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Bat busting... Walbunja-style Megabat Fruit Bat Flying foxes

WALBUNJA WISDOM: Roderick Slockee says Walbunja elders advise traditional “fire farming” to move on the Water Garden bat colony.

ABORIGINAL people have lived with flying foxes for thousands of years, and Walbunja community member and Catalina resident Roderick Slockee believes a solution can be found to the problem population in the Batemans Bay Water Garden.

“I have spoken with Walbunja elders and they had a number of ways of dealing with a problem like this,” Mr Slockee said.

The first of these is “fire farming,” that is, using fire and smoke to remove the creatures.

“Over the past 100 years, globally, we have learnt how not to burn,” Mr Slockee.

“Fire farming technology had always been part of a natural cycle, like bushfires.

“It was part of nurturing the land.

“We need to learn to like fire again, to embrace it.”
Mr Slockee concedes the infrastructure which now exists near this flying fox camp would present challenges, but believes these would not be unsurmountable.

“This is an opportunity for Aboriginal people to re-investigate fire farming in partnership with NSW Fire and Rescue and the Rural Fire Service,” he said.

He intends to raise the matter with Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Eurobodalla Aboriginal Advisory Committee, of which he is a member.

“The she-oaks (casuarinas) at the Water Garden have nuts which are food for the bats, and also (contain) an analgesic which helps them sleep.

“If there is no food, there are no bats.”

Mr Slockee first arrived in Batemans Bay in 1983, after leaving Victoria about the time of the deadly Ash Wednesday bushfires.

Upon his arrival, he noticed bats in Batemans Bay marshland, but they soon departed.

Mr Slockee wondered if the Ash Wednesday fires had displaced them from southern areas.

“When the fires finished, they disappeared,” he said.

Fire was not the only way bats were dealt with before European settlement in Australia.

“The bullroarer was also used,” Mr Slockee said.

(A bullroarer is a traditional Aboriginal instrument consisting of a thin tear-shaped piece of wood attached to a long cord, which is swung around).

“It was used to intimidate the bats and also attract birds, such as the wedge-tailed eagle, which fed on the bats,” he said.

Mr Slockee insists he has no hard feelings towards the creatures.

“There are Dreamtime stories about the importance of bats,” he said.

However, he sympathises with those who live near the Water Garden.

“It stinks down here and it must be terrible for people who try to wash their clothes and hang them out to dry,” he said.

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