The small central Arnhem Land community of Bulman sits at the foot of tall rocky hill which was put in place by Mibbar, the Wedge-tailed Eagle ancestral being in the creation times.
One of the landscape features created by Mibbar was a spring which emerged from under rocks and once ran several hundred metres down into another creek. It is regarded as the home of a Bolung, or rainbow serpent.
People from many clans depended on the water from this spring when they gathered at a nearby meeting place to plan ceremonies and other collective activities during the dry seasons, says Kenneth Murray. Kenneth is a djungkayi or ceremonial manager with responsibilities for looking after the sacred property of the Dakkal and Marrku clans, including the Gulin Gulin spring.
“Old people said this spring would always run and provide water for everyone — right through the dry season,” sasys Kenneth. The spring gives the name Gulin Gulin to the community that was once better known as Bulman.
“But since horses, buffalo, donkeys and pigs have come into this country the spring has been getting sick and weak,” says Kenneth.
Donkeys and horses in particular compacted all the soil around the spring head as they came to drink and also destroyed the monsoon forest and pandanus vegetation that once grew around the spring head. But in 2016 with help from Territory Natural Resource Management there is evidence and hope that the spring may be restored to health.
In May, Rangers from Mimal Land Management Aboriginal Corporation erected some 60 cattle panels around the spring to exclude feral animals. Just two months later Mimal ranger and Marrku clansman Lyndon Lawrence observed: “We can see the ground that was dry and flattened out is taking up water and loosening up. Plants are beginning to grow again.”
At the end of June djungkayis Kenneth Murray and Justin Daylight spent a morning digging out the spring head to make it easier for water to flow.
Despite a very poor wet season the spring is now flowing again. The rangers have removed the exotic Gmelina trees inside the fencing and are preparing to apply herbicide to remove them permanently.
The rangers have negotiated with the nearby Bulman School to use about 20 more cattle panels as framing to set up a small nursery at the school which will be devoted to growing up bush tucker and bush medicine plants. Rangers, children and teachers will be involved in seed collecting and gathering knowledge from elders. The seedlings will be offered to parents and friends of the school to encourage native plant use. Some will be used to restore vegetation around the spring.
“The spirits of the old people will be happy to see the spring becoming healthy again”, says Kenneth Murray.
The Gulin Gulin Spring Project is support by Territory Natural Resource Management through funding from Australian Government's National Landcare Programme.