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Indigenous Award Winner Speaks of Importance of Landcare

A LEADING authority on cultural heritage in north west Victoria has won the prestigious “Indigenous Land Management Award” at the 2013 Victorian Landcare Awards. Ken Stewart is a Wamba Wamba descendant who has worked in the fields of cultural heritage and natural resource management for more than 20 years.

Hear from Minister Ryan Smith and Ken Stewart in the video below.

Ken is currently The Living Murray Indigenous Facilitator at the Mallee Catchment
Management Authority (CMA), where he has been working on major environmental
projects across the region since 2006.

“It is wonderful to see such a genuine and hard-working individual recognised,” Mallee
CMA chairperson Sharyon Peart said.

“Ken’s knowledge and commitment, his practical approach and his skills as a conciliator
extend well beyond his professional role.

“He has earned wide respect within Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and
from a broad spectrum of interest groups dealing with cultural issues across Victoria and
interstate.”

Ken began working in the field of cultural heritage in the 1990s, when he was appointed as
a supervisor on a cultural heritage program involving a group of young, unemployed
Indigenous trainees on protection work for sensitive sites.

Ken’s skills in forming partnerships and working collaboratively on projects came to the
fore, and he has since been involved in dozens of projects looking after Aboriginal
interests on country such as the Robinvale Bridge, Mildura Marina, Lake Baker Road
(Lake Boga), and The Living Murray environmental projects at Lindsay, Mulcra and
Wallpolla Islands, Hattah Lakes (VIC) and Chowilla Floodplain (SA).

“Ken’s devotion to his professional work has evolved into a personal commitment to
protecting sensitive Indigenous sites and building understanding in Indigenous and non-
Indigenous communities on cultural heritage,” Ms Peart said.

“Ken is passionate about the protection of sites of Aboriginal significance, but his approach
to achieving goals is always based on collaboration and respect.”

All of Ken’s professional and voluntary work is based on a philosophy that good decisions
will be made by building understanding about Aboriginal culture. He believes an
appreciation of the traditional knowledge and learnings will inform decision-making.

“A lot people think Aboriginal stuff is just about sticks and bones – It’s not just about
cultural heritage, it’s about the landscape,” Ken said.

“It’s about the environment, the trees, the water, even the weeds because not all weeds
are weeds to us. For example, people think cumbungi is bad, but if you go where the
cumbungi is the water will be better to drink than somewhere where there is no cumbungi.”

Ken has developed also a cross-cultural training program specifically for north west
Victoria. The training is provided to Indigenous youth, Landcare groups, departmental staff
and workers (as a formal requirement) on large construction jobs. The program includes
learning about Aboriginal history and training in identification of scar trees, artefacts and
human remains.

The training also builds understanding of the landscape by providing an Indigenous
perspective. For most participants in the cross-cultural training, it is the first time they
have been exposed to Indigenous culture. Ken has delivered this training package on
numerous occasions over the past seven years and tailors each program to the audience.

It is one of very few cultural heritage training packages provided in the region.
As for winning the Landcare Award, Ken is humbled.

“It’s acknowledgement that Indigenous people are breaking down barriers and our
connection to country is being recognised,” he said.
“People are starting to understand that Indigenous people have a really important role to
play in looking after our landscape.”

Ken is also very aware of the importance of sharing his knowledge about the region with
younger generations.

“Elders have passed on information and trusted me to do the right thing with it,” Ken said.
“To get that and have that, it’s an honour in its own right. When it’s time I’ll pass it on to
someone else, but I’ll make sure they will use it in the right way.”

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