Yeye Yarns - Our Cultural Stories Today: Karen Jacobs continued...

LS: So do you feel … that part of your aim is to return at least some of this area to its pre-colonial condition? Is that part of what you want to do?

KJ: A part of that. I mean what we have today is purely a glimpse of what we did have prior to European colonisation. We will never get that back again but at least we can impart a glimpse of what it was like. To me it’s really important especially as a horticulturalist to maintain the natural flow in the landscape … and to remove any weeds that were introduced into the area. So I worked quite closely with local government authorities, the mining companies, other corporate bodies that all have within their portfolios the intent to do the right thing environmentally and socially. So to me as an Aboriginal person, environment and the social concerns for Aboriginal people really do go hand in hand… it really does make up our connection to country and gives us the essence of who we are.

LS: And as … part of your work, have you had to research … the Noongar stories of this area, the creation stories or the oral histories of this area …?

KJ: We do. I mean a lot of my research is purely done through talking to people I find rich in history… [I] have read quite a few books and there’s always a paradigm…that gets told when you look at a written formation. So it’s really talking to people and then reading and … I almost come to my own conclusion about somewhere in the middle. I tend to find… that the majority of it is written from a non-Aboriginal perspective and has often been misinterpreted or there’s a different assumption that’s placed on what’s actually being told to them or what a person’s experiencing. So it’s a little bit difficult so I tend to read between the lines quite a lot… I generally go on a lot of conversations talking to people actually all over the state. Not just from here because a lot of Aboriginal people in early colonisation actually camped around these areas mainly because of the Roundhouse being a prison and a lot of Aboriginal men being imprisoned in there before they were transported to Rottnest. You’ve got a lot of families that actually then came in and camped as close as they could to where their men were being held. I go a lot on verbal history, oral history. Although … when it comes down to technical things I tend to find written has a fair bit of that. It just misses the emotions in between.

LS: Which can be really important.

KJ: To me it is really, really important because that is basically the essence of our connection to country. Why are we here? It’s the first thing I say to Aboriginal people. If you were developing a business or doing something on country why? What makes this particular area really important to you and a lot of Aboriginal people find it very hard to put the word culture into an explanation, really, really difficult. So it’s a matter of drilling right down and saying “Yeah but does this have a spiritual connection to you?” “Yeah it does”. Perth itself and Fremantle very much has a spiritual connection. To me I was born here, I was raised here and I won’t leave Perth. That’s where my home ground is.

LC: By maintaining that conversation about country it maintains a connection, the ongoing living oral dialogue about the sense of place and who you are and who you come from.

KJ: Absolutely. Absolutely. Sometimes it’s the intangible and you don’t see it written and that’s why I read between the lines because I look for the emotional connection that somebody has to a particular location and sometimes it’s very difficult to write, to put into words.

LC: So, Karen…what are some of the projects you’ve been involved in in doing rehabilitation work?

KJ: A lot of the beachfronts. Local government’s trying to control the ocean, which never happens. So really, talking to them about the materials that they use in their buffers to stop the waves from washing away the soil so they could put more buildings around the beachfront. And also then the vegetation behind it, which is the easiest part for me because it’s just a natural landscape when you look at the sand dunes. You use what’s there you don’t stray away from it. You don’t bring in any weed species or species that aren’t indigenous to the local area. When it comes to using reinforcements to stop the water from eroding the sand dunes I often say to developers you’re sort of fighting a losing battle there. You can never control the ocean no matter how hard you try. You might do it in one place, but you know what? It shifts it to somewhere else which causes other problems and we’re facing that just south of Fremantle at the moment…. I don’t want to get in the way of progress because I don’t see how we can. We’ve got a growing population and a population that loves to be on the seaside but we’ve got to maintain the buffer zones. We know what nature does. We know that a lot of our heritage sites even just south of Southport are eroded away because of putting in roads and footpaths. Well, a lot of our meeting sites are gone because of the groins that have now been built right along the beaches…

LC: So, Karen, you’ve been involved in rehabilitation and I know at Rottnest you worked with the authority over there on some pretty sensitive ground on the west end. Can you give us a bit of an insight into how that might apply for similar trails here in and around Cockburn and Fremantle and so forth?

KJ: It’s always difficult. We’ve got people … with different interests trying to incorporate things like coastal walk trails that have a heritage story that’s attached to them… But … we had some very sensitive environmental areas so it was important to bring the boardwalk up and over the top so that people were no longer leaving their footprint on the country and allowing everything to rejuvenate again. It would be great to do things like that little strip that we just walked through. It would be better to have that up on boardwalk to allow the sand dune to re-establish itself underneath and vegetation to grow back. But of course then you’ve got people that actually want to have their feet on the sand and want [to] feel the grains of sand between their feet and want to be able to smell the plants and be right in amongst it. And that’s fine too, but if we don’t put a stop to it and provide people with direction, firm direction, we’re not going to have much more left over the next ten years. I can just about see all this gone for one reason or another.

LC: So, Karen, with the plant side of stuff what are some of the special flora that grows in and around the coastal strip that you’re familiar with or what you’d like to talk a little bit about?

KJ: Well, you’ve got all the coastal rosemary…the smoke bush … the acacias - the Cyclops which is a brilliant bush medicine plant. Actually both of them are bush medicine plants.

LS: Bush tucker as well or just bush medicine?

KJ: Mainly bush medicine. I mean the coastal rosemary you can use as a bush tucker plant. It’s just a herb. It is a native herb but I can see just looking out here I can actually see easily five bush tucker plants and bush medicine plants. Most have combined uses.

LS: Can you name the bush tucker plants that you can see from here?

KJ: You’ve got the Cyclops, Acacia cyclops, right here, you’ve got Pigface that you can actually eat, the Coastal Rosemary, and then you’ve got the reeds over in the back.