The Knob Reserve

The Knob was traditionally a common ground for the five clans of the Gunaikurnai. Aboriginal people would travel for days to join great meetings where they would feast, share information, trade goods and practice corroborees and other cultural ceremonies… As well as being a source of food, the Doodeeyang (Avon River) was a major transport route… Around the turn of the century, this area was used for less happy meetings. After our people were
forced by law to live in missions, they came to this traditional gathering place in secret and in fear to meet with their relatives. In recognition of its significance to Gunaikurnai people, the Knob Reserve was chosen as the place where our 2010 Native Title determination was signed … Because of the high concentration of artefacts in the Reserve and surrounding areas, our primary aim is to manage the impacts of users of The Knob Reserve in a way that protects our cultural heritage values and doesn’t cause harm.
— Gunaikurnai Whole-­‐of-­‐Country Plan (GLaWAC 2015)

The Knob Reserve covers 58 hectares and is located on the Avon River or Dooyeedang, three kilometres from the town of Stratford. It was set aside in 1906 as a recreation reserve under the Crown Land (Reserves) Act and has historically been managed for public recreation. It is administered by an incorporated Committee of Management consisting of nominees from GKTOLMB, GLaWAC and DELWP.

The Knob Reserve is a small but very significant place that demonstrates the living culture of Gunaikurnai in the present as well as the past: a traditional gathering place used by five clan groups for thousands of years; a place of clandestine resort in the 19th and 20th centuries to maintain connections with family, separated during the mission era; and the location of the ceremony to confer Victoria’s first native title determination in 2010.

The reserve is in the country of the Brayakaulung clan. The Dooyeedang was a major travelling route between the high country and the Gippsland Lakes, as well as providing eel, bream, flathead and prawn. The bluff above the Dooyeedang was a significant campsite. Axe heads were sharpened on the sandstone grinding stones beneath the bluff. The resulting deep grooves are rare and significant in Victoria. Evidence of site scatters, scar trees and camps are also present within the reserve.

In addition to its significance for the Gunaikurnai, it is an important place for the local community of the Stratford township and its surrounds. The reserve provides an area of accessible public bushland close to the town which is popular for informal recreation, periodic sports events and cultural events such as outdoor theatre that bring the local community together. It is an important waypoint on the Bataluk Cultural Trail, a regional cultural touring route through
Gippsland that extends from South Gippsland to Cape Conran.

The Knob is culturally significant to the Gunaikurnai in itself and as part of the whole of country story (TOLMB 2014). The bluff above the Dooyeedang was an important camp site and meeting place for the Gunaikurnai, providing shelter, food, and water. Around the turn of the 20th century this area was an important meeting point. Gunaikurnai people would walk the 15 km from Ramahyuck Mission, at the mouth of the Avon River, to meet with their relatives.

The reserve also has significance in contemporary times as the site where the Federal Court of Australia issued its Native Title Determination for the Gunaikurnai people and where the Recognition and Settlement Agreement with the State of Victoria was signed. It contains eight known cultural heritage sites, including scarred trees, grinding grooves and an artefact scatter, which are recorded on the Aboriginal Heritage Register (Aboriginal Victoria 2018). There are six
registered scarred trees at The Knob Reserve; these are the most commonly recorded cultural heritage values within the Reserve. Axe grinding groove sites are associated with sandstone outcrops, usually located close to water, and hence are rare occurrences in the landscape. There is one recorded surface (artefact) scatter site, near the axe grinding grooves on The Bluff. Surface scatters are signs of past occupation by Gunaikurnai people, and can include materials such as stone, charcoal, bone and shell.

An ethnobotanical analysis (Oates and Frood 2017b) examined approximately 190 plant species in the reserve and identified more than 70 that have been documented in Victorian or Australian ethnographic records as having some Aboriginal customary usage. Of these, 12 species have been confirmed as used by Gunaikurnai people and 26 are considered likely to have been used. The confirmed species are listed below, with the Gunaikurnai name shown where known:
• Lightwood (Acacia implexa) — yowan
• Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) — moeyang
• River Red-‐gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) — gri
• Gippsland Red-­gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis subsp. mediana) — gri
• Manna Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis)— bam‐e-­rook (the shield made from this tree)
• Cherry Ballart (Exocarpus cupressiformis) — ballee, ballart
• Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema pendula)
• Spiny-­headed Mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia)
• Austral Bracken (Pteridium esculentum)
• Kangaroo Apple (Solanum aviculare) — gunyang, koonyang
• Rough Sow-­thistle (Sonchus asper)
• Common Sow-­thistle (Sonchus oleraceus).

