Fuelled by a passion to document her family’s connection with Bon Bon Station Reserve in the South Australian outback, Nikki Willis has embarked on a project to bring Aboriginal cultural history and pastoral history together.

Key points:

  • Nikki Willis is recording her elders’ history to preserve Aboriginal heritage on an outback station
  • Bon Bon Station Reserve is one of about 30 reserves owned or managed by Bush Heritage Australia
  • Reserve manager Clint Taylor encourages other communities to become involved in the project

The 20-year-old, Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara woman from Kingoonya in central South Australia, said it was vital elders’ stories were recorded.

Bon Bon Station Reserve is managed by Bush Heritage Australia, a non-profit organisation that buys land to manage and conserve while also partnering with traditional owners.

Prior to her history project, Ms Willis had worked on the reserve monitoring animals and surveying kangaroo populations.

This is a historic photo of Bon Bon Station in 1930.(Supplied: State Library of South Australia)

An emotional speech

About a year ago, she decided she wanted to be more involved with Bush Heritage Australia because her family has strong ties to the land.

“I helped my Nanna and all my elders to write a letter about all our family history and I ended up reading that out to a lot of the Bush Heritage Australia workers and managers,” Ms Willis said.

“We picked a place between Kingoonya and Bon Bon. It was at a lake there and so in our culture it is a sacred site — a woman’s sacred site.

Bon Bon Station Reserve has a rich Indigenous and pastoral history.(Supplied: Kate Taylor)

As project manager of the initiative, Ms Willis has begun interviewing her elders about their lives on Bon Bon and community traditions for signage on the reserve.

“Then if anyone comes through like other workers or anything like that, they’ve got something to read and know about the history,” she said.

“And just to recognise what land you’re on, and that we are still working there, and we’re still living there.”

Ms Willis has learnt how to cook a feed using traditional methods.(Supplied: Nikki Willis)

Learning the traditional ways

Ms Willis’s elders have also taught her traditional techniques.

“I never knew a lot of things about being out in the bush and how to survive,” she said.

“They take me out hunting and we do our traditional hunting and how to cook a feed in the fire.

Ms Willis’s friends and family say they are proud of work.(Supplied: Jodie Warren)

Ms Willis has enjoyed every second of the learning experience.

“I love it, it’s so free and it teaches you a lot of things — I feel like it made me smarter in a way,” she said.

“I thought I’d live in the city my whole life and that’s the way it was, but being out bush is so peaceful and it opens up your imagination,” she said.

Bon Bon Station Reserve is known for its unique flora and fauna, like this female wolf spider and its babies.(Supplied: Kate Taylor)

Australia-wide initiative

Bon Bon Station is one of about 30 reserves owned or managed by Bush Heritage Australia.

Clint Taylor often works with Ms Willis.(Supplied: Kate Thorburn)

Reserve manager Clint Taylor said volunteers and supporters would be “fascinated” by the history.

“I think tying in that cultural history from both sides, Aboriginal cultural history and the pastoral history, into the total history of these sort of properties is really interesting,” he said.

Mr Taylor encouraged other groups of traditional owners to get in contact if they wanted to become involved.