Yasmin Aly has had a love affair with the Mitchell River since she was a child, promising her mother that she would be a park ranger some day. Years later, Yasmin has kept that promise and is now the Ranger-in-Charge for a number of national parks and reserves, including the Mitchell River National Park.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a little girl. My mum was a geography teacher and my dad was a keen fisherman and we used to come down here to the Lakes in summertime,” she says. When her mother was compiling a report on the Mitchell River silt jetties, Yasmin joined her on field visits and through this experience learnt about how activities in the upper catchment affected the state of the lower catchment. “The Mitchell is wild, its precious and it makes you feel at peace…and that is what I want to preserve and make sure that it still looks like this when my daughter grows up and when her children grow up, and to do that there are a few things we need to do.
Right now Yasmin has her hands full overseeing the regeneration of more than 3000 hectares of cleared farming land that was added to the park in 2001, as well as tackling the park’s feral animal and weed problems.
“Weeds are a major problem. The vegetation along the river’s edge gives the river its character, and when this vegetation is modified by weeds…the character of the river is compromised,” she says.
As park ranger, Yasmin also has the opportunity to fulfil her desire to explore the park’s indigenous cultural heritage.
“There are quite a number of sites, one in particular is very special, the Den of Nargun, it’s a women’s place. It’s a very sensitive place and most of the male members of our indigenous community won’t go there because it is so significant.”
The Den of Nargun is a shallow cave beneath a small waterfall on Woolshed Creek and is a place of great cultural significance to the Gunai/Kurnai aboriginal community.
Aboriginal legend describes the Nargun as a beast that was all stone except for its hands, arms and breast. The fierce creature would drag unwary travellers into its den, and any weapon directed against it would be turned back on its owner.
Yasmin would like more input from the community to ensure the indigenous sites within the park are managed in a culturally sensitive way.
“We have a walking track to the Den and we’re trying to manage people wanting to sit in the Den which they shouldn’t do because of the cultural significance. I’d like to see more input from the community, perhaps…developing a working group with the local women in the indigenous community so we can refer to them when we have issues such as the Den of Nargun access.
“Within Mitchell River there are quite a few indigenous sites and I would like to have more involvement in what they are, where they are and what we need to do, if anything, to make sure these are preserved. It would be good to do a survey of the sites to make sure we deal with them in a sensitive manner.”