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Tara’s vision for the Plains is vast

Updated: Mar 28, 2020


As a child growing up in Hay, Tara Dixon dreamed of becoming a teacher, but now finds herself managing one of Hay’s most successful environmental projects.

A quiet achiever, Tara works for Nari Nari Tribal Council (NNTC) which was established almost 20 years ago to take ownership of Toogimbie Station, which was then declared an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in 2004.

Toogimbie has been the subject of several case studies, most recently the National Cultural Flows Research Project, and the project has won prizes including Landcare and Pride of Australia Awards.

“IPAs are areas of land or sea managed by Aboriginal groups as protected areas for biodiversity conservation through voluntary agreements with the Australian Government,” Tara explains.

“There are only 75 declared IPA’s across Australia so I think we are very fortunate to be one of them. “IPAs deliver much more than just environmental benefits. Managing an IPA helps Aboriginal communities protect the cultural values of their country for future generations and results in significant health, education, economic and social benefits.

“Management activities include weed and pest control, consultation and planning, Cultural and Heritage management, Indigenous knowledge transfer, fire management including traditional burns as a form of weed control, fresh water management, improving wetland inundation and cycling, education and training, and collection of seed from country for revegetation works.

“At Toogimbie IPA we practice cultural burning, which is a practice developed by First Nations people many years before us. “Cultural burning can include burning of country for health and particular plants, such as native grasses, bush foods, threatened species or biodiversity in general. “The burns may involve patch burning to create different fire intervals across the landscape or it could be used for fuel and hazard reduction.”

As an Aboriginal woman Tara’s family connections have kept her cultural identity alive, despite growing up away from the traditional lands of the Dixon family.

“I am a proud Wangkumarra women but born and raised here in Hay. My family are very wide spread across NSW are very culturally rich when it comes to our family history and my Great Grandmother still talked language right up until she passed in the late 60’s. “Although I am proud to say I am Wangkumarra I also have strong cultural connections to Nari Nari and Wiradjuri lands, as this is where I was born and raised.”

As her career evolved Tara spent time working with the now defunct Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority (CMA) before becoming projects manager with NNTC in 2008, overseeing the ongoing environmental works at the IPA.

Tara is passionately outspoken when it comes to involving Aboriginal people and women in land management, and believes Governments can avoid further disasters by working with traditional knowledge holders more.

“I strongly believe it is vital for Aboriginal people to be involved in land and water management. “Aboriginal people have the rights and moral obligation to care for water and our land. “Traditional burns include patch burning to create different fire intervals across landscapes and it used for fuel and hazard reduction; these burns could assist in eliminating all these horrific fires we are experiencing already this summer.” “Women are equally important as men in all aspects of life, therefore they play just as an important role when it comes to the management and involvement in caring for lands and water.”

Tara explains she has been fortunate to have been supported by the guidance of mentors and networks across the country, and that success for women in non-traditional careers and Aboriginal people involved in management roles is vital.

“I believe I’ve learnt from some of the best, when it comes to my role as the IPA Project Coordinator, and I am fortunate to have learned a great deal from Ian Woods, the chair of NNTC, and he has shared his vast network of contacts and knowledge with me.” “I know my confidence has grown so much over the years due to my current role and involvement with Nari Nari and the IPA project.”

When asked about her place in the community as a role model, and as an example for her 17-year-old daughter Reagan Tara laughs.

“I would like to think that I am a positive influence. “No one is perfect and I am far from it but I do always try and set an example and steer her in the right direction. “I think it is important for my daughter to know where she comes from and to acknowledge all those that have gone before us, and the path they have set for us to walk and learn.”

Looking forward, Tara has dreams as vast as the plains that border Toogimbie IPA.

“I would like to see Toogimbie IPA one day as part of a tour group that connects to various other significant places across our region. “NNTC have hosted a number of cultural camps on the IPA for men and young boys that have had struggles. “These camps reconnect them back to country and allows them to also learn traditional practices and ideally we would like to offer these same camps to young girls and women.”

Since 2004, 41 staff and members of NNTC have been trained in various land management activities and Tara estimates more than 80% of members and staff have gone on to employment with various other land and water organisations, such as National Parks and Wildlife, Office of Environment and Heritage and the Aboriginal Water Trust.

One of Tara’s favourite parts of her work is organising Hay’s popular annual NAIDOC Celebrations and she is also very interested in bush medicine.

At Toogimbie she has Old Man Weed, Nardoo and Pig Face flourishing and regularly harvests plants, especially Old Man Weed, that is boiled into a skin and health tonic and shared with members.

For herself, Tara’s ambitions continue to involve serving her community, and in 2020, will commence studies in the community service sector.

Originally published: The Riverine Grazier January 8, 2020

Reproduced: two7eleven (Facebook) January 8, 2020

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