The old man is on a mission to reach the sea. He runs down from the rocky ranges and onto the flatlands, where the way is obscured by forest and scrub. He emerges onto farmland, his path winding through fields covered with grapevines or dotted with cows, then into the forest surrounding the town of Margaret River. Here he might pause to rest a little by a shady rockpool. With renewed energy he races on through rocky valleys, and on towards the sea. Wadandi-Noongar custodians call him Wooditch: to most people, he is known as the Margaret River.
In March 2018, the Bramley National Park in the town of Margaret River was renamed Woodtijup, in recognition of the traditional Wadandi owners of the region. To Wadandi people Wooditch is a magic man or sorcerer, an ancestor who created the river. The legend of Wooditch belongs to the deep cultural history of place, and reflects the unique character of the watercourse that bears his name.
The name ‘the Margaret River’ was bestowed by John Bussell, who in 1831 was one of the first Europeans to explore the upper reaches of the catchment. He named the river in honour of his sweetheart Margaret Wyche, who later rejected his suit and never set foot in Australia. But the name endured, and now represents not only the river and a town, but a renowned wine and tourism region.
When a new wave of settlers from Britain arrived later in the nineteenth century, they cleared the land for farming and felled the giant jarrah and karri trees for export. But much of the bush surrounding the townsite of Margaret River survived. It eventually became state forest, and then ‘A’ class reserve. The town remains bordered on two sides by forest, with people sharing habitat with countless species of flora and fauna. In 1999 the landscape’s high conservation value was recognised under the Regional Forest Agreement, and it was gazetted National Park in 2004. The new Park was given the name ‘Bramley’ after one of the state forest blocks. The name has unknown significance.
In 2014, the Augusta-Margaret River Shire Council proposed to change the name of the Park from Bramley to Wooditjup. It was hoped that the change would improve relations with custodians by recognising their cultural values, and in honour of the Margaret River and its role in the ecology and identity of the town. The plan quickly gained support from the Wadandi, from the tourism industry, and the Department of Parks and Wildlife (now incorporated into the Department of Conservation, Biodiversity, and Attractions).
Inspiration for resuming the ancient name of ‘Wooditjup’ reflects a new era of working in collaboration with local custodians. Many people in the Margaret River community are keen to hear the Aboriginal stories of place, and to engage with the landscape in a more fulfilling way. DBCA, in partnership with the Wadandi Undalup Association, have established a ranger program to incorporate Aboriginal skills into land management.
Recognizing Aboriginal place names is an important first step towards reconciliation, and the new name will have far reaching implications for the future of the Park. Valuing Aboriginal traditions and stories of place enriches the landscape with meaning and connects people with place. Stronger cultural connections between people and place creates a feeling of continuity with the past, and fosters stewardship for the future.
Wooditjup National Park is beloved by locals and visitors alike. It is networked with walktrails that wind along by the river; beneath tall timber, past rocky granite outcrops peppered with spectacular wildflowers in spring, and with fascinating fungi in autumn. Local kids love to swim alongside marron in the rockpools and weirs, and mountain bikers enjoy the rugged terrain and black cockatoos of the pine forest. Many love to just be present and ‘forest bathe’ beneath the canopy of tall trees.
Now once again, the name of Wooditch will be spoken with reverence, alongside the banks of the small and winding river in the far south-west.
University of Western Australia
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