Meet our Aboriginal Partnerships team

Kate Thorburn
Published 31 May 2019 
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Program Officer West Region Aboriginal Engagement Chontarle Bellottie. Photo Amelia Caddy.<br/> Program Officer West Region Aboriginal Engagement Chontarle Bellottie. Photo Amelia Caddy.
National Aboriginal Partnerships Manager Cissy Gore-Birch. Photo JALARU.<br/> National Aboriginal Partnerships Manager Cissy Gore-Birch. Photo JALARU.
Aboriginal Partnership Officer – South Eastern Australia Sarah Eccles. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Aboriginal Partnership Officer – South Eastern Australia Sarah Eccles. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

Our partnerships with Aboriginal people are a core part of our conservation work. As an organisation, we’re so proud to work with our Aboriginal partners to care for land and sea, celebrate and protect culture, and demonstrate how by working together our nation is better.

National Reconciliation Week (May 27- June 3) is a time to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

We asked our Aboriginal Partnerships team a couple of questions about their backgrounds and connections to country.

How did you come to have a career in conservation?

Chontarle Bellottie: At 13 I was asked what career I would like to lead and I replied with, “A National Park Ranger”. When the teacher asked why I said, “Because it’s 98% men and I want to be the first female ranger”. So my interest in conservation ‘work’ was not clearly defined in caring for country but at the time more so working in a predominately male orientated organisation!

However I have always been drawn to nature. My relationship with country is complex yet simplified by an understanding of belonging and responsibility to care for the land, water and all living things.

Cissy Gore-Birch: Going out bush with my family and learning from the old people. I’ve always had a passion for country and connection.

Sarah Eccles: I grew up with a lot of time on country, from both sides of my family, so I’ve had connection with country and the expectation to look after it planted early on.

On my gubba or non- Koori side my grandparents had a property in northern Tasmania, where we’d have big family camps with all the cousins would help our grandparents look after the property. Nanna and Dad on the Wadawurrung, Koori side would take us to our grassland and stone country the You Yangs, Geelong area and down Torquay and the coastal country...

What’s your favourite species?

Cissy: I have a few; Land Goanna – my totem, and Termites. I’ve always been fascinated by the termite mounds and well-thought out plan of the positioning of these mounds and the materials used to build these structures and how smart they are working together as a team and community. We have a lot to learn from these termites. Very robust and weather resistant – pretty amazing I think.

Sarah: Wirrin – Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo – it’s mine and one of my mob Wadawurrung’s totem species – they guide and take care of me wherever I go. For saltwater country my fave is the Leafy Sea Dragon. Why wouldn’t you dig them? They are such elegant swimmers and have the best camo, not to mention the fellas look after their youngins!

Chonnie: With totemic connections to so many special species of plants and animals it can be difficult to choose! Two plants I feel most connected to because they remind me of home is the “Inji”, Templetonia retusa, a beautiful shrub which Injidup on the south west coast of WA is named after. My second favourite is “Wonil”, Agonis flexuosa. The leaves smell amazing after fresh rain. 

Program Officer West Region Aboriginal Engagement Chontarle Bellottie. Photo Amelia Caddy.<br/> Program Officer West Region Aboriginal Engagement Chontarle Bellottie. Photo Amelia Caddy.
National Aboriginal Partnerships Manager Cissy Gore-Birch. Photo JALARU.<br/> National Aboriginal Partnerships Manager Cissy Gore-Birch. Photo JALARU.
Aboriginal Partnership Officer – South Eastern Australia Sarah Eccles. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Aboriginal Partnership Officer – South Eastern Australia Sarah Eccles. Photo Annette Ruzicka.