Lucy Curno Wild Futures

A World Away – Woodlands Historic Park

If it wasn’t for a year of not being able to travel internationally, the drive out to the Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne wouldn’t be quite as thrilling as it was. The planes skimming the skies overhead, the pondering of where those passengers are going and how many months until we’re allowed to buckle up our safety belts and check for our life jackets again. 

But today wasn’t about future traveling plans. It wasin factabout traveling back in time to a period where planes were yet to exist and the road I was driving on was centuries away from being constructed. Today was about celebrating the Wurundjeri lands that we live on here in Victoria. Lands that have been occupied and cared for by First Nations people for over 65,000 years. And in particular, a 658-hectare piece of country which sits a mere 19kms from metropolitan Melbourne but feels an entire world away — Woodlands Historic Park. 

As you step into Woodlands, the dull hum of the city fades away as the rhythmic swish of the swaying Eucalypt tree tops, and the light chatter of the diverse bird life above takes over the senses. With the sparse crowns of Red Gum and Grey Box trees above, the Woodlands area was once a grassy open forest prior to European settlement and remains one of Victoria’s representations of what grasslands once looked like more than 60,000 years ago. It’s also a hub for threatened native vegetation, since grasslands were the easiest to clear for farming purposes 150 years ago, it’s now arguably one of the most threatened vegetation communities in Australia. 

This is the reason Woodlands has two national park statuses, and active conservation efforts to preserve the diversity of the park’s flora, fauna and wildlife. The hope is for future generations to be able to witness what the land of the Wurundjeri people looked like before settlement. 

The richness of the grasslands is thanks to the shape of the leaves of the gumtrees above, narrow and pointing downwards, all of the nourished life on the ground receives plenty of sun and water – allowing them to grow into vast meadows. Our Wild Futures Project Officer, Travis, has worked at Woodlands for the past ten years, and pointout that despite how well the grasslands grow, they’re both the easiest to remove and hardest to replace due to the dense diversity – one square metre of grasslands could be home to more than 100 different species including moss, wildflowers and fungus. 

This area was, and still is very productive land because of the series of creeks and waterways. There’s enough water for fish, eels and frogs, whilst the creeks bring marsupials and mammals as a food source for the First Nations people living here over 60,000 years ago.” 

As Travis describes the different types of native grasses and herbaceous plants around us, he then directs my attention to the beautiful remains of a large scar tree, it’s sheer grandeur and poetically gnarled branches telling centuries of stories.  

Travis acknowledges it isn’t his place to assume what was created by the Wurunjderi people, from the piece of trunk that was cut from this tree, but he explains the careful consideration of how scar trees are formed. 

“The inside of every tree is actually dead, it’s only the outside that’s alive and growing. So, what would happen is a portion of the exterior of the tree was cut away to be used for various purposes, but it was done in a way that the tree can keep growing around it. The tree would stay alive and heal itself, with only a scar being left. What’s really exciting is when you find a scar tree and the scars 3-4 metres off the ground because it’s continued to grow with the tree.” 

Scar Tree, Woodlands Historic Park

With a broad knowledge of the Woodlands area, Travis guides school groups through the historic park, and he often starts outside the entrance to the Weeroona Cemetery and conservation zone (as it’s a sacred site it’s recommended the general public don’t enter). He does this to encourage everyone visiting to Woodlands to first connect themselves with the history of the area and the Wurundjeri people, whose land they’re on. What’s special about this opportunity for Travis, is witnessing school groups and volunteers falling silent as he begins to explain the significance of the Weeroona Cemetery. 

“I’ll often have school groups who are absolutely bouncing off the walls after lunch, and as soon as I begin to explain the history of the site, they go silent in a sign of respect. A lot of the children, like myself, come from an ethnic background and have that ancestral connection to the land which you see straight away. 

The reason this site was chosen as an ancestral burial ground was because of the area’s resemblance to traditional country. That’s what makes it extra special, it’s one thing for us to want to conserve it for its preserved landscape, but for the local Wurundjeri community to say that it resembles their ancestral land – that’s so much more important.” 

As Travis has had a lot of time working in Woodlands to contemplate its significance, that’s all he wants for those who volunteer with him too. Time for contemplation, and a safe space to ask questions. As he shows me the part of the park where he’s recently planted 9,000 wildflowers, he explains that each day his goal is to get asked at least one question. 

“I like to give people a lot of information at the start of each day, so they know why they’re here and the significance of the work they’re doing on these lands. It means they’ll enjoy their day more and have an appreciation for being involved in something greater than just that single days experience. It’s about education and the bigger picture.  

You know, for 60,000 plus years, a wonderful indigenous population lived with this land, in partnership with it, and understood it. It thrived all that time and then we changed that through clearing and other impactssothe least we can do now is help all people look after it.

For me,if one person asks a question and learns about how to care for and respect this land,then that’s a win.

Wandering past the tufts of tussock, occasionally spotting traces of where Eastern Barred Bandicoots have been digging for food, it’s not hard to feel the significance of each tree root, and blade of native grass at Woodlands.

Being only 19 kilometres from Melbourne, and surrounded by suburbia, Victorian Police, Equestrian centres and of course the Tullamarine airport – there’s an extra air of appreciation for this almost hidden part of Wurundjeri country, as a snapshot of how it always was, and always will be.

Themeda Triandra (Kangaroo Grass)

Project Officer, Travis Scicchitano