Peter Paker from South 32, Jade Kennedy from ILALC  and UOW, and Dr Anna Lewis and Hugh Forehead from UOW.

Aboriginal knowledge to help heal Country on Mount Kembla

Aboriginal knowledge to help heal Country on Mount Kembla

South32, the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council and UOW researchers to co-design an environmental management approach based on Aboriginal knowledge systems.

When the destructive bushfires of the 2019-20 summer raised questions about how we manage our natural environment, the traditional Aboriginal approach of preparing Country by using ‘cool’ fires gained renewed attention as a practical solution.

Now, Aboriginal knowledge systems are to be explored to restore and care for Country that has been impacted by residential development, mining, and other commercial land uses in the Illawarra.

Three local organisations are collaborating to introduce an Aboriginal-knowledge approach to land and water management in the Mount Kembla area of NSW.

South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal, the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council (ILALC) and University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers will work together to co-design an environmental management approach based on Aboriginal knowledge systems.

The project, called Ngayagang Yanba – or Come with Me, in the local Dharawal language – will explore land care practices to restore Country and identify opportunities for potential Aboriginal-community economic development in the Illawarra region.

The project aims to build on a similar study that is applying Aboriginal knowledge systems of Traditional Owners to the management of Lake Illawarra.

This project will be an opportunity to apply Aboriginal land-care values to the project area, which has been altered by various historic and contemporary commercial and residential land uses.

The work will focus on outer-urban areas of Mount Kembla and its creek system, upstream of the Princes Highway. The work is not taking place inside the Greater Sydney water catchment special area or near planned future mining areas.

The Mount Kembla project, to be funded by South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal, will see local Aboriginal knowledge-holders working with UOW researchers and community stakeholders.

Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council Chair and UOW Senior Lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges, Jade Kennedy, describes the collaboration as “an opportunity for Aboriginal voices to be heard in how this Country might be regenerated”.

“We have been vocal in our criticism of development and industries that negatively impact cultural heritage and Country. That hasn’t changed but we are coming to this specific collaboration with a shared goal of regenerating Country. The Land Council is looking forward to working together with industry around issues where our values and objectives align.”

South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal Vice President Operations Peter Baker said “We are committed to sustainable development and minimising the impact of our operations. We recognise that we have a critical role to play in preserving our local environment and we are committed to working with the community to achieve that outcome. South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal is proud to support this new initiative, partnering with ILALC and the local community to restore Country using traditional Aboriginal methods and perspectives. This partnership will result in a co-designed environmental management approach based on Aboriginal knowledge systems.”

UOW Project Manager Dr Anna Lewis said this will be a highly collaborative project, with local community volunteer participants needed at different stages of the project.

“We also want to invite interested members of the Mount Kembla community, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to participate in the project alongside researchers from the University of Wollongong and have their voices heard” Dr Lewis said.  

Interested community stakeholders wishing to participate, whether groups or individuals, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, should contact Anna Lewis at to obtain a copy of the Expression of Interest document.