Sanctuary E.G. Innovation by Co-Design

East Gippsland is Gunaikurnai land. It is rich in biodiversity and traditional culture. We respect the traditional owners of the land and waters, their unique ability to care for Country and their deep spiritual connection to it.

Introducing Sanctuary East Gippsland

In the wake of economic decline, prolonged drought, catastrophic bush fires and Covid 19, Sanctuary E.G. has emerged as a co-design lab for regenerating our remote and spectacular region. It is driven by a group of experienced colleagues who have grown up in the remoteness and beauty of East Gippsland. We are committed to engage with our community in an innovative, place-based approach to regional development and we seek partnership with like-minded organizations and communities to get our project off the ground.

The January fires and thick, lingering smoke had a devastating impact on our remote communities and it destroyed millions of animals, insects and plants, pushing species toward extinction and burning thousands of hectares of natural habitat.

It was a wake-up call for the world and it put the spotlight on East Gippsland, a region that, despite its treasure trove of environmental riches, has been languishing for many years from economic decline and prolonged drought.

Our Vision

Sanctuary East Gippsland is set up to work with communities to co-design a network of 'sanctuaries' that evolve into Eco-Cultural-Tourism destinations.

'Sanctuaries' will offer unique cultural and environmental experiences - multi-sensory, conservation-minded, educational, respectful of traditional culture & country & nourishing to both mind and body.

The concept of 'sanctuaries' will be explored, not just as safe places for humans & non-humans in Nature, but as symbols of renewal:- economic injectors, job generators and, ultimately, tourism attractions.

We shall seek the knowledge and stewardship of the Gunaikurnai elders through Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) to ensure that their 'connection to country and culture' is at the heart of our design and engage with communities to ensure that we all share the vision.

Hellfire 4 'The Edge of My Vision-Fire’ Series Dore Stockhausen

‘OneOffTwo’ Gallery, Nungurner

“The environment here has suffered so much.

However there is beauty to be found everywhere and

everywhere there is hope. Take your thoughts for a

walk and paint them....that's what I do.”

Artist Dore Stockhausen

What Is At Stake?

Relatively undiscovered, the beauty and fragility of East Gippsland's rich biodiversity covers an area of some 31,740 square kilometers. There are lush forests, rugged alpine wilderness and wild beautiful beaches. There are Lowland Forests, Dry Forests, Rain-forests, Wet or Damp Forests, Heathy Woodlands, Wetlands and Sub-Alpine Grasslands, Shrub-lands and the Ramsar protected Gippsland Lakes sanctuary. The combination of southern cool and eastern warm temperate climates create rich biodiversity. It provides a haven for rare and threatened bird species and is ideal for spotting shy forest dwellers and marsupials, gliders, superb lyrebirds, parrots, cockatoos, migrant cuckoos and abundant water birds.

East Gippsland has 72 natives extant (living) mammal species. They represent 26 families in 8 orders. It comprises only 0.3% of Australia’s total land area but is home to over 20% of her native mammals. Most of the major types of Australian mammals are present in this region: 2 of the 2 monotreme families (Platypus and Echidna); 11 of the 17 living marsupial families (Dunnarts and Quolls, Kangaroos, Wallabies, Possums, Koala, Wombats); 5 of the 8 bat families (Flying Foxes); 1 of the 1 family of native rodents and thirty six species of reptiles including the 2.5m Lace Monitor and the 3m Diamond Python.

The Gippsland Lakes is home to 7 of the10 families of marine mammals including a resident population of 63 Burrunan Dolphins. Covering an area of 60,015 hectares, it is a Ramsar site designated to be of international importance under the UNESCO Ramsar convention. It consists of a group of coastal lagoons and marsh environments that are separated from the sea by a barrier system of sand dunes and fringed on the seaward side by the Ninety Mile Beach. The main lagoons and lakes are fed by a number of river systems that flow down from the mountains into a complex and dynamic Estuary environment, where fresh-water meets salt-water from the ocean. There is a rhythm of seasonal and annual fluctuations in salinity, water temperature, water quality and tidal flows and a complex geological substructure creating rich biodiversity in the outer perimeters of the lakes ecosystem.

