In a very literal sense, Wergaia man Uncle Ron Marks is the face of tourism in the Wimmera.
His sharp eyes smile towards two Aboriginal children on the Silo Art Trail at Sheep Hills.
Now, the Dimboola elder is hoping to reinvigorate the Wimmera Indigenous Tourism Group - which began several years ago - to improve visitor spend in the Wimmera through cultural awareness.
"We have to kick that off again through the six shires and the Wimmera Development Association, to have everyone on the same page so they know in their shire there are cultural heritage sites that Aboriginal tourism rangers could do tours at," he said.
Uncle Ron is the owner and manager of Wergaia Industries, through which he provides education and cultural awareness programs to students.
He is hoping to see more Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagalk Traditional Owners trained as tour guides in the region.
"I'm about to be involved in the Grampians Peak Trail being built by Parks Victoria, training (Indigenous) trainees to look at being tour guides and guides for overnight camping," he said.
"It means there will be employment opportunities, but it will also get more visitors to the Grampians. We have to look at doing that on the flat country."
Uncle Ron said he hoped the state government would fund more Traditional Owners tourism in the Wimmera once guides had been educated and visitor packages could be established.
"This would have an impact on Wimmera's entire identity," he said. "At the first Wimmera Indigenous Tourism Group meeting, a guy from Buloke Shire said, 'We'd love to have Yaapeet general store open again' - and I think tourism dollar investment in the shires could be huge."
He said visitors and the Wimmera's non-Indigenous community needed to learn more about culturally significant sites.
"Mitre Rock and the north-western side of Mt Arapiles is an example," he said.
"It's a Jawadjali sacred site - a woman's area where technically no men are allowed. And yet we drive right through the middle of it. So we have to look at protection of sites, protocol around sites where there may be men's and women's business."
Uncle Ron said Indigenous culture taught in schools could provide this education.
Wimmera Development Association acting executive director Mark Fletcher said training was needed to support accreditation schemes for tour guides, and that his organisation was looking at opportunities to build the capacity of indigenous tourism.
Preserving to share stories
Stu Harradine knows the importance of Dimboola's Ranch Billabong to Wotjobaluk Traditional Owners pretty well.
He grew up on the water source, and in the 60s his mother lived in the indigenous settlement that originated after Antwerp's Ebenezer mission closed down in 1904.
Every ancestor of Wotjobaluk people in the Wimmera, man and woman, lived at the mission.
Once it ended, they had to relocate to near the billabong, not allowed to live in town because of policies and attitudes at the time.
Mr Harradine is now Barengi Gadjin Land Council's water officer, tasked with rehabilitating the billabong. Mr Harradine said Wimmera residents needed to know how Indigenous Australians lived in the past.
"Gradually people left the billabong, but it's still an important place to our mob," he said.
"The billabong is one of many different sites around Wotjobaluk country listed in BGLC's country plan for environmental works.
"It has been cut off from the river in terms of normal inflow due to a culvert system. Partly because of that the water has become stagnant, and the environmental health of the whole system has deteriorated.
"We're really keen to restore some natural flows and get the billabong back to something like it was in the past."
Mr Harradine said Barengi Gadjin Land Council also eventually hoped to restore the last remaining shack on the billabong where Wotjobaluk ancestors once resided.
"Part of the idea of restoring the ranch building is trying to say 'this is how people used to have to live'," he said.
Barengi Gadjin Land Council is the peak body representing Traditional Owners in the Wimmera. It has non-exclusive Native Title rights over Wail State Forest, parts of Little Desert National Park, the Wimmera River and lakes Hindmarsh and Albacutya.
This means it has the right to the right to access, hunt and camp on traditional country, but not the right to control access to, and use of, an area.
Mr Harradine is also involved in the restoration of the Ebenezer mission, for which Barengi Gadjin received $200,000 in state government funding last July.
He said Wotjobaluk Traditional Owners were becoming more involved in the management of parks and reserves such as Little Desert and Mount Arapiles. The aim of this is to reconnect the Wimmera's indigenous community with country.
Another BGLC official, Darren Griffin, is working on protecting an area of the Wimmera River near Wail, which is also significant for revealing how the region's traditional owners used to live.
The area is home to an extensive collection of middens, thick layers of shell that show where Indigenous people lived and camped. Middens also provide details on the history of aquatic life in the river.
"Traditionally there would have been a lot of people along that section of the river, and it's the archaeological remains of their campsites we're protecting," Mr Griffin said.
"A lot of them are under pressure from four-wheel drives and bikes and people driving right up to the river's edge, so they're eroding away. We're currently surveying places to put a fence in."
Mr Griffin said Barengi Gadjin was preparing for an important milestone, when a Malaysian business person will hand The House of Feathers - one of most sacred places in the Horsham area for Traditional Owners - back to the land council.
According to the Wotjobaluk creation story, this area was the birthplace of emus. There was an enormous emu called Tchingal who lived on the flesh of people and animals who was hatching an enormous egg on the land.
When the crow Waa tried to peck the egg, Tchingal chased him into the Grampians - known as Gariwerd to Traditional Owners - but gave up after Waa took shelter in some rocks.
After Tchingal left, Waa flew to the Bram-bram-bult brothers and convinced them to kill Tchingal. They found and speared the great Emu, and he ran off towards the northern plains, losing blood all the time. Soon he died, and the trail of blood he left behind him turned into the Wimmera River.
"The brothers plucked all the feathers from Tchingal's body and split each feather down the centre," Mr Griffin said. "They threw half the feathers to the left and the other to the right, making two piles of emu feathers, each the size of a present day emu."
"We've been in negotiations with the owner and Horsham Rural City Council, because the developer wanted to put an artist in residence program and as part of that they wanted to protect properties," Mr Griffin said, "but it should happen later this year".
"It means Traditional Owners will have access which they didn't before. We'll be able to look after it and promote it as a tourist spot, where we can talk about the story and people's connections to the river."
Mr Griffin said Wimmera farmers were regularly contacting Barengi Gadjin about Indigenous artefacts they found on their land or sheds.
He said people who believed they had found an artefact could call 5381 0977, and urged them to leave them untouched to help the land council determine their origin and sigificance.