Cultural Heritage

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Natural resource management and sustainable land management are not a new phenomenon. Aboriginal people developed an intimate relationship with the environment and ecosystems over thousands of generations.

The evidence of Aboriginal occupation in Victoria is present throughout the landscape in the form of Aboriginal cultural heritage places and in the personal, family and community histories of Aboriginal people.

Even after the arrival of Europeans different cultural heritage places were created; places where the first contacts between European and Aboriginal people occurred, massacre sites, missions and protectorate stations. There are also many where there may be no physical evidence such as places of spiritual or ceremonial significance, places where traditional plant or mineral resources occur or trade and travel routes. Information about such places is passed down from one generation to the next.

The endurance of Aboriginal society across the continent is of global significance and the cultural heritage places and objects associated with that society are a significant part of the heritage of all Australians.

What you will find on this website

This section of the Glenelg Hopkins CMA website provides an introduction to Aboriginal heritage in south-west Victoria. You will find information about the people, their culture and descriptions of the types of Aboriginal heritage sites that can be found today. There are many links throughout these pages which take you to the Aboriginal Affairs Victoria website for more detailed information.

If you are considering major earthworks, agricultural activities, works on or near waterways, you are to include in the planning, appropriate steps, precautions, costs, budgets and funding regarding Aboriginal Cultural Heritage prior to commencing works or activities.

If you discover new Aboriginal heritage sites or artefacts, particularly during agricultural, building or engineering activities, these pages will help you to recognise the significance of the find and help you to work out what to do to preserve this important link to our past. We also cover limitations that may apply to agricultural practices in areas of cultural heritage sensitivity.

Aboriginal people learnt not just to coexist with the environment, but to work with it sustainably for many thousands of years. The majority of their diet came from plants in the form of berries, leaves, seeds and roots collected by the women. Plants were also used to produce baskets, shelter, weapons, canoes and fish traps while the medicinal properties of some species were exploited. Aboriginal Plant Use in South-Eastern Australia

While Aborigines were nomadic in arid areas of Australia, the abundance of freshwater, plants and wildlife in south-west Victoria enabled clans to settle and build dwellings and complex fishing systems.

They lived in permanent settlements; obtaining sustenance, expressing themselves artistically, passing on creation stories and cultural values, engaging in conflict, establishing alliances and social networks, trading goods, celebrating rites of passage and committing the departed to their final resting places.

This led to as many as 400 clans and language groups being established in Victoria with complex but well-defined beliefs and kinship systems. Clan size ranged from less than 50 to many hundreds. The knowledge of culture and custodial responsibilities to the land, its spirits and the ancestors were passed on through story-telling, rock paintings and ceremonial dances.

But the Western District’s abundance didn’t mean life was always easy as the Aborigines had to contend with the last mini ice age, volcanic eruptions extending across south-west Victoria from Melbourne to Portland and global warming that cut Tasmania off from the Australian mainland.

Trade routes across Australia were an important part of Aboriginal social, spiritual and economic life. Trade occurred between neighbouring clans stimulating social interaction with other tribes which led to the sharing of stories and news.

Trade routes criss-crossed Australia with bartered goods that could only be obtained from specific geographical areas travelling from one end of the country to the other. Respect, knowledge of required laws and cultural protocols were all part of the complex interactions involved in these trade journeys.

Melo shell from north-east Queensland was traded all the way to South Australia while Flinders Ranges ochre was carried as far as central Queensland.

Key centres of exchange enabled people from other areas to trade goods, stories and news, without having to travel the whole route.

According to Ballarat academic, Ian D. Clark in Aboriginal Languages and Clans: An Historical Atlas of Western and Central Victoria 1800-1900 there was a distinct geography of Aboriginal occupation and ownership, as well as many languages and dialects.

The 600 Aboriginal clans within Australia spoke 200 different languages. While the languages of clans within close proximity were generally mutually intelligible, they gradually differentiated into separate language as the distance between the clans grew.

It was believed that many of the languages of the Aboriginal people in south-west Victoria had been lost, but they are being rediscovered in records, archives, place names and through the determination of Aboriginal people to reclaim their heritage.