Stories of the Wetland
Welcome to Country by Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Kath Withers
Aunty Kath Withers Wiradjuri Reserve at Tin Town 2017, acrylic on canvas
"This painting draws on my memories as a child growing up in Tin Town. Tin Town was a camp for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people at Wiradjuri Reserve – which is only a few 100metres from the current Marrambidya Wetland site. At the time, Tin Town was a place that was rarely mentioned in Wagga Wagga. This painting depicts what life was like in the settlement. The different symmetrical shapes are my representation of the shapes and sizes of the huts in Tin Town and their closeness to one another. It could be seen as an aerial view of Tin Town, but this is also up for interpretation.
The lineal effect of the shapes was created by using a traditional ‘dot and drag’ painting style. I chose to use classic black and white colours for most of the painting, while the red in the centre of each shapes is our Aboriginal connection to the earth."
Aunty Kath Withers Bush Tucker 2017, acrylic on canvas
"Look closely at the background of this painting to see a kaleidoscope of colour. This delicate, coloured, layered effect was created by applying paint to a sea sponge and gently dabbing it on to the background. I really love this effect, and think it creates a feminine touch to the painting, which is appropriate as this painting represents women’s gathering.
The symbols on the left and right sides of the painting represent women and the tools our ancestors would have used to hunt and gather. These tools are digging sticks, used to dig out yams or grubs from the ground, and the coolamon, which a shallow vessel with curved sides used for carrying items. The painting also shows a mix of bush tomatoes, bush plums, witchery grubs and honey ants. All items women were known to gather.
I came up with the concept for this painting a long time ago, as I wanted to do an artwork that just represented women’s gathering."
Aunty Kath Withers Five Sisters Weaving on the Wetlands 2017, acrylic on canvas
"Aboriginal women will often refer to a female, whether a family member or friend, as a sister, or ‘sis’, so this artwork represents any five females gathering together at the wetland – such as a small weaving group. The sisters are represented by the five large white circles. I have used the dot method to create these symbols, dipping the end of paintbrush into the paint and then dotting it in circles on the canvas. The symbols surrounding the sisters are my interpretation of the vegetation and growth at the wetland. This also shows a harmony between nature and humans existing together over many years. To create the vegetation I have used the dot and drag technique. The background has been built up by using a range of coloured paints applied to a sea sponge and dabbed on to the canvas.
The red, black and yellow colours in the painting represent our people, while the mixed background colours depict the earth and the water found at the wetland."
Aunty Kath Withers Spirits of the Murrumbidgee 2016, acrylic on canvas
"The Spirits of the Murrumbidgee is an artwork that welcomes you to the wetland and represents some of the strong spiritual and sacred connections associated with this place. The footprints are both a symbol of our people, and, that all visitor are walking on Wiradjuri country. We ask you to tread softly in this spiritual place of our ancestors. As a Wiradjuri elder, I feel the spirits of my people here – they have a welcoming presence and are guarding over this place. In this piece the spirits are represented by the large ghost-like figure, as well as the smaller Aboriginal designs and the dancing stars. Mixing the symbols represents that the spirits are above us, as well as all around us in this sacred place.
The fish are my interpretation of the Murray cod found in the Murrumbidgee River behind the wetlands. This was always known as the best fishing spot in Wagga and as a child we use to go down here all the time to get fish. The ring, circle effects in the artwork, represent the ripple effect of a stone being dropped in the waterways – be it the wetland ponds or the river.
The artwork is dream-like and tranquil, two feelings we want people to capture and take away with them after visiting this special place."
Aunty Kath Withers Spirits of the Night Sky 2017, acrylic on canvas
"This is the night sky in Wiradjuri country. The circles are up for interpretation, they could be planets, the moon, the sun. The other markings are the stars.
As a child growing up we had no electricity or lights, so we were guided by the stars. I have many memories of watching the stars in a clear, night sky. We would make games out of sitting and watching the stars. The night sky was always mesmerising, and I still find that to be the case. I get a calming, relaxing feeling from this painting, and I hope this is what others also take away from this piece.
There is a great level of detail in this painting, from the sponge layered effect in the background to the double-dotting technique applied for the circle work. Double-dotting is created by applying one dot, using paint on the end of a paintbrush, letting it dry, and then applying another dot on top. This artwork was a work in progress over many months."
