Ground truthing

This last week I spent 5 days in the field with my supervisor and a small team from our University. We were invited to visit Gooniyandi country to conduct water monitoring of some important freshwater places and build the capacity of the Ranger group to conduct their own monitoring. It was fantastic to be in freshwater country. The nights were crispy cool but the days were still hot; we camped on a flat and woke to flocks of pink and greys and corellas, ibis, croaking brolgas out of view, budgies, wheeling kites and clear skies.

The trip was not directly related to my studies; I’m still building my research question and ideas. But it was invaluable to ground truth some budding thoughts. I want to understand how a Traditional Owner may view the health of his or her country, compared to how a non-Indigenous scientist may view the health of that same place.

At each site we visited we talked to the families who could speak for that place, hearing about what each waterhole provides to them, why each place is important and how healthy they think it is. The Traditional Owners judged that each water place we visited was healthy. Our monitoring corroborated this view; we found an abundance and diversity of macro-invertebrates and fish. Each wetland was healthy based on the presence of a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate species, and because of the rich and reliable supply of food resources they provide to the local people.

Our trip and our conversations were fairly brief and not intended to comprise a comprehensive analysis of waterway health. Rather we built relationships with the Traditional Owners and their families, with the male and female Rangers, and began to build knowledge and skills around aquatic monitoring techniques.

A part of the story of these places remains unresolved for me; how do these water places continue to support a rich aquatic biota when the surrounding landscape is so highly altered? This is station country and the land is pock-marked from the hard hooves of the gentle bovines that rove the landscape. There is still trees, shrubs, grass, although some natives seemed to have disappeared, their structural layer being replaced by weed species. Do these weed species provide the same function that the original species did? Does the hydrology of this river system, with its boom and bust drought and floods, override other landscape changes? Do people help keep this place healthy?

This is the question I’m left with after our trip, although it was not a question that had occurred to me prior. Now I head back to my books and papers, but I look forward to the next time I can ground truth my thoughts, questions and assumptions, and re-calibrate my journey. Image

The boss of one water place – I wonder what he’s thinking?!

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