Guugu Yimidhirr Country (Hopevale, QLD)
Bulgun Warra Traditional Owner Harold Ludwick is on the frontline of climate change. Before his eyes, the spiritual and cultural relationships between Bulgun Warra people, animals, Country and the endless cycles that have connected them for millennia are fracturing.
“A 60,000-year knowledge base of co-dependency between Indigenous people, animals and the environment has been handed down from generation to generation. The Old People of the generation before me handed down to us the skills we needed to read nature’s indicators.”
“I am now 52 years of age and our children have grown up not being able to rely on the same indicators which have been used long before their birth. I can only tell the younger generation that there was once a time where the environment and times of harvest were in sync.”
“These changes will become the catalyst for disconnect from cultural and spiritual practices, replaced with an echo only heard by us, combined with the sorrow of how mankind disrespected what sustains them. Our spiritual health will decline as climate change continues to get worse.”
For Harry, hunting is one example of a timeless Bulgun Warra cycle fracturing under the pressures of climate change.
“Hunting is in our DNA, our forebearers hunted in respect of the land. We celebrate the hunt in a spiritual way because we play a part in the raising of the foods by caring for the environment.”
“To hunt successfully, the environment is crucially important to provide indicators as an important tool to tell us the right times to successfully harvest traditional foods.”
Growing up, Harry’s uncles Les and Mervin taught him to hunt. They passed down the skills to identify these environmental indicators and understand the relationship between the seasons, landscapes, ecosystems and the plants and animals that lived and thrived there.
“Just as these skills was handed down to me, these skills have been handed down to my children.”
But hunting has become unpredictable, as the seasons, systems and indicators relied on for generations have changed.
“…the changes in the weather due to climate change are having serious effects on our hunting practice. The weather patterns are not how I remember them when I was being taught.”
“The traditional hunting of wabul (Torresian Imperial Pigeon) during madhi-ga a good example of our reliance on the environment and its patterns as a tool for our sustenance and practising of our culture.”
Wabul is a prized and highly nutritious traditional food for Bulgan Warra people, that are hunted only once a year during their migration that crucially coincides with the madhi-ga (monsoon season).
Three elements are necessary for the hunt. A fruit is required to flower throughout Cape York to encourage the wabul to migrate, limited rainfall throughout the majority of the year is needed, as hot weather supports the growth of the fruit trees and initiates madhi-ga at the right time, and ultimately, madhi-ga must coincide with the migration of wabul.
The combination of the madhi-ga rains and high winds forced the birds to fly lower in the afternoons when they return to roost on the eastern islands, creating the perfect conditions to successfully hunt them.
“Without the unique combination of these weather patterns, our people would have missed out on the important oils and fats these birds the wabul provide.”
“Since around the 1990’s our people have seen more and more unproductive conditions for the successful hunt of the wabul in our regions that I believe are as a result of climate change impacts.”
Bulgun Warra Country now experiences cyclones that decimate wabul populations and fruit trees and unpredictable and increased rainfall that delay madhi-ga season, reduce the number of fruit trees that grow and bring forward the flowering of what fruit trees remain.
“All of this combines to make it much harder for us to hunt wabul, as the ideal conditions are all out of alignment. This marks the decline of an ancient tradition that would nourish our people both culturally and physically.”
“My sons, aged 14, 16, 24 and 27, hunt on a weekly basis to supplement what we can put on the table, but if climate change continues, our people will face a cultural food recession due to poor land and climate management.”
“It is clear that the hunt of the wabul will only be a story around the campfire of what it used to be.”
“...before too long, these practices will only remain in the journals of anthropologists, lost to climate change.”
You can support Uncle Harry Ludwick in the fight against Waratah Coal & Clive Palmer by donating here