Vic. Govt. backs Gunditjmara unique ancient aquaculture settlement based UNESCO World Heritage site claims

July 12, 2015
Vic. Govt. backs Gunditjmara unique ancient aquaculture settlement based UNESCO World Heritage site claims

The Victorian Government has reaffirmed its full support to seeing the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, home to the Gunditjmara people for thousands of years, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. A large part of the area, about 320km from Victorias capital, Melbourne is the Mount Eccles National Park. It is Victoria's first co-managed national park. The park ismanaged by Gunditjmara traditional owners andParks Victoria.

Budj Bim (Mt Eccles) is the source of the Tyrendarra lava flow which flowed to the sea when Mt Eccles erupted ( estimates vary) 27,000 to 30,000 years ago.

Estimates of the age of the eruption range from 6000 to 27,000 years. The latest estimates suggest at least 30,000. It could date back 40,000 years.

It changed the drainage pattern of the landscape and created big wetlands. Tyrendarra (Where rivers meet) Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) was declared in December 2003. The 248 hectare IPA sits on Darlot Creek, a tributary of Lake Condah near Portland in the Victorian Volcanic Plain bioregion.

The Gunditjmara lived in permanent settlements, dispelling the myth that Australia's Indigenous people were all nomadic. The people who lived at and had specific responsibility for Lake Condah are the Kerrup-Jmara (people of the water /lake).

With European settlement in the area in the 1830s came conflict. In another of many contradictions of those who claim Australians have never suffered civil war the Gunditjmara fought bravely for their land during the Eumerella wars, which lasted more than 20 years.

They were used as target practice by settlers. The First Australians were totally outgunned and hunted and massacred by mounted parties. There were 56 family groups in the Gunditjmara nation before white men took the land. After the conflict only six clans survived.

Sacred to the Gunditjmara people, the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape at Lake Condah in Victoria's south-west is home to the remains of potentially one of Australia's largest aquaculture systems. Dating back thousands of years, the area shows evidence of a large, settled Aboriginal community systematically farming and smoking eels for food and trade.

Tours are available of the Lake Condah area, and visitors can see eel and fish traps, and the only remaining permanent houses built by an Indigenous community in Australia.

The Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape was included in the National Heritage List on 20 July 2004.

For thousands of years the Gunditjmara people flourished through their ingenious methods of channelling water flows and systematically harvesting eels to ensure a year-round supply. The Gunditjmara used the eels for their own needs and as currency when trading with neighbouring Aboriginal people.

This provided an economic basis for the development of a settled society and the Gunditjmara built hundreds of circular stone huts, clustered into villages.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Natalie Hutchins said on Friday, July 10, that Victorias Labor Government would continue advocating for the Federal Government to include the Budj Bim Cultural landscape on the World Heritage list.

The environment and heritage of Budj Bim is unique, and the relationship of the Gunditjmara people with this land is long and enduring. The Andrews Labor Government fully supports World Heritage listing for this special place, she said.

We will continue working in partnership with the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and the Federal Government to make this a reality, Natalie Hutchins said.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews recently wrote to Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt reaffirming that Budj Bim should be included on Australias World Heritage Tentative List due to its internationally significant Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Ms Hutchins also met with the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, the Registered Aboriginal Party responsible for managing and protecting local Aboriginal cultural heritage.

The Gunditjmara people developed an aqua-culture system by digging channels to bring water and young eels from Darlots Creek to low lying areas. They created ponds and wetlands linked by channels containing weirs. Woven baskets were placed in the weirs to harvest mature eels.

When Europeans started to settle the area in the 1830s, conflict ensued. Gunditjmara fought for their land during the Eumerella wars, which lasted more than 20 years until the 1860s. When this conflict drew to an end many Aboriginal people were displaced and the Victorian government began to develop reserves to house them.

Some Aboriginal people refused to move from their ancestral land and eventually the government agreed to build a mission at Lake Condah, close to some of the eel traps and within sight of Budj Bim.

The crumbling mission churchwas destroyed by dynamitein the 1950s but the Gunditjmara continue to live in the area and protect their heritage. Until its destruction the much loved St Maryschurch was used for occasional services. All that remains are the stone foundations outline and a wooden cross erected where the church once stood. This gathering place is a site of resistance which helped the Gunditjmara sustain their campaign for historic justice after the lands granted to them by Queen Victoria were taken from them by government intervention.

The mission lands were returned to the Gunditjmara in 1987. The Gunditjmara manage the Indigenous heritage values of the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape through the Windamara Aboriginal Corporation and other Aboriginal organisations. A large part of the area is the Mount Eccles National Park, co-managed by Parks Victoria.

Nationally recognised for its archaeological, cultural and environmental importance, Tyrendarra IPA forms part of the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape - one of the first places to be listed on Australia's National Heritage List in July 2004.

The gateway to Budj Bim or Mt Eccles National Park is via the small village of Macarthur which is 35km south of Hamilton or 46km north of Port Fairy.

Other Aboriginal sites in the region include: 75km North West to Tower Hill Reserve near Warrnambool or 130km south west to Brambuk Cultural Centre in Halls Gap.

Editors Note: GoSee acknowledges the Victorian Govt. Media Unit, Budj Bim Tours and The Australian Department of the Environment as prime sources for the information in the article.

The National Heritage List recognises and protects our most valued natural, Indigenous and historic heritage sites. It is a snapshot of the nations most important places.

The List reflects the story of our development, from our original inhabitants to present day, Australias spirit and ingenuity, and our unique, living landscapes.

Each place in the List has been assessed by the Australian Heritage Council as having outstanding heritage value to the nation, and is protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

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