Aunty Kath Withers River Rocks 2016, acrylic on canvas
"There are thousands, and thousands of dots in this piece. The background of this artwork is a build-up of individual dots. It took me the space of about three months to work on the background, coming back each time to refine the design. Once I had completed the background, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with this artwork. I worked on the centrepieces of each symbol first, and then built up the dots around each. If you look closely at the middle section of each you will see even more dots. Each dot was applied by using the end of a paintbrush. I used a variety of sized paintbrushes which gives the artwork a raised effect. The outer rings of each symbol was created by using the traditional dot and drag technique.
The symbols in this painting represent the river rocks in the Murrumbidgee River. The colours are my memories of the reflections the rocks would cast when the sun shone down on them – they were like little jewels in the river. I also remembered the fresh, clear water of the river, you could see each rock and so much wildlife – turtles, platypus and the water rats."
Wiradjuri is the largest aboriginal group in New South Wales, occupying a vast amount of the central part of the state, from the plains running north to south and to the west of the Blue Mountains. Spoken by Wiradjuri Elder James Ingram.
"My name is James Ingram and I am a proud Wiradjuri man. I was born in Narunga Narinjeri country, which is Wiradjuri for ‘lizard people with a spear’. Wiradjuri people have been custodians of this land for a recorded 60,000 years.
Wiradjuri are the largest Aboriginal group in New South Wales. Our country, as my grandfather taught me, takes in most of central New South Wales.
Wiradjuri country borders stretch west to Latji Latji (Mildura), up through Nari Nari (Hay) and Muthi Muthi (Balranald) and out past Cowl Cowl, Narungera Narinjeri (Griffith). We also extends north up to Mudgee Mudgee (Mudgee) and Thubbo Thubbo (Dubbo) then across to Yuraniah country at Orange and Windradyne country at Bathurst and up into the Great Dividing Range into Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.
Making our way back down south of the state, Wiradjuri also takes in Pejar Pejar (Goulbourn) skirting around Canberra and Ngunnawal country then down into Yaven Yaven and Wolgalu (Tumut and Gundagai), then south to Jethi Jethi/Duduroa Duduroa (Albury/Wodonga) and into Barapa Barapa (Deniliquin) and Wemba Wemba (Swan Hill).
Then there are all the places within these boundaries, including Waagan Waagan (Wagga Wagga), where you are today."
Hand crafted by Wiradjuri elders, the Carved Pole that stands proud in the centre of the Healing Place has significant connections to Marrambidya and Wiradjuri people.
"The carved pole standing proud in the centre of the Healing Place was hand-carved by a group of Wagga Wagga Elders. In Aboriginal culture, any tree that has markings or patterns carved into them are seen as being highly significant. Trees with markings can have many meanings, including having a significance to an elder or to mark a burial place.
The pole represents a Rainbow Serpent, or wawi as described in Wiradjuri language. The wawi represents the creation of the rivers, the wetlands, the mountains and the valleys. There are also two campsites on the pole. The space between these campsites represents our people’s journey from one place to another.
The symbolism of a meeting place is also captured in the carved pole and reflected in its location at the wetland. The Marrambidya Wetland is a place where paths cross. We want people of all walks of life to come together here to celebrate culture, history, nature and to learn from one another.
This carved pole was part of an Aboriginal Cultural Arts course run through TAFE NSW Riverina in 2008. The elders, including myself, worked on the carved pole using chisels and hammers. These elders were; Aunty Isabel Reid, Aunty Gail Manderson and Aunty Joyce Hampton with help also from Gary Little. TAFE teacher Ralph Tikerpae also helped with the carvings. The pole is on loan from TAFE to the wetland for a period of 99 years."
The Healing Place
Why was the Healing Place created and what was the discovery that confirmed this was the right location for this special place?
"A number of factors contributed to the creation of the Healing Place in this location.
The space was originally selected because it was shady and quiet. Standing here always brought and air of calmness to me. I often feel a breeze here – which I think are the spirits of our ancestors welcoming us to this place.
Originally, the site of the Healing Place needed some clearing of trees. It was during this phase, a very special discovery was made. When moving bark and branches from a fallen tree, that was moments from being cleared, we uncovered a scar tree. We believe this scar would have been made by Aboriginal people, pre-European settlement. This find confirmed that we had the right location for the Healing Place.
