A NATIVE tree farm owned and operated by the Noongar Land Enterprise Group (NLE) - WA's only indigenous grower group - was officially opened last week, with the nursery expected to provide seedlings mainly for land restoration and carbon farming purposes.
The tree nursery - which has been named Boola Bornap, meaning the place of many trees - is on Great Eastern Highway, about 10 kilometres west of Northam, with the settlement between NLE and the previous owners occurring in December.
Between November and February, having signed a Special Licence Agreement before the official settlement took place, NLE planted approximately one million seedlings, comprising more than 50 species.
The nursery currently has the capacity to produce 2.5m seedlings per year, and with a proposed expansion in place, that will increase the capacity to three million seedlings.
NLE chief executive officer Alan Beattie said the customers in the first few years would broadly fit into two categories - land restoration and carbon farming.
"Organisations such as Greening Australia have been conducting land restoration projects for a number of years, however last year the State government also announced the $60 million Green Jobs Plan which has two major projects we could benefit from," Mr Beattie said.
"The first is a Main Roads project which will see $5m invested in enhancing roadside vegetation corridors, widening road reserves and replanting vegetation through the Wheatbelt.
"The second is a Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) project which will administer $8m in funds from the Native Vegetation Offsets Fund and $15m in new funds to target restoration of biodiversity values impacted by past clearing, almost all of which will take place on Noongar country."
From an agricultural perspective, according to Mr Beattie, there are large tracts of land in the Wheatbelt that have been degraded through broadacre farming that need land restoration work.
"I think there is a growing acceptance amongst the agricultural community of greater work needing to be done in that area, so I expect that there will be a need for seedlings from the agricultural community," he said.
"On top of that, the reduction of carbon emissions is one thing but carbon offsets across all industries - not just mining or oil and gas, but agriculture as well - is something that more attention is being given to.
"Across the agricultural sector there are organisations like AgZero2030 that are looking at carbon farming as a part of that and as that becomes more commonplace over the years, I expect it will be difficult to do business if you can't show you're either at zero emissions or have a strategy in place to get there."
An event was held onsite at Boola Bornap last Wednesday, with WA Governor Kim Beazley officially opening the nursery alongside NLE elder Maude Bonshore and Ballardong elder Deborah Moody.
Mr Beazley said what was beginning to happen in WA was the blending into the consciousness of society of a deeper understanding of the spirituality, the stories, the land and knowledge aspect of Aboriginal culture.
"The way the Noongar people look after the land is increasingly entering into the consciousness of many Western Australian farmers and now we have a tool to expand that in the form of this nursery," Mr Beazley said.
"The key issue in global politics, outside the pandemic, for the long term, is how we adapt to climate change and try to arrest it.
"Carbon sinks are crucial in that regard, which is increasingly understood in the farming community, and farmers are beginning to understand that they need to incorporate that within their structure, something which is encouraged by outfits like this nursery."
NLE's purchase of the tree farm was facilitated through various funding grants, including from Netherlands based philanthropic organisations COmON and Commonland, as well as a WA philanthropist and Impact Investment Funding via First Australians Capital.
COmON chief executive officer John Loudon said he knew that by creating and successfully managing the tree farm, NLE would provide employment opportunities for Aboriginal people.
"What I've known for a long time is that Aboriginal people have a profound spiritual connection to land - Aboriginal law and spirituality are intertwined with the land, the people and creation, and this forms their culture," Mr Loudon said.
"The health of land and water is so central in that culture, so in my mind everything that NLE stands for - honesty, respect, commitment, integrity, innovation and courage - comes together in Boola Boornap.
"This farm will be much more than just another nursery promoting tree planting - it will be a sacred place to restore integrity, promote indigenous knowledge, develop partnerships and a permanent place where harmony, joy and love for the earth is expressed."
Commonland is a Dutch based, globally focused not-for-profit foundation that partners with organisations all over the globe to restore and regenerate landscapes through harnessing the potential of local communities and businesses, all with the goal of creating large scale and systemic change.
Director of landscape development and support Jim Mackintosh believes that Boola Boornap is the perfect example of the amazing opportunity that lies before investors, the State Government and the Federal Government in Australia.
"That opportunity is for Aboriginal controlled and owned organisations to play a leading role in regenerating our landscapes and our communities through harnessing the power of business to do so," Mr Mackintosh said.
"It's where cultural governance stands alongside political and business models of governance as a true equal and where we allow ourselves to be led, guided and inspired by the 60,000 years or more of Noongar experience, expertise and insight."
The Noongar Boodjar Rangers provided all of the labour that was needed when NLE acquired the farm, with the ready workforce meeting one of the organisation's key aims of local, Aboriginal employment.
The species that will be grown at Boola Boornap were traditionally native to the area and historically used to dominate the landscape.
NLE chairman Oral McGuire said with the clearing that had gone on over the years, many of their sacred trees had been lost.
"The replenishment of trees into the spirit of the land is such an important part of the restoration and ecological health of the land, so every tree that we grow over the years will be handled with love and care by a growing Noongar workforce," Mr McGuire said.
"NLE has identified 'looking after country' cultural connectivity and rejuvenation, and wellbeing and healing as being interconnected in how our land assets are managed.
"While we are on a pathway to economic development, it is the environmental, cultural and social aspirations which provide the motivation and inspiration for our business aspirations."
With Boola Bornap officially opened and millions of seedlings already planted, NLE is taking orders, large or small, from any customers looking to restore land within WA while supporting a locally owned Noongar business.
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