The small central Arnhem Land community of Bulman is nestled at the foot of a tall rocky hill put there by Mibbar, the wedge-tailed eagle ancestral being in the creation times.
Here, Mibbar created a spring which emerged from under rocks and ran several hundred metres down into another creek. It is regarded as the home of a Bolung, or rainbow serpent.
The spring is called Gulin Gulin, and it was the area’s name before the community was called Bulman.
Mimal Ranger Kenneth Murray is a djungkayi or ceremonial manager with responsibilities for looking after the sacred property of the Dakkal and Marrku clans, including Gulin Gulin.
He says people from many clans depended on the water from this spring when they gathered at a nearby meeting place to plan ceremonies and other group activities during the dry seasons.
“Old people said this spring would always run and provide water for everyone — right through the dry season,” says Kenneth.
“But since horses, buffalo, donkeys and pigs have come into this country the spring has been getting sick and weak,” says Kenneth.
Donkeys and horses in particular compacted all the soil and destroyed the monsoon forest and pandanus vegetation that once grew around the spring head.
But in 2016 there is new hope that the spring may be restored to health.
In May, Mimal rangers erected about 60 cattle panels around the spring to exclude feral animals.
Just two months later, the rangers could see changes happening.
“We can see the ground that was dry and flattened out is taking up water and loosening up, plants are beginning to grow again,” Kenneth says.
At the end of June djungkayis Kenneth Murray and Justin Daylight spent a morning digging out the spring head to make it easier for water to flow.
Despite a very poor wet season the spring is now flowing again.
The rangers have removed the exotic Gmelina trees and preparing to apply herbicide to remove them permanently.
The rangers are also working with the nearby Bulman School to set up a small nursery devoted to growing up bush tucker and bush medicine plants.
Rangers, students and teachers will be involved in collecting seeds and gathering knowledge from elders.
Some of the seedlings will be used to restore vegetation around the spring and others will be offered to parents and friends of the school to encourage native plant use.
“The spirits of the old people will be happy to see the spring becoming healthy again”, Kenneth says with a smile.
This project has been supported by the Natural Resource Management Board (NT).