'Dream Green' 'The Edge of my Vision-Fire’ Series (above) by Dore Stockhausen

55 x 100 cm acrylic on canvas on aluminium composite board

Photos: Studio JOMO

"Fish" by Ray Thomas, Gunaikurnai Artist, gouache and ink drawing on paper

The Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, set up to support the Australian Government’s response, has already identified 119 species in need of immediate intervention including mammals, fish, birds, crayfish, plants frogs, snails, beetles, spiders, trees, shrubs, orchids and grasses, many in the East Gippsland region.

Our Purpose & Our Approach

Sanctuary East Gippsland is about engaging with the community in the co-design of Eco-Cultural-Tourism ideas and strategies, achieving community consensus and setting direction and priorities.

We shall conduct creative workshops, on-line consultations, share data and host symposiums to bring together community, potential partners and stakeholders. We shall help to draw on traditional owners, industry, government, knowledge institutions, investors & community and we shall engage specialists to examine the market and the economics. We shall create collaboration and cross-fertilization between artists, scientists and citizen-scientists. TAFE and universities will be consulted about capacity development for the jobs that will be created. Our low risk, stage-by-stage planning approach will design systems for monitoring & measuring outcomes along the way.

We Shall Ask ALL the Tough Questions:-

  • How Do We Secure AND Share Our Rich Biodiversity?

  • How Do We Secure AND Share Traditional Culture?

  • Do we have community social license?

  • How do we align with government policy and programs ?

  • Who are the key stakeholders?

  • Who has the knowledge and who are the partners?

  • What are the global market trends?

  • How is this scheme sustainable?

  • What is the business model? What is the governance model?

  • Who will invest in Sanctuary East Gippsland?

  • What new capabilities do we need to develop?

  • How shall we monitor and measure outcomes for the region?......

We Shall Listen To Experts

We have commenced forming links with experts and specialists in the region and Australia-wide. There is a generous response from traditional owners, scientists and ecologists, archeologists and educationalists, engineers, architects and designers. They are willing to share their knowledge and experience and support our inclusive co-design process.

CEO of Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Tim Allard, who coincidentally grew up in East Gippsland, says “working with traditional owners, forming partnerships and engaging with the population is the way of the future.” In a recent announcement by AWC he stated that they are actively looking to acquire tracts of land in East Gippsland with a view to saving the most threatened flora and fauna, in particular the Long-footed Potoroo, a near-to-extinction victim of the recent fires.

Why 'Connecting to Country & Culture' Matters

It is not just a matter of saving the threatened Long-footed Potaroo from extinction, although that is critical. It is also an opportunity to recognize and respect the special knowledge and skills of the Gunai Kurnai people. Sanctuaries can secure and help protect aboriginal cultural heritage which might include:

  • artifacts, objects and skeletal remains

  • sites, landscapes or areas of significance

  • cultural knowledge, lore, language, stories, song, dance and identity.

A sanctuary that protects Gunai Kurnai culture and country will be a platform that engages and employs traditional owners in the restoration and preservation of their sacred sites and cultural knowledge. Spectacular sites of cultural significance that currently attract visitation by locals and tourists include:

The Den of Nargun, a Bataluk Trail in the The Mitchell River National Park. It tells stories of conflict between tribes, ceremonies, food gathering, community life and spirits that inhabit the area. The Nargun is a large female creature who lives in a cave behind a waterfall in the Mitchell River. Stories were told around campfires about how the Nargun would abduct children who wandered off on their own. The Nargun could not be harmed with boomerang or spears. 

These stories served the dual purpose of keeping children close to the campsite and ensuring that people stayed away from the sacred cave. The Den of Nargun is a place of great cultural significance to the Gunai Kurnai people. Traditionally Gunai Kurnai men were not allowed down to the Den of Nargun, a practice that is still respected by the Gunai Kurnai men today.

Imagine an Eco-Arts Co-Design Lab

Imagine a space where community, scientists and artists share their knowledge, creativity and specialist skills to co-design solutions and create experiences that bring visitors into the research and conservation space and communicate East Gippsland's spectacular biodiversity. We shall engage with artists who, like bio-scientists, observe the complexity and beauty of Nature and connect us to it.

Ibis on the River Flat by Gordon Bain Acrylic on Board

The Sanctuary East Gippsland Co-Design Lab will bring together artists and scientists with community for collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas and solutions in a creative, experimental research, design and conservation space. Working together we can strengthen the identity of East Gippsland as an Eco-Cultural-Tourism destination, co-design unique experiences, multi-purpose infrastructure and contribute to the conservation and restoration of the region.

'cinerea' detail from The Edge of My Vision Fire Series Dore Stockhausen

Imagine a Wildlife Conservation & Research Hub

Our smart specialization design process will consult with traditional owners and all the environment management agencies and volunteer Landcare groups to scope the breadth and complexity of our biodiversity in East Gippsland. The truth is we already have a hub of regional agencies and experts managing and protecting our environment. Sanctuary E.G. will link and showcase existing conservation and land management programs.

Imagine a Contemporary 'Eco-Culture Museum Without Walls'

As a region that is infrastructure poor we understand the need for integrated, sustainable and flexible infrastructure solutions. The task is to design immersive wildlife and cultural experiences that attract visitors and build reputation as a regional Eco-Cultural-Tourism hub. There is no shortage of amateur naturalists, citizen scientists, birdwatchers, artists, schools and community groups, such as our growing U3A life-long learners, who could benefit from a network of well-designed and equipped "sanctuaries", not necessarily fenced-off reserves bit places for safety, research, creativity and tourism experiences.

We need to 'join the dots', connect to walking & cycling trails, create viewing platforms, integrate retail cafés/shops, labs & studios, collections, exhibition & visitor facilities, signage & digital platforms. We shall integrate scientific and cultural knowledge in the design process and explore innovative ways to bring the world in and showcase our rich and unique biodiversity to the world.

Our co-design approach will examine the post-fire and post-covid trends in global tourism. Already there is anecdotal evidence that visitors will have a stronger desire to reconnect with Nature and with the First Nation culture of traditional owners.

Imagine Tourism Industry Growth & Jobs

For many years East Gippslanders have hosted visitors from around the world who are spending their first night or their last of their Melbourne to Sydney coastal journey. In the Eco-Cultural-Tourism vision local communities will embrace international visitors when they return 'post-pandemic'. We shall encourage them to stay in the region for several days for wildlife and cultural experiences across East Gippsland.

This will have a significant impact on local businesses and supply chains, increase productivity and create new job, businesses and services in eco-cultural-tourism.

Our smart specialization design and creative co-design process will examine if our vision aligns with existing capabilities and consult with TAFE and universities, specifically on learning pathways & accreditation for Eco-Cultural-Tourism 'best practice'.

Our specialists will examine the scale of the market, the underlying economics and design a dynamic business & governance model or models.

When, and if we have all stakeholders on board - community, experts & investors, we shall move to Stage Two to create more detailed design and feasibility studies that will underpin a Master Plan for the longer-term.

For Future Generations

Ours is a long term vision. We would like to create a region where our young people, boys and girls, can come home to live and gain employment in an Eco-Cultural-Tourism industry that protects and preserves our rich biodiversity for future generations.

For further information please contact:

Jo Moulton Ph 041 3741426


19th June 2020

Content: Jo Moulton

Images: Michael Prideaux, Lisa Roberts, Jo Moulton, Jennifer Spry, Emerald Link, DELWP, MAD Architects, AWC, Janine Duffy, ABC, Lizard Island Research Station(Museum Australia)

Paintings: Gunaikurnai Artist Ray Thomas: 'Snake', 'Echidna', 'Fish' & 'Stingray'. Gouache and Ink on Paper

Dore Stockhausen Artists OneoffTwo Gallery Nungurner

Michael Prideaux, Australian Wildlife Photographer:- Black Cockatoo, Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo, Kingfisher Kookaburra, Koala Bear, ground cover and wild orchid etc


Smart Specialization Platform

Dr Nicola Watts The relevance of S3 in Recovery Published on January 31, 2020

Acknowledgements & Eco-Tourism Links:


The Australian Wildlife Conservancy

Emerald Link


Jennifer Spry's Birding Blog for image of Goanna Lizard at Cape Conran

Echidna Walkabout Janine Duffy Wildlife Tours

East Gippsland Shire

Recommended East Gippsland Eco-Tourism Guides

Snowy River Cycling

Lakes Explorer Water Taxi (Skipper Pete)

Gippsland High Country Tours

Visit East Gippsland

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