Meet Craig Aspinall, Community Landcare Aboriginal Engagement Officer
What is your role within the NSW Landcare Program?
My job title is “Community Landcare Aboriginal Engagement Officer”, and my role is to facilitate and improve opportunities for collaboration between Aboriginal communities and the Landcare movement in NSW.
How did you get involved in Landcare?
In 2005, I was the first appointee to the role of Catchment Officer (Aboriginal Communities) for the Hunter Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority, now known as Hunter Local Land Services. During my eight year tenure in the role I was privileged to be involved in some significant major projects across the region, including the Kooragang Wetlands Rehabilitation Program and the Hexham Swamp Rehabilitation Project. The involvement of Landcare was intrinsic to the success of these projects, and I distinctly recall my amazement when walking through an area on Ash Island that was once a paddock, which had been rehabilitated by Landcare volunteers into a beautiful native coastal rainforest full of species of cultural significance.
Why do you care about Landcare?
As an Aboriginal man I stand firm in my acknowledgement that my Aboriginal ancestors were the original carers and stewards of land and sea country in NSW. Landcare is a movement that supports our relationships with the land, but also the relationships of the people, and the Landcare movement is driven by people.
What does ‘caring for country’ mean to you?
I am a proud Biripai man who was born and raised on the NSW Lower North Coast, and a descendant of Jack Cook of Gloucester. The belief that ‘if you look after the land and sea it will provide for your people’, has never been more important than now. To me, caring for country means ensuring future generations can enjoy the same or better natural environment than currently exists – inter-generational equity!
What have you learnt about the Landcare community since starting in your role?
Everyone is so friendly and welcoming! The other thing that has struck me is the sheer volume of Landcare people from all over NSW who are eager to learn from, and collaborate with, Aboriginal people. It was a little overwhelming at first, being just one Aboriginal Officer for the whole state, but I am gradually getting out there and meeting as many people as I can.
Why is it important to build connections and strengthen engagement between the Landcare movement and Aboriginal peoples?
To me, Landcare as a movement will not be completely fulfilled unless it incorporates Aboriginal people, culture and practices. I would again acknowledge that Aboriginal people have been the original carers and stewards of our land and sea country for generations – don’t you think they may know a thing or two about getting the most from the land without damaging it? But It needs to be an equal relationship and many Landcarers simply don’t know about protocols, where to start and who to contact – that’s where my role comes in.
How will your role assist in supporting Aboriginal people to have a voice within Landcare?
As I said above, it needs to be an equal relationship between Landcare and Aboriginal people and culture, but it is important that Aboriginal people are aware of Landcare in the first place, and the benefits that are gained by participating in Landcare. So, firstly I see my role as helping raise awareness across Aboriginal communities of Landcare, the NSW Landcare Program and the Aboriginal Engagement Program. Secondly, I want to provide support to activities that share knowledge and experiences between Aboriginal people and Landcarers – it is through these activities that long-lasting relationships can be formed.
What have you achieved so far in your role?
The first task for any major funded program is paperwork and approvals! The Aboriginal Program was quite an ‘open book’, so to speak. I had to work through numerous source documents, plans, strategies and reports to try and identify common themes, goals and outcomes. This became the basis for the Aboriginal Action Plan, which has now been approved by the governing bodies and is available on our website. I can now start the journey of implementing the activities that are in the Action Plan and hopefully improve people’s lives in some way – that is the most rewarding part!
What are some of the areas of the role that have excited you the most and have enjoyed since starting in this role? What are you most proud of?
The most exciting aspect of the role so far has been working towards building a profile and visual ‘brand’ for the Aboriginal Communities Engagement Program. I am very proud that we chose to incorporate the work of an Aboriginal artist for this and I hope that it becomes recognisable across both Aboriginal and Landcare communities as a positive symbol of collaboration.
I have also really enjoyed the limited opportunities (due to COVID) I have had to travel and meet with Landcare Groups and Aboriginal Communities. I have visited a fantastic Landcare demonstration site at Lake Liddell in the Upper Hunter, and attended several Cultural Awareness Training activities in the Central Tablelands region in which I learnt so much and met great people. I look forward to being invited to attend more meetings, events and on-ground activities right across NSW as we eventually move out of the current restrictions.
What are the key outcomes you hope to achieve?
I always try to make a difference and improve other people’s lives in any endeavour I am involved – whether work-related or personal. In my opinion, the ultimate outcome for Aboriginal people is firstly to achieve recognition in the wider community that traditional knowledge and practices, even in a contemporary context, are not inferior and should be highly valued. Secondly, it is fair to say that the natural resources of this continent have provided significant socio-economic benefits for the mainstream community for many years, of which Aboriginal people largely missed out. Nowadays, due to certain damaging practices being carried out in the exploitation and management of those natural resources for many years, we find ourselves with a large and growing economic sector that exists to address and rectify that damage, and Landcare is a key player in that sector. It is my goal to ensure that Aboriginal people are well-prepared to take up the opportunity to engage in and benefit from this new economy, as well as being fully respected for their knowledge, skills and practices.
This initiative made possible by the NSW Landcare Program. A collaboration of Local Land Services and Landcare NSW Inc. supported by the NSW Government.