Rebirth on Roe 8

A solitary eucalyptus sprouts among the glade.

Further east, a number of planted trees blanket the lacklustre soil.

The regeneration of Roe 8 is underway, following the controversial clearing works last year, and the spring shoots betoken hope.

“As the trees grow, the community can heal,” says Gail Beck, a Noongar woman that’s the Regional Development Unit Manager at South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council and is on the advisory team for the restoration.

The revegetation will restore a sense of community and place for noongar and non-indigenous people alike, Miss Beck says.

 Photography by  Duncan Wright

Photography by Duncan Wright


Led by the Rehabilitating Roe 8 Working Group, the initial remedial work has been completed, which has included spraying the weeds, clearing the asbestos and removing mulch piles.

Removing mulch from was the first priority to avoid suffocation of plants. The winter rains has helped facilitate natural growth along the seven different damaged ecosystems including the Beeliar Wetlands, Heathlands, Banksia and Tuart woodlands, Dr Guy Boggs says, Restoration Leader of the Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute (WABSI).

Dr Boggs is co-chairing the Scientific Advisory Committee, a group comprising of university, government and local experts providing the science behind the restoration.

“A key priority for us is having a better understanding of how to restore ecosystems on the Swan Coastal Plain.  We’re excited about bringing together the best scientific expertise to support this important project,” he says.

With the assistance of the scientific advisory committee and the newly appointed environmental consultants, the Roe 8 Working Group will develop a 10-year management plan to rehabilitate the area.

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The topsoil wasn’t removed so some areas have already naturally germinated, but the revegetation won’t be without challenges.

The Banksia woodlands are unlikely to reseed because they hold their seed in the canopy and wouldn’t of dropped during the clearing.

According to a study by Murdoch University the biology of banksias are not well understood and

germination rates and early survival is dependent on a plethora of volatile factors, including the amount of cover, soil nutrients, amount of broken down organic matter, pH, depth of topsoil, the organisms living in the soil, and, most importantly, weed cover.

Weeds fight with natives for nutrients and shelter foreign invertebrate that feast on new growths.

Scientists have started to keep an eye on plots of land to monitor natural growth with the long-term aim of a self-sustaining habitat.

While glad the bulldozers have stopped, Miss Beck believes the regeneration is a mere hiatus in an ongoing struggle for unrestricted access to and unassailable protection of the lake areas.

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“Not ownership in the mainstream sense,” she clarifies. “We want access to it for cultural purposes without fear...a meeting place for a ranger program and a place where we can take our people.”

She nods west to a forest reserve where urban development has already encroached. “We’re not fussed about all over there. All we’re saying is,”she thumps the table with each word. “Don’t. Touch. The. Sacred. Places.”  

“This place, in modern terms, is a cathedral, a university, and a parliament house.”

The area is also a birthing place and a cemetery and a place not just for the Beeliar people. Mobs from across the Canning River down to Pinjarra and, at special times, leaders from Kalgoorlie would congregate for ceremony, discussions and celebrations, she explains.

Miss Beck says the site intersects with ‘massive songlines,’ which are labyrinths of atavistic stories and pathways connecting the whole country and to all the people that inhabit it.

Miss Beck pensively gazes onto Walliabup (Bibra) lake, demonstrating a reverence for the sanctity of the site, a reverence that has been ignored. The Barnett government, according to the Herald, took Bibra Lake and scores of other sacred sites off the register, saying there was “no Aboriginal cultural material” in the site boundary after an insubstantial 20cm dig.

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Joe Dortch, a research fellow with the centre for rock art research and management at the University of Western Australia, told the Herald that from a series of 1m excavations the team of archaeologists and the aboriginal community uncovered quartz crystals, granite and chert that may have been used for grinding stones or cutting tools. The artefacts dated up to 33,000 years old, making the site one of the oldest on the swan coastal plain.

The area includes a number of interwoven ecosystems spanning over 26 lakes and 3400 hectares of land. The ecosystems work in sync to provide an ongoing habitat for 220 plant species and 123 bird species, including the endangered Carnaby’s Cockatoo and migratory bird species which convene along the swan coastal plain as a stop off on a 25,000 km journey to breeding grounds in the tundra of Siberia.

Although the site has not been relisted on the heritage register, Kim Dravnieks, Community Wildlife Corridor co-convenor, assures that the application has been sent and is waiting to hear back from the department.

While the site continues to be unregistered, Miss Beck says it’s not over.  

But she does believe that the restoration has sparked a new wave of enthusiasm that’s creating awareness in the greater community.

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Miss Beck says the land is a thread that can connect all and everyone can help by simply becoming aware and by respecting ancient culture.

“Educate yourself on the truth and dispel the myths,” she says.

There will be a celebration—a smoking ceremony followed by dancing— at the wetlands on the 21st of October to pay homage to the custodians, celebrate the land and heal as a community.

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As Miss Beck talks of a 500 year-old mooja (christmas tree) — a shrine and a spiritual link to the ancestors, which sits just east of Bibra lake — a willy wagtail flutters to her foot. The bird twists and flicks its tail, nearing closer. Miss Beck smiles. “That’s my totem,” she says.

The rain abates and the birds begin to sing in concert. Grinning, Miss Beck has to raise her voice to be heard.

“I noticed that during the whole drama the birds stopped singing like this and it was really quite beautiful they’ve started to come back.”