The concept of a Healing Place came through consultation with the Wagga Wagga Aboriginal community during the early development of Marrambidya Wetland. Today, the vision of the Healing Place is for all people from all walks of life and nationalities, to gather here. It is a place for ceremony, including Apology Day and Sorry Day, as well as sharing stories and traditions. It also has a strong sense of reconciliation, for both people and nature."
Listen to proud Wiradjuri man Mark Saddler explain how the scarring practice is traditionally carried out and why scarred trees are a significant expression of Wiradjuri and Aboriginal culture.
"Scarred trees are a common Wiradjuri practice involving the removal of bark from a tree for the creation of bark canoes, shelters, shields or containers such as gulamans (coolamons). Coolamons are best described as a multi-purpose basket used for carrying babies, water and food. Larger coolamons would have a handle added and would be used as a warrior shield. Larger ones again would be made into canoes, or muriin.
Before cutting the tree you look for a nice shape on trunk, a curved shape, and a spot on the trunk that has no blemishes and is relatively smooth. From here you peel back the outer bark to see if the tree is ok underneath. Then you do a light cut, usually starting with a triangle at the top and another at the bottom. Regular coolamons can be about 60cms to 80cm long and would usually be about 20 to 30cm wide. Making a coolamon would take several hours, we do it gently so not to damage the tree trying to peel the bark away carefully in one piece.
Sometimes, the blank space in the tree trunk where the bark has been removed would also be marked with a carving. These carvings would usually have some significance to the area, and can be carved to represent animals, also the carvings could act as a warning or sign post that you are entering another tribe’s land, or could be a symbol for a burial place or ladies or mens area.
Once complete the bark from the scarred trees would be harden so it can be used over a period of time. When it was no longer needed we would burn and returned the gulaman back to nature. In modern times, the bark removed from scarred trees are usually created for more decorative items and are varnished to last a long time."
The Creation Story of the Murrumbidgee River
How did a brave goanna girl change the course of the Wiradjuri people and help create the Murrumbidgee River? Wiradjuri Elder James Ingram shares the story.
"Wiradjuri is a matriarchal led society. The creation story of the Murrumbidgee River explains how Wiradjuri changed from patriarchal to matriarchal.
This is my recount of the story:
Wiradjuri elder men used to be very greedy men. They wouldn’t share water – the life force for everything. And the women were often treated very badly.
One day, a brave little goanna girl – goanna being the Wiradjuri totem – decided to challenge the male rule. She asked for assistance from the spirits and to believe in her and help her on her mission. With the spirits guidance, she navigated her way up the mountains to the dams where the men had stored all the water. She then took a large stick and with all her might, broke the dam wall, freeing the water. This gush of water filled the empty gullies creating the Murrumbidgee River. The brave little girl was chased back down the mountain to a spot where all the women had gathered. Drawing on the girl’s bravery and strength the women stood up against the men – calling for a change. The men decided that from that day onwards they would change their ways and honour their women.
This is how Wiradjuri changed from a male-led society to a matriarchal nation where all women, our mothers, grandmothers, are held in high regard."
Water Cycle: The Altered Regime
Find out how Marrambidya Wetland is helping to counteract changes in water cycles to provide natural habitats for fish and other animals.
"Under natural conditions the Murrumbidgee River runs high, cool water in winter and low, warm flows in summer. However, the building of dams and summer-water releases for irrigation has reversed this cycle.
Now there are high, cold water flows in the summer and low flows in winter.
This change has impacted many natural wetlands that now receive water in the wrong time of year, or not at all.
Many fish, birds and insect reproduce in response to changes in the weather. For example, a warm, seasonal change, such as from winter to spring may be a signal to breed for a species of fish. However, if the river is too high, or the current is too fast, the fish may not be able to lay her eggs in a sandy back wash or the eggs may get washed away.
There are many examples of how the change in water cycle is affecting our native species that are found in and around rivers and wetlands.
The Marrambidya Wetland has been built to help counteract this change, by providing native fish with a nursery site to breed. As of 2018, Wagga Wagga City Council with Fisheries NSW had released 20,000 small native fish into the wetland, with the hope that one day, these fish will breed in the wetland, will be able to be released into the Murrumbidgee River. We hope this project will also continue well into the future."
Niche Habitats at Marrambidya
Just like people, flora and fauna are all different and have differing needs. The ponds at Marrambidya have been individually designed to provide a range of natural habitats for plants and aquatic life.
"Marrambidya Wetland has been designed to provide a range of habitats found among natural wetlands - these being high river levels and flooding though winter and spring and lower river flows in summer and autumn months.
All of Marrambidya’s ponds have variable water levels that fluctuate according to these natural river flows and flood cycles.
The western pond is flat and provides shallow water habitats with the water only being about 300 millimetres deep. This pond will remain dry for extended periods, except for when deeper water is in the main channel. This allows the pond to create habitats for plants, aquatic invertebrates, fish and other animals that prefer shallow water and an area that is dry for long periods.
In the middle pond, the water is deeper, with a small area that becomes dry for a short period of time. Water management in this pond provides for plants and animals that require water levels and temperatures that are in the mid-range of what occurs naturally.
The eastern pond, which has the best outlook from the viewing platform, is the deepest pond. Water will always cover the bottom, and it has a deeper main channel. This pond provides habitats for the plants and aquatic life that require habitat niches with deeper and colder water.
The plant species found in each pond were also carefully selected for their different habitats. Such as in the western pond you can find Nardoo – which looks similar to a four-leaf clover – and grows well in shallow water with infrequent wetting. While the eastern pond is made up of Giant Rush and Marsh Club-rush species – keep an eye out for tall reeds, reaching up to two metres tall and can grow in water up to two metres deep."
What are aquatic plants and how do they help maintain Marrambidya’s water quality?
"Aquatic plants are plant species that grow in water or at the waters’ edge. These plants play an important role in maintaining good water quality as they use nutrients in the water for plant growth. Excessive nutrients in the water may lead to the growth of harmful algal blooms. Water plants also provide habitat and food sources for aquatic animals and invertebrates.
As you wander around Marrambidya Wetland you may spot some floating reed beds in ponds two and three. These reed beds allow plant roots to grow deep in to the water to filter and remove algae-causing nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
Some of the aquatic plant species you may see during your visit to the wetland are Knob Sedge Rush or Common Reed."
Fish and Turtles
Tens of thousands of fish live right here at Marrambidya. Learn how the wetland provides a native nursery for these fish to safely breed … also, keep your eyes peeled for resident turtles, possibly sunning themselves on snags in the ponds.
"If you were to take a peek under the surface of the Marrambidya ponds, you would certainly find a hive of activity. Shortly after the wetlands were established in 2016, about 20,000 fingerlings, or juvenile fish, were released into the three wetland ponds.
Fish species that happily call the wetland home include the Murray River Rainbow Fish, the Native Gudgeon, Freshwater Shrimp and Yabbies. Due to altered water regimes, that have impacted the breeding cycle of many species of fish, the wetland provides a native nursery for these fish to safely lay eggs – which they do by attaching them to solid objects, such as rocks, wood and amongst aquatic plants.
An eastern long-necked turtle has also been spotted living at the wetland. This cool creature can be seen sunning itself on various snags located within the ponds.
Turtles feed mostly on fish and tadpoles, using their long necks to strike their prey as they pass by.
Female turtles generally lay eggs in the spring or early summer, digging a hole in the side of a bank. They can lay between four and 20 eggs at a time. You may notice the island in pond two, places like this provide safe nesting grounds for turtles, away from predators such as foxes or cats."
Wetlands and bird life go hand in hand. Find out which bird species call Marrambidya home and why the wetland is important for bird breeding and migration.
"Australia has several hundreds of bird species that live in wetlands. These range from brolgas, which stand about 1.5metres tall, to swans, pelicans, egrets, and herons. There are also smaller species like ducks, plovers and sandpipers, to the very small such as the Baillon’s Crake, which is tiny 11 centimetres. Marrambidya Wetland has already attracted many of these bird species, and, as the ponds progress, we will no doubt see many more birds call the wetlands home.
Foods of wetland bird species range from fish, frogs, yabbies and other crustaceans, aquatic and terrestrial insects, to a diet of water plants.
Wetland birds can make their nests in all sorts of places. Some ducks nest in tree hollows, while the likes of plovers and dotterel nest on the ground, or with minimal vegetation around the nest. However, most species make nests among the vegetation, over shallow water or build a semi-floating nest on the water.
Marrambidya Wetland has proven to be a successful breeding ground for many birds, including Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, Coot, Dusky Moorhens, Australian Grebes and Black-fronted Dotterel.
Although some individuals amongst the bird species are sedentary – i.e. they make home in one place, the majority of birds are semi-nomadic, meaning when a wetland is drying out they fly away in search of different wetlands. The nomadic flights can cover hundreds or thousands of kilometres. Typically their migration is from a wetland in the inland parts of Australia, such as Marrambidya, to a wetland in coastal regions or irrigation areas of NSW or Victoria."
Tin Town: The Memories
Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Kath Withers remembers what it was like living in Tin Town. Located at Wiradjuri Reserve, not far from Marrambidya Wetland, Tin Town was a camp for mostly Aboriginal families and some migrants.
"Tin Town was my home for the early years of my life. It was located not far from where you are standing, in what is now Wiradjuri Reserve. Tin Town was at the back of the Wagga Wagga Tip and got its name from the different shaped huts that people lived in. They were built close together and were made from scraps found off the rubbish tip. I remember we would split the old hessian flour and sugar sacks and put them on the walls of our hut. We would then mix flour and water to make a paste and rub it over the hessian to help make the huts weather proof, from the wind and heat.
Everything we had came off the tip. The vegetable and bread trucks used to come in once or twice a week and we would go in and collect the best items for meals to feed the family.
The camp was made up of mostly Aboriginal families, with some migrants. They were mostly large families; I was one of nine. But, it wasn’t a good place to grow up – especially for kids. There was a lot of anti-social behaviour that happened regularly and was a place that was rarely spoken about. No one from town would ever go down there and we were referred to as the ‘camp kids’. Once every couple of months the Salvation Army would come down with a horse and dray and collect us kids and take us up to town where we would dance around the maypole and be given scripture lessons. This was a big outing for us. As ‘camp kids’ we weren’t allowed to mix with the other kids."
Tin Town: The Healing
Helping with the creation of the Marrambidya Wetland project has been part of a healing process for Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Kath Withers. Listen as Aunty Kath shares some of the fonder memories of Tin Town.
"In the early 2000s I was asked to share my memories of growing up in Tin Town for a book. Until this time I had never spoken of my childhood and growing up in this place. I had also never revisited it, despite always living in Wagga Wagga.
However, since I have started opening up about my time here, and being asked to be involved in the creation of Marrambidya Wetland, I have found retelling my stories to be part of a healing process for me. Instead of pushing my bad childhood memories to the back of my mind, I can now focus on the many good memories I have of my childhood and reflect on these. Just like the wetland, I feel that I am also now going through my own healing process. This is just part of why this place is so special to me.
Some of the good memories I draw on these days are how clean and fresh the Murrumbidgee River was back then. You could see the wildlife – the platypus, the water rats and the turtles. I remember gazing into the river and seeing the sun reflect down on the river rocks and all the colours they would cast off.
As kids looking for fun, we would make billy carts from broken prams or kids would use pieces of boards to make cricket bats.
We also knew when the turtles had laid eggs and would race down to the river each day to check if the eggs had hatched.
I think sharing these stories of Tin Town are an important part of Wagga’s history."
Wetland Mammals and the Platypus
Many wetland mammals call Marrambidya home, including the iconic Australian platypus. Listen to this recording to learn more about these interesting monotremes.
"The Marrambidya Wetland is home to a number of wetland mammals, including the platypus.
This mostly nocturnal creature is a semi-aquatic mammal that has a very unusual appearance. It is duck-billed, has a large flat body, a waterproof coat, webbed feet and lays eggs.
Platypus close their eyes and ears when under water. So in order to feed on worms, insects, and freshwater shrimp, they use electroreception senses to dig up muddy river beds with their bill which in turn detects the electric fields of their prey.
The platypus lives in burrows in the banks of rivers, streams, creeks and ponds, and can spend up to 10 hours in the water. The best time to catch a glimpse of this beautiful creature is early mornings or late in the evening.
The platypus and two species of echidna are the world's only monotremes, or egg-laying mammals. The male platypus has spurs on its hind legs that contains poison strong enough to kill a dog.
The biggest threat to the platypus is the loss of habitat - especially land clearing and dams that disrupt the natural water flow. Natural enemies of the platypus include snakes, water rats, goannas and introduced animals such as foxes, cats and dogs. Entanglement in litter, especially discarded fishing line, and yabby traps, can cause many drowning deaths of the platypus.
Marrambidya Wetland has been created to encourage platypus back into the area – so keep your eyes peeled!"
Southern Bell Frog
Listen to the distinctive call of one of the largest frogs found in Australia. It is hoped Marrambidya will help provide a safe home for a community of Southern Bell Frog, which is currently classed as endangered.
"The Southern Bell Frog is a large frog, growing to 80mm in body length. It is rich emerald green or olive coloured with irregular blotches of brown or bronze colouring on its back. Also found on its back are irregular, large warts and skin folds. Along its sides are brown skin folds and its underbelly is a whitish colour. There’s no webbing between the fingers, but its toes are nearly fully webbed.
Most often the Southern Bell Frog is found among the vegetation within permanent water including rivers, creeks, farm dams and garden ponds. It also takes shelter under flood debris.
This frog can be found across the south-eastern slopes and plains of NSW, such as here in Wagga Wagga, and also through Victoria to south-east South Australia and in Tasmania.
They mainly feed on beetles, termites, cockroaches, moths, butterflies and various insect larvae. They sometimes prey on other frogs, including younger frogs of their own species.
This species is a 'sit-and-wait' predator, that is, they do not actively hunt for food but rather wait for prey to move into their feeding range.
Breeding occurs during the late spring through summer months usually after flooding or a rise in water levels following rain. The eggs are laid in a jelly mass, which sinks, and the tadpoles emerge 2 to 4 days later. The tadpoles then take from 3 to 12 months to mature into frogs."
Listen to proud Wiradjuri man Mark Saddler play the didgeridoo. These songs are played to show respect to the land and animals that co-exist with Wiradjuri people on Wiradjuri land. These songs encourage birds back to the area – keep an ear out of bird calls throughout this song.
Hollows and Habitats
Marrambidya Wetland has a number of real and artificial habitats providing safe havens for the many animals that call the wetland home. Keen eyes might even spot some camouflaged in the trees.
"One of the main functions of the Marrambidya Wetland is to provide habitats, or homes, for the many animals that will migrate or settle in this area.
Hollows are one type of home. These are openings in tree branches that have been formed by falling limbs, either due to age or illness. Some hollows can take more than 100 years to develop. Hollows provide birds, possums and bats refuge from weather and predators, and are safe sites for roosting and breeding.
Throughout the past two hundred years a number of trees with hollows have been cleared for various reasons. This has left a shortage of habitats for our native animal species. However, Marrambidya is one area that is working to change this. Artificial habitats to attract a variety of species have been placed around the wetland. Keen eyes might be able to notice camouflaged nesting boxes hidden in the limbs of the River Red Gum trees. These nest boxes are made from wood and assembled into a covered box, with a small opening for animals to access.
If you take a guided tour of the wetland you may be able to sneak a peak inside one of the nesting boxes using a special camera pole."
Frogs at the Wetland
With both dry and wet environments, Marrambidya provides the perfect habitat for many frog species.
"Hear that? This is one of the many frogs that call Marrambidya Wetland home.
Since its creation the wetland has attracted several species of frog to the site. The wetland provides a perfect habitat for tadpoles and frogs with the presence of both wet and dry environments. The still waters of the ponds and the water plants also offer a shelter for tadpoles to grow and develop into full-grown frogs.
Did you know a frog’s lifecycle occurs in four stages? The egg, then a tadpole, followed by a metamorphous into an adult frog.
Frogs are usually very hard to see, so we rely heavily on identifying their calls to determine their species. At Marrambidya we have so far identified: the Giant Banjo Frog, the Barking Marsh Frog, the Common Eastern Froglet, Plains Froglet and Peron's Tree Frog.
As the wetland becomes more established and as vegetation grows, it is hoped the endangered Southern Bell Frog will find safe refuge in this reserve."
The Squirrel Glider
Learn more about this beautiful Australian native marsupials and maybe spot one or two while on a night spotlighting tour.
"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a squirrel glider!
These beautiful native, nocturnal, marsupials get their name due to their distinctive membrane of skin, stretching between their front and hind leg that enables them to glide with ease through the air. When the squirrel glider leaps from one tree to another it spreads it legs so that the gliding membrane is stretched flat and catches the air. The squirrel glider’s very bushy tail is used to aid steering as it flies through the air, and when it reaches the next tree, all four feet hit the tree at the same time and its claws are used to firmly grip into the bark.
The squirrel glider is listed as a vulnerable species across New South Wales, and the population in the Wagga Wagga Local Government Area is classified as endangered – or nearing extinction. Extensive habitat clearing over many years is the biggest threat to this animal. However, vegetation found along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River make a natural habitat connection for Squirrel Gliders. The Marrambidya Wetland is playing a vital part in the survival of these marsupials in Wagga Wagga. Handmade wooden nesting boxes located high in the trees around the wetland are some of more than 100 boxes installed throughout the riverside vegetation in Wagga Wagga. These nesting boxes help to supplement natural tree hollows to allow gliders to move freely through the riverside habitat."
Gobbagombalin: Culture and Communication
Learn more about the traditional owners of this land in Wagga Wagga and why Gobba Beach, located to the west of the wetland, was so important.
"The Wiradjuri nation are the traditional custodians of the land in Wagga Wagga. Pre-European settlement, the Wiradjuri people traditionally lived in small family groups. The family groups moved about the land according to seasonal conditions in search of food. They would also periodically meet in large groups at particular locations to maintain cultural traditions and communications.
The area of present day Wagga Wagga was one such meeting place, where up to a thousand people gathered. They would gather here as there was a good supply of food from the Murrumbidgee River and from a system of animal and bird sanctuaries on the floodplain.
Moving around the land would require an intimate knowledge of the easiest tracks and crossings. This includes crossing the Murrumbidgee River – known as Marrambidya in Wiradjuri language – which is a major river running through Wiradjuri country. There were a number of easier crossings, including one near Gobbagombalin – located to the west of where you are standing at the wetland. It was here that Bulmagarra – a minder or carer – resided. Crossing rivers can often be dangerous for travellers, mainly due to sand on the riverbed shifting, particularly after floods. It is thought that Bulmagarra would guide travellers to the shallower and safe places of the river to cross.
These stories illustrate the Wiradjuri people’s strong cultural bond between land and people and demonstrates their disciplined uses of food resources, ensure nothing was over exploited."
The “Many Rivers People”
Wiradjuri Elder James Ingram explains the importance of rivers and waterways and there significance to the identity of Wiradjuri people.
"We are first known as Wiradjuri peoples, with our second form of identity being the Binnal Billa people – which translates to the ‘many rivers’ people.
Wiradjuri is often identified by its water and the control of these water systems.
Within Wiradjuri country there’s the Yindi Mulwala the Murray River, Marrambidya, the Murrumbidgee River, the Gulari, the Lachlan River and Wombion which is the Macquarie River. Because of these water systems Wiradjuri has always been plentiful – our people never had to go far for a feed.
Wagga Wagga within Wiradjuri country was always a significant meeting place. When tribes would migrate, moving from the lower Murray region to Canberra and beyond and back again, Wagga Wagga was always a place to meet. This is because of the many wetlands in the area, such as Wiradjuri Reserve and the now Tony Island Park and Wollundry Lagoon wetland areas. These wetlands provided food, and plenty of it, to feed the large tribes and families that would gather. There would always be fish and crayfish and ducks as well as other animals that would use the wetlands for drinking or survival.
Wagga Wagga was also known for having an easy crossing point across the Murrumbidgee River at Gobba Beach – which is to the west of the wetlands were you are standing now – and was another reason people were attracted to the area."
Land Use Practices and the Wetland
Listen to how Marrambidya Wetland is helping to protect many animal species.
"Since European settlement much of our native vegetation has been cleared for farming uses, especially here in the Riverina region – which was known for growing cereal crops. This clearing has resulted in the removal of a high percentage of habitat for our native fauna.
Many animals now use the vegetation along the roadside, river and creek banks and around lakes and wetlands, just like Marrambidya Wetland, for habitats and foraging. As well as providing a home, these areas also create corridors for animals to move from place to place to find new food sources and new mates for breeding. For the survival of many species, it is vitally important that we protect these areas of vegetation and keep them intact."
Did you know that a large portion of the water that fills Marrambidya’s ponds come straight from Wagga Wagga’s treated sewerage water? And, don’t worry about Marrambidya’s water quality – you can hear about the high standard of our water here at the wetland in the next story on water bugs.
"Water is an important part of the environment that we all need and sometimes take for granted.
This wetland is an example of what can be achieved using treated effluent water.
Like many towns in inland NSW, Wagga Wagga takes water from the river and acquifa, which is then used by the community for drinking, bathing and watering lawns and gardens. Most of this water is then treated at a nearby sewerage treatment plant. Once the water is treated the majority of the water is returned to the river were it benefits the environment and other users downstream. The water that is not returned to the river, is either used to water Council-owned sportsgrounds across our city, or pumped right here into the Marrambidya Wetland.
Diverting treated water into the wetland helps mimic a natural water regime and recreates niche habitats required for many aquatic species to breed."
Indicators of water quality – What water bugs tell us about the quality of water in our ponds.
"The water in wetlands usually contain lots of beetles and other aquatic insects, known as water bugs.
These insects and other invertebrates found in the water are very important for a number of reasons.
First, they help with the breakdown of plant material and other organic matter in the water. Species of insects found in wetland waters are grouped according to the type of food they eat. There are shredders, who eat leaves, bark and bits of wood. Then there are Collectors, who eat fine particulate matter, such as mosses and algaes. The Filterers are invertebrates that feed on fine organic material suspended in the water. There are also Scrapers and Piercers who are partial to algae and water plants. Then there are the Predator invertebrates who eat other invertebrates. The final group are the Generalists, who use a number of feeding strategies.
The types of water bugs found in a wetland also help identify water quality. Different species have differing tolerances to water quality, particularly salinity. There are four main groups: very sensitive, sensitive, tolerant, and very tolerant water bugs.
At Marrambidya, stonefly and mayfly insects are regularly found. These water bugs are in the very sensitive group, meaning they only live in very clear and pure water. This indicates our ponds here at Marrambidya are of a good, clean water quality.
Finally, water bugs also play an important link in the food chain, by providing food for larger animals found at the wetland, such as birds and other aquatic animals."
Listen to this recording here:
River Red Gums
What can this tree, the most widespread variety of eucalyptus, teach us about flooding, water and how does it help some animals survive?
"As you are walking around Marrambidya Wetland you will certainly spot a River Red Gum or two. River Red Gums are the most widely distributed eucalyptus species in Australia, growing along banks of watercourses, as well as on floodplains throughout the country.
Be sure to look up, with most trees growing between 20 to 35 metres high. It’s also not unusually for some to grow even taller, reaching more than 45 metres in height.
The tree’s diameter can be between one and three meters wide.
The trees association with water is what makes it different and interesting. River Red Gums need periods of partial flooding, where its trunk is inundated with water, sometimes for months at a time, to reproduce. During the flooding, seeds from the tree are washed to higher ground and germinate to take root and grow before the next flood submerges the new tree.
River Red Gums also provide important breeding habitats for fish during the flooding season, which also benefits aquatic bird life that depend on fish as a food source during their own breeding season."
Trees in Wiradjuri Country
Listen to proud Wiradjuri man Mark Saddler as he describes the importance of trees to Wiradjuri people – providing food, shelter, medicine, sign posts and prompting new growth.
"Trees are an integral part of life for Wiradjuri people. The trees are part of us and we are part of them. They provide essentials for life, such as shelter, food and medicine. Wiradjuri people also have special ways of protecting and assisting trees grow and flower, this is done through cold fire burning. These cultural fire burning practices encourage new growth by allowing gentle smoke to pass through the trees at a particular time of year. This makes the trees seed and flower and encourages regrowth for the cycle to continue.
Cultural burning is done on most native plants and Box and River Red Gum trees. Most of these species are found right here in Marrambidya – if you look to the western end of the wetland you will see a large number of River Red Gums growing. Following a fire food would almost be guaranteed with animals, such as kangaroos, returning to the area to feed on the fresh, new growth.
In addition scarring trees for making bark canoes, shelters, shields and coolamons – carrying baskets – was also common practice. As well as being culturally significant, scarred trees have also been historically important. Through research I have found many scarred trees in Wiradjuri country that have given us an insight into the lives of my Wiradjuri ancestors. I have found and recorded scarred trees along the Wiradjuri Walking Track in Wagga Wagga, just a few kilometres from where you are standing now, and one was uncovered in what is now the Healing Place at Marrambidya Wetlands.
I have also recorded scarred trees that have had canoes made from them in areas outside of Wagga Wagga, at The Rock and Coolamon. Both these locations are not near waterways. However, these scarred trees are my ancestor’s way of telling us that the areas are prone to flooding, with the canoes needed at these times so as to get across flooded areas. Scar trees are our living libraries and they need our help to save and record them so that all people can learn from Wiradjuri history."