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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

Storylines: Return of the ginibii

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This article is made possible by the support of Ninbella Gallery.

 sat in curiosity some weeks ago as I watched several black swans making themselves at home in a temporary wetland outside of Ballina. Whilst it was not uncommon to see the swan in Nyangbal country, particularly during this time of year, what stood out for me was the sheer number of swans that were seemingly aware of something that the rest of us certainly were not.

Black Swan and Cygnets. Photo Ed Dunens

The black swan, or ‘ginibii’ in our language, travels to our part of the Bundjalung nation during the wet season. This season takes in the period from roughly mid-January to late March. It is the time of year when the pink bloodwood is in flower, frogs are in full song, and of course, those pesky mosquitos are causing us problems.

I’d seen the swans visit in recent years since the drought-breaking wet season of 2020. First one came, then two. No one could have predicted the massive amount of water our region was soon to endure, but perhaps the ginibii did. Five of them, now, happily swimming up and down Burns Point Ferry Road.

The swans look at home, while some of us no longer have one. You see, this is their home. It has been for many thousands of years. Prior to the development of West Ballina, it was a vast floodplain. As were many other areas within the Northern Rivers.

In our efforts to change and dominate our landscape we have altered the very fabric of how our ecosystems and geography manage in times of severe weather. Severe weather that is becoming more frequent, more devastating.

In our efforts to change and dominate our landscape we have altered the very fabric of how our ecosystems and geography manage in times of severe weather. Severe weather that is becoming more frequent, more devastating.

Tuckean Swamp to the south west of Ballina was another, once vast and abundant wetland area. Home to a diverse array of species and a prominent fish hatchery. In the 1880s, we began to drain this pristine ecosystem; with thoughts that it would eliminate the problem of water inundating precious agricultural areas. In this process we permanently changed the way in which our catchment deals with floodwaters.

These floodwaters no longer disperse themselves within the Tuckean Swamp. They are forcefully diverted back into the Richmond River, making their way into what are now residential and commercial areas. And consequently, businesses, livelihoods, homes – are lost.

Coraki’s historic Glebe Bridge. Photo Dossier 48

Coraki, or ‘Gurragai’ in our language, is the meeting of waters where the Richmond and Wilsons River become one. Another area that was once a spillway for floodwaters now drained for farmland, permanently altered, but being reclaimed by the unstoppable forces of nature.

Further examples of once prominent wetland areas that helped mitigate floodwaters include Swan Bay just west of Woodburn, South Ballina, and of course, Lismore.

Lismore 2022 flood. Photo David Lowe

Our people knew the seasons and the landscape intimately. They knew which regions would be plentiful, at what time of year, and during which cycle. We had successfully learned to live with the land. It was not plausible for us to make camp in an area such as Lismore during the wet season. However, today, this is where we build our homes: So confident are we in our ability to divert our waterways and so consumed by our lust to develop areas that are simply uninhabitable.

Proposals such as the Iron Gates development in Evans Head are now under water, both literally and figuratively. Our region needs a rethink. We cannot continue in this current fashion of unbridled and ill-informed development. Whilst some people will make themselves a quick dollar, others will see their lives washed down the river.

Our modern way of life is unsustainable. That much is clear. Climate change is here. It is not something for us to consider in 30–50 years. It is here now. We must adapt. The people of the Bundjalung nation adapted by seeing themselves as forever part of the environment. 

Now, we are all part of this country. This is evidenced by the level of support and help we have provided to each other during this difficult period. 

This is the Bundjalung way, ‘Nguymaa’. We must continue to come together. We must stop the old stale arguments that lead us down the same hole. It is time to sit, time to talk, time to come up with genuine solutions to a problem that will not be going anywhere.

Eli Cook at Angels Beach. Photo David Lowe.


Eli Cook is from the Nyangbal clan of the Bundjalung nation.

His family are descendants of the South Ballina tribe.

As a local school teacher from the Ballina area he has worked closely with the Aboriginal community for the past eight years.

‘I hold a great interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advancement and seek to create stronger communities through truth sharing and shared cultural experiences,’ says Eli.


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  1. This is an inspiring article and I hope that there are more. We are now experiencing the full fabric of climate change. First Nation people’s knowledge will lead us to greater understanding of ecological systems and their life-force. The old ways are dying. We must support each other and learn new ways of existence incorporating every aspect of First Nation knowledge.


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