MEDIA RELEASE 16 March 2023 |

Government agencies must ensure commitment to protect and preserve the Yorta Yorta People’s Cultural Identity and Traditional Knowledge for the ecological recovery of the Barmah National Park and Murray Valley National Park, peak environment groups say.   

The Yorta Yorta People are the First Nation with rights and interests within the National Park and have continuously lived on and cared for their Country for more than 65,000 years.  The Yorta Yorta’s traditional ownership and custodial rights have been recognised in joint management of the Barmah National Park since 2018.

Acting for the Yorta Yorta Nation, lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia say pro-feral horse groups appear to have been involved in dropping large amounts of hay at sensitive sites within the park, leading to ecological harm and damage to Yorta Yorta culturally significant sites registered under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Parks Victoria and other agencies need to strongly condemn the group’s statements and actions and examine their own involvement in feral horse management during and following recent flood events.

While we acknowledge Parks Victoria has enabled a significant reduction in horse numbers through the Strategic Action Plan Protection of Floodplain Marshes Barmah National Park and Barmah Forest Ramsar Site 2020 – 2023, there are important lessons to be learnt for genuine joint management, especially listening to the Yorta Yorta Traditional Owners.

Environment groups are calling on Victorian Government agencies to:

Protect Yorta Yorta Traditional and Cultural Heritage sites at Barmah National Park from feral invasive species

Commit to a joint review by government agencies of emergency responses to recent flooding events and protection of Yorta Yorta cultural heritage

Investigate any alleged contraventions of Aboriginal heritage law, bring prosecutions as appropriate, and remediate harm where available around the management of feral horses during and following the recent flood events

Continue to protect and restore the ecological and cultural health of Barmah National Park by implementing the Joint Management Plan.

Chief Executive Officer of Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Monica Morgan said:  

“The Joint Management Plan protects and recognises the Yorta Yorta People’s right to care for our Country. We are writing to the Minister to seek assurances that the government will actively respect and listen to Traditional Owners as equal partners in the management of the park.”

Environmental Justice Australia’s Senior Specialist Lawyer, Bruce Lindsay said:   

“We are concerned at reports that Parks Victoria or other agencies supported the actions of pro-feral horse groups without consultation with Traditional Owners, with little assessment, and without regard to risks to internationally recognised wetlands and cultural heritage sites.

Controlling feral horses is essential to ecological recovery and cultural health of the Barmah Forest. It is strongly supported by Traditional Owners, by scientists, and by environmental organisations.

By supporting campaigns led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to return rights and authority over Country, First Nations people can achieve the justice they deserve and the health of Country and Culture can be restored.”

Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said:   

“Feral horses are an environmental disaster at Barmah, where they trample the internationally significant wetlands. They are destroying highly significant threatened Moira grass plains. Their hooves muddy the water and compact the soil at breeding and feeding grounds for water birds, frogs and turtles.

Feral horses are a major source of cultural and ecological damage to the national park. Joint management commits to their removal. Feral horses are not part of the heritage of this ecosystem and Country. Horses belong elsewhere. ”

Victorian National Parks Association Executive Director, Matt Ruchel said:    

“Feral horses are trampling protected habitats, endangered plant communities, destroying threatened species’ homes and damaging First Nations cultural heritage. Feral horses have no place in national parks and should be removed humanely by all means necessary and as fast as possible.”

Read Victorian agencies accused of failing to consult traditional owners over feeding of stranded brumbies in national park in The Guardian Australia