Visit to an important cultural site on Providence Beach with the spectacular Myall Lakes coastline in the background

Celebrating Birriwal Guying (Strong Bird), the Gould’s Petrel on Broughton Island

19 April 2023
Connecting community with conservation and cultural heritage research
Worimi community members and other stakeholders recently gathered on Broughton Island to celebrate the arrival of the Birriwal Guying (Strong Bird), the Gould’s Petrel, and learn more about the seabird conservation and cultural heritage research underway on the island.

On 18 March members of the School of Humanities and the Discipline of Archaeology were among more than 80 people celebrating a community day on Broughton Island. Broughton Island is part of the traditional country of the Worimi people, and forms part of the Myall Lakes National Park on the NSW mid-coast. The purpose of the day was to engage Worimi Traditional Owners and other community stakeholders with seabird conservation and current research projects on the island.

This research includes the Broughton Island Cultural Heritage Research Project, led by Laura Dafter, a PhD candidate in the Discipline of Archaeology at the University of Sydney. The celebration, hosted by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in conjunction with the University of Sydney, Australian Marine Parks, Australasian Seabird Group, Birdlife Australia and Local Land Services, brought together the community to celebrate Laura’s research in cultural heritage on the Island and the NPWS’s Gould's petrel conservation project.

Gould’s Petrel is Australia’s rarest endemic petrel, only found on five islands within Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park and Batemans Marine Park. The establishment of a Gould’s Petrel population on Broughton Island was only possible after the NPWS successfully eradicated invasive rats and rabbits in 2009, a project led by NPWS Ranger Susanne Callaghan. Following intensive conservation efforts by NPWS and partner organisations, the first Goulds’ Petrel chick hatched on Broughton Island in 2020. The number of chicks produced annually from the newly established Broughton Island population is still low at only 1-2 per year, but with the recent Welcome Ceremony for the species by Worimi Traditional Owners, it is hoped that the population will thrive. This Welcome Ceremony for the birds at their remote nesting site was performed by Worimi community members Auntie Beryl Cowan, Auntie Sheryl Hendry and Jamie Tarrant, Chairperson of the Worimi Conservation Lands Board of Management.

Susanne Callaghan (NPWS Ranger) and Auntie Beryl Cowan with Gould's Petrel chick

Susanne Callaghan (NPWS Ranger) and Auntie Beryl Cowan with Gould's Petrel chick

The following day at the community celebration, Worimi Elder Uncle Neville Lilley and Jamie Tarrant led a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony, and young Worimi woman Maddie Lilley gave a moving performance of the Australian National Anthem in Gathang language. On the spectacular shores of Esmerelda Cove, Worimi children performed a ‘strong bird’ dance to the soundtrack of My Island Home, celebrating the Gould’s Petrel breeding success on Broughton Island, and the commencement of their migration journey.

While exploring the island and learning more about the cultural heritage and conservation research that is currently underway, participants were encouraged to connect with Broughton Island and each other. Everyone welcomed the opportunity to visit several culturally significant sites and areas of conservation work with researchers and NPWS staff. Archaeologist and Head, School of Humanities Professor Keith Dobney joined the visit to the island and commented:

The day was a true celebration of the natural and cultural heritage of the island - a testament to the hard work and co-operation of those dedicated to protecting and venerating country. The University of Sydney is extremely proud to be supporting the important archaeological research on Broughton Island, in partnership with the NPWS and our collaborators in the Worimi community. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day and left the island excited about the potential of future work there.
Head, School of Humanities Professor Keith Dobney

The community day was jointly funded by NPWS and the University of Sydney. Funding was generously provided through a W. H. and Elizabeth M. Deane Scholarship and the Australian Archaeological Association Student Research Grant Scheme.

Featured image: Visit to an important cultural site on Providence Beach with the spectacular Myall Lakes coastline in the background. 

Photo credits: John Spencer (DPE)

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