The Gunditjmara people constructed what is thought to be one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems, configured into channels and weirs to trap migrating eels for food.
Australia’s Budj Bim cultural landscape could become the country’s first Aboriginal cultural value to make it on United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO’s) World Heritage List, after being nominated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites Tuesday.
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Budj Bim is a 6,000-year-old aquaculture system located in southwest Victoria that was developed by the Gunditjmara people.
“There are around 200 registered and recorded stone house sites, so people were living a sedentary life,” Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation project manager, Elder Denis Rose, explained.
The Gunditjmara people constructed what is thought to be one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems, configured into channels and weirs using volcanic rocks to manipulate the water flow of rivers and trap migrating eels for food.
“Budj Bim holds a vast network of wetlands that was constructed by first nation people, it contains evidence of a system used to farm and smoke eels and fish,” Chief Operating Officer of Parks Victoria, Simon Talbot stated. “It was permanent settlement, with huts and house remains that have been protected by Gunditjmara people.”
According to UNESCO, the evidence of construction and farming at Budj Bim "challenges the common perception and assumption of Australia’s First Peoples as having all been hunter-gatherers living in resource-constrained environments."
Budj Bim is also home to a dormant volcano.
The Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has developed a plan for sustainable tourism.
“There’s the economic benefit to the region,” Elder Rose said. “Millions of people travel the Great Ocean Road each year, and if we could attract even a fraction of that to Budj Bim, it would be beneficial to tourism.”
The International Council on Monuments and Sites monitors the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places globally.
“We fought battles to get land back and we had access to very little land 20 to 30 years ago and such little control,” Rose said.
"Today, we have management responsibility of about 10,000 hectares including the Budj Bim national park, and that pride and sense of achievement we have is so important. It’s also nice to look back and really appreciate how our ancestors looked after country so well.”
The nomination of Budj Bim will be formally reviewed by the world heritage committee in July.
“Budj Bim is one of Australia’s most important cultural sites and now it’s a step away from World Heritage Status. We’re supporting the Gunditjmara people in their self-determination