The National Museum of Australia recently opened a new exhibition, Landmarks: People and Places across Australia. Landmarks includes an exhibit about the agricultural history of the Wagga Wagga district, just to the south of Combaning. The Wagga exhibit contains objects associated with the life and work of Dame Mary Gilmore, the renowned writer and political radical, who lived as a child on various farms and stations in the Wagga region. This photo of Mary Gilmore, held by the State Library of New South Wales, was taken in 1893, when she was 28 years old:
Gilmore knew well the country around Combaning. She had relatives downstream from the Combaning waterhole, on Morangarell station. The typewriter on which Mary Gilmore prepared manuscripts for publication is displayed in Landmarks in the Wagga exhibit, alongside the original manuscript of ‘Native Sancturies’, a chapter in Old Days Old Ways: A Book of Recollections, first published in 1934.
‘Native Sanctuaries’ describes regulatory systems developed by Wiradjuri people to maintain particular areas as animal and plant sanctuaries. Wiradjuri law banned hunting, fishing and harvesting in these protected areas, thereby promoting biological diversity and abundance beyond sanctuary borders, ensuring ecological resilience, and securing productivity in a climate that often delivered intense droughts and powerful floods. She records the use of Lake Cowal, north of Morangarell, as one such sanctuary (see ‘Creeklines ~ day one’).
Today, as our climate turns increasingly chaotic and we struggle with droughts, fires and floods, Gilmore’s descriptions of Wiradjuri systems of tending land suggest the value of ecological production methods, a value that Wiradjuri people understood after many generations of paying close attention to the patterns of their country.