Assimilating nature: the Bunya diaspora
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The bunya pine has a special meaning for Queenslanders, being endemic to the Bunya Mountains and Blackall Ranges in the South-East corner of the state, with a small stand in North Queensland. The bunya holds particular significance for local Indigenous peoples. They are bound to the tree through custodial rights and obligations and systems of traditional environmental knowledge that incorporate ‘classification …empirical observations of the local environment… [and] self-management that governs resource use’, built up through generations of interaction with the bunya forests. Indigenous groups celebrated their spiritual links to the bunya pine in large seasonal gatherings where they feasted on its edible nuts and performed ceremonies, adjudicated disputes and traded goods. The bunya's majestic height, striking unique silhouette, dark green foliage, unique botanical features and Indigenous associations held a fascination for colonial artists, natural scientists, entrepreneurs and gardeners. Over the years they assumed custodianship of the bunya pine, assimilating it into Western scientific, economic, legal, horticultural, environmental and symbolic systems, which replaced Indigenous custodial rights, obligations and knowledge. The spectacular bunya gatherings were mythologised in colonial writings as mystical, primeval ceremonies and barbaric rituals. Despite ‘fierce and actively hostile tribal resistance’ to colonisation of their lands, Indigenous groups were progressively driven out of the bunya forests. Empty landscapes left by the retreating forests – victims of timber felling and land clearing – came to symbolise the vanishing ceremonies and dwindling Aboriginal populations of South-East Queensland. While surviving Indigenous groups were swept into centralised reserves and settlements from the late nineteenth century, so too the bunya trees were cordoned off in 1908, for their own protection, in Queensland's second national park at the Bunya Mountains, where they stood ‘like the spirits of the departed original Queenslanders, mourning over the days which are forever gone’.
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