Mount Sandy, 150km from Adelaide in South Australia, is a place of ecological significance and cultural wonder.
Why? Not only does it host a rare pocket of native vegetation in an area now largely fragmented by agriculture, it also represents generations of First Nations People who have gathered, lived and hunted on the land for millenia.
South Pole has partnered with globally-recognised biodiversity experts Cassinia on the Mount Sandy Conservation project, which brings together the Traditional Custodians with non-Indigenous Australians in the name of environmental conservation and people partnerships.
Image: Mount Sandy protects one of the last remaining pockets of native vegetation in a region dominated by cattle ranching.
Steeped in millenia of cultural importance, this area cannot be understood without delving into its history. Nestled between the Coorong National Park and Lake Albert, the property is located on the traditional lands of the Ngarrindjeri people. A place of Dreamtime, vitality and refuge, the Ngarrindjeri people named the Southern Ocean as their address and these woodlands and wetlands as their backyards. David Unaipon, a prominent figure in Australia's history who is pictured on the Australian $50 note, is a Ngarrindjeri man who was born in this region.
Image: David Unaipon (1872-1967) of the Ngarrindjeri people was a preacher, author and inventor credited with breaking many Aboriginal stereotypes thanks to his contribution to Australian society.
The privately owned site of Mount Sandy forms a vital wildlife link between Lake Albert and the Coorong. It is a rare remaining stand of untouched vegetation, from coastal shrubland to saline swamps that act as an exceptional habitat for endemic wildlife such as the short-beaked echidna, purple-gaped honeyeater and elegant parrot. As a unique mix of both freshwater and saltwater wetlands and coastal woodlands, the area is ecologically important and carbon-rich.
However, recent years of fractured local relationships and increased agricultural activity have meant the surrounding Country faces new environmental challenges, namely the extinction of characteristic plants and the subsequent loss of habitat diversity.
Thanks to close collaboration with Ngarrindjeri community Elders, Clyde and Rose Rigney, who manage the project site, the community continues to care for Coorong country. 30km northwest of Mount Sandy is the Raukkan Aboriginal Community, a self-governed community, considered the heartland of Ngarrindjeri Country. The settlement is home to the plant nursery involved in this project's exciting conservation work.
The seeds of endangered vegetation found on the Mount Sandy site have been successfully propagated at the Raukkan nursery and are now ready to be planted this year, through to 2022 and beyond!
Over 30 species of canopy, sub canopy and ground layer vegetation have been noted in the planting plan. This includes native species, such as four species of Acacia, Hakia and Olearia. From retaining water to stabilizing the soil and providing shade, each unique species plays a role in keeping the ecosystem balanced and healthy.
Image: South Pole's Jorge Acevedo and Rhyannon Galea learning about local plants at the Raukkan nursery
“Every plant is different and unique to this place" says Wayne, the Raukkan nursery manager. “Some like heat, some humidity. That's why it's important that we get it right in the nursery, then the flora can be reinstated again to Country. Working with our traditional land and enhancing ecosystems at Mount Sandy is in my blood. It feels right and I'm so happy to be part of this community to maintain our land for the future."
Raukkan community members have also been employed for onsite works such as vegetation monitoring, mapping, fencing, and pest and weed control, continuing their integral contribution to this project.
The Mount Sandy project has breathed new life into this land and strengthened Aboriginal identity by putting the Ngarrindjeri people at the heart of this project.
Image: Ngarrindjeri Elder, Clyde Rigney, photographed in action taking on the weeds.
Through their work at Mount Sandy, Cassinia was shortlisted for the UNCCD Land for Life Award in 2021, reflecting their outstanding approach to habitat restoration and showing that the world has taken notice of what the project has been able to achieve for both people and the environment.
Ultimately, this is a biodiversity project with a greater purpose. It not only protects a rare pocket of biodiversity, but does so through the coming together of Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians working on Country. Big changes are already being seen and will continue in the many more seasons to come, thanks to vital revenue provided by the project and the collaboration of these like-minded individuals. Thanks to these efforts this unique and beautiful land will be reimagined again as a space of Dreams.
Connecting businesses with climate action around the world is what we do. This project is supported by our unique EcoAustralia solution, which allows companies to reach their climate targets while funding community-led biodiversity protection in Australia.