29 November 2021

Aaron Chatfield's passion for country has deep historical roots

| Judith Davidson
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Aaron Chatfield

Aaron Chatfield conducting a NAIDOC Week workshop. Photo: Supplied.

Aaron Chatfield’s quiet enthusiasm aims to change a whole lot of things in his country.

A Gamilaraay man with deep connections to Ngunnawal people and country, Aaron’s deepest sense of connectedness is when he is out on country, particularly with young people needing to find themselves.

Since 1965, Aaron’s family has been living in Yass and Canberra. Most of the family, including Aaron, attended the local Yass High School. Growing up, he has very affectionate memories of a large strong family who looked out for each other.

Moving to Canberra after completing high school and a road worker traineeship in Yass, his passion for conservation was kindled by his father, Gregory Chatfield, who began working with National Parks’ Indigenous Rangers program.

Binalong Public School students

Working with Binalong Public School students as an Indigenous Engagement Officer for Greening Australia. Photo: Supplied.

Encouraged to enrol in a land management course at CIT, Aaron often went out with the Greening Australia casual bush crew on tree planting and weed control projects.

By 2017, Aaron was a Project Officer working on revegetation projects, and the Yass Habitat Linkages project in the Yass Valley region working with farmers to establish native tree lines on their properties.

He claims to have planted 20,000 trees, many in conjunction with joint Greening Australia and Rivers of Carbon projects to regenerate habitat.

A defining event for Aaron was the loss of his father, his mentor and inspiration, to Motor Neurone Disease in 2019. Honouring his father’s last wish, Aaron embarked on a new and very challenging journey to establish the business he and his father had planned to create.

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With energy and determination, Aaron set about tasks of business cards, bookwork and, above all, promotion to launch Dreamtime Connections.

Now much in demand to run workshops featuring bush tucker and Aboriginal culture in Yass and Canberra district schools, Aaron works around helping local community groups such as the Yass Valley Men’s Shed establish a bush tucker garden.

Knowing firsthand the benefits for all students, his ambition is to see indigenous culture embedded in school curriculums.

His On Country Program with the ACT Government seeks to take kids, both indigenous and non-indigenous, who are having trouble finding themselves, out on country where they can engage in meaningful activities looking after country.

“Kids develop a sense of pride in their achievements and themselves but also they have something to aspire to,” Aaron said.

Increasingly, there are jobs for indigenous school leavers in conservation and land management so there is a very practical component to the program where students can complete part of a course for their HSC which will be credited towards completion of CIT courses.

National Arboretum

Aaron Chatfield working at the National Arboretum. Photo: Supplied

In Aaron’s personal stories of his father and family, there is warmth and pride. He has a remarkable ancestor. In 1893, his three times great grandmother, Mary Jane Cain, a 49-year-old Gamilaraay woman living north of Coonabarabran at Forky Mountain with her husband and nine children, wrote a letter to the Queen.

She wanted her land measured and fenced to prevent straying stock invading her property but her complaints to the local sergeant and the government met with no response.

Her initiative in writing to Her Majesty, which included the request that she be given written proof of ownership, title and rights to the land, resulted in the gazetting of 400 acres as Forky Mountain Station which was subsequently increased to 600 acres providing a secure home for herself and her people. The station became known as Burra Bee Dee reserve.

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In the 1980s to early 2000s, Narrabundah ACT was home to Aaron and his family. He felt part of a strong local indigenous community. His grandfather was turf manager at Boomunalla sporting oval. With its clubhouse, it was really a welcoming community space. His grandfather’s “green thumb” and hard work in preparing the turf gained high praise from the visiting West Indies cricket team.

Dreamtime Connections are helping to educate and promote Aboriginal culture, food and land management techniques as part of mainstream Australian life. There is no doubt Aaron’s Great grandmother Mary Jane Cain and his father would be proud of him.

He has obviously inherited their initiative, drive and community spirit. Winning the ACT NAIDOC award in 2015 acknowledged this too.

Judith Davidson is a local historian, uncovering the stories of the Yass Shire.

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