of the Murray river, and with the combined efforts of many allies, Yorta Yorta people achieve victory in December for control of country, their heartland.
“On the long road to land justice, Barmah-Millewa has always been a beacon for Yorta Yorta people. Over the past decade Friends of the Earth have walked this road with us, becoming a trusted ally and true friend. Together we’ve notched up a great milestone with the creation of Barmah-Millewa National Park, creating a cultural and ecological foundation for Yorta Yorta into the future.”
Neville Atkinson, Chairperson, Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation.
2009 Initially, the Victorian government protects 91,000 ha of River Red Gum forest for new parklands, including Barmah National Park and Nyah-Vinifera Park. Environment groups applaud the Victorian government's announcement of its plan to create a chain of new River Red Gum National parks.
2010 In Victoria over 250,000ha of new Red Gum National Parks and Protected Areas are created, many to be co-managed or handed back to Traditional Owners. New South Wales cave to community pressure and protect a further 114,000 ha, including Millewa. In both Victoria and NSW, these forests are singled out for co-management by their Indigenous custodians. Red Gum National Parks are created along the Murray, Goulburn and Ovens rivers in northern Victoria. FOE worked alongside Traditional Owners for almost 12 years to help secure this outcome.
“What was so significant about this campaign was the fact it brought Indigenous aspirations about land and development so closely together with biodiversity protection. It has set a new benchmark for the creation of national parks. Indigenous communities are, once again, key players in managing a significant part of their traditional lands”.
Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth.
Winter 2010 Weeks after the parks are officially launched, floodwaters begin to trickle on to the forest floor after a decade of drought. Barmah-Millewa and Nyah-Vinifera are inundated with water, allowing fish, birds and aquatic plant life to thrive. The River Red Gum woodlands and wetlands come back to life along the Murray river throughout Spring and Summer.
2011 FOE and the Inland Rivers Network release a report on the environmental water needs of major wetlands, lakes and river reaches in the Murray Darling Basin.
The Barmah-Millewa Collective campaign is highlighted in Friends of the Earth International 2011 book, 40 years of struggle and successes. Read full article here.
2013 Building on successful campaigns to protect River Red Gum forests and secure environmental flows through the Murray Darling Basin Plan, FOE Melbourne's Barmah-Millewa campaign focuses on developing an advocacy campaign for Indigenous water rights. Two films, 'Cultural Flows', are completed with Traditional Owners along the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, highlighting Indigenous people's deep connections to rivers and waterways in their country.
2014 FOE's Barmah-Millewa campaign successfully mobilises community pressure to stall damaging 'scientific logging trials' in River Red Gum national parks.
2015 ‘Saving the River Red Gums: an historic conservation victory’ published in Chain Reaction magazine (no. 123, April) Friends of the Earth Australia. Read full article here.
2020 Friends of the Earth Melbourne: mobilise - resist – transform
Join Friends of the Earth River Country campaign