The reserve is within the Red Gum Plains landscape zone of the Gippsland Plains Bioregion and contains vegetation in a landscape of cleared agricultural land and residential lots and is recognised as having significant biodiversity values.
The vegetation of the reserve has been the subject of several detailed surveys and assessments (e.g. Ethos NRM 2015, Oates and Frood 2017a).
Five ecological vegetation classes (EVCs) have been identified in the reserve, as well as two unclassified vegetation communities. Three EVCs are significant.

Plains grassy woodland is the most important. Approximately three quarters of the reserve is covered by this EVC which was the original dominant vegetation throughout this portion of the Gippsland Plains. While previously extensive, it has been reduced to small isolated remnants as a consequence of clearing and land use practices. This vegetation type is also recognised as part of the broader ‘Gippsland Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis subsp. mediana) Grassy Woodland and Associated Native Grassland Ecological Community (RGGWEC)’ that is listed as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) (EPBC Act) and the ‘Forest Red Gum Grassy Woodland Community’, which is listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic).

A total of 304 plant species have been recorded in the reserve, of which 181 are native and 123 species are introduced to Victoria. Seven of the native vascular plants are classified as rare or threatened in Victoria and/or nationally. Plant species identified in the reserve in 2016 and listed as rare or threatened are shown in Table 3. Victorian or Commonwealth Action Statements do not currently exist for any of these species. DELWP’s NatureKit biodiversity data products provide important information for conserving flora and fauna in the reserve.

The reserve contains many plant species that have cultural importance (see ‘Gunaikurnai Cultural Heritage’ section above), but the fauna of the reserve has not been surveyed comprehensively. The Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA 2014) holds records of 22 native fauna species at the location, (17 birds, 3 mammals and 2 reptiles). Four introduced animal species have also been recorded (Common Myna, Common Starling, European Rabbit and Red Fox). Grassy woodland vegetation communities generally provide habitat for a suite of woodland birds, ground dwelling reptiles,
mammals and invertebrates.

Wildlife known to frequent the reserve that have traditional importance to the Gunaikurnai include the Munjee (blackfish), No yorig (eel), Jirrah (kangaroo) Borun (pelican), Gidi (swan) and Goongera (possum).

Landscape and catchment context
The reserve is part of the West Gippsland Lower Avon sub-catchment. The catchment has a history of significant land clearing, which has resulted in severe erosion following flooding. Catchment management has focused on actions to minimise further erosion, water quality deterioration and potential downstream impacts on Ramsar wetlands.

The reserve consists of older alluvial plains and terraces of Quaternary origin and is part of the South Eastern Riverine Plains of the Eastern Plains of Victoria. The Dooyeedang defines the reserve’s south‐western border. It is an incised stream and is composed of a loose gravel bed system that is prone to instability during high flows.
A prominent feature of the reserve is the pebbly, sandstone bluff formed by the Avon River cutting through the Haunted Hill gravels. The brown or yellow sodosols tend to be waterlogged in wet periods and dry out quickly in dry periods during summer (Ethos NRM 2015).

Under joint management The Knob Reserve will continue to be managed as an area accessible to the community for public recreation. There will be a greater focus on protecting, promoting, appreciating and enjoying the natural and cultural values of the reserve.

The 2010 Native Title Determination and RSA recognised and reinforced the cultural role and importance of the reserve. The Gunaikurnai Whole-­‐of-­‐Country Plan (GLaWAC 2015) sets out the following management priorities for reserve:
• extending the Aboriginal Title boundary to include sections of the river bank that have a high concentration of important cultural sites
• revegetating the sand dune system to get the river flowing properly and cleanly again
• undertaking careful fire management in a way that is sensitive to cultural values – fuel management rather than burns and doing slashing rather than using earth breaks
• undertaking more cultural surveys, which is particularly important in such a populated area where there is a high risk of damage to sites
• recognising the need for formal agreements with users of the reserve, look at ways to ensure their use does not cause harm to the land or resources
• educating the local community about the sites and culturally appropriate use of them.
While recognising these priorities, this plan sets out actions that are consistent with and limited to the terms of the 2010 Recognition and Settlement Agreement. Collaboration with the local and broader community and stakeholders will be central to the delivery of the plan.

The proximity of the reserve to Stratford and the interest and connections to the reserve held by numerous community groups provides an opportunity for cooperation between those groups and Gunaikurnai. Although managed for recreation, The Knob Reserve is very significant as a remnant of Gippsland Red Gum Grassy Woodland, which has been largely cleared elsewhere. It has had a history of many different activities, including stock grazing and use as a rifle range, and these have left impacts on the landscape.

Joint management provides an opportunity for renewal of the cultural importance of The Knob Reserve, restoration of the health of the reserve, and new opportunities for its enjoyment by the entire community.

Click here to read the full Joint Management Plan for The Knob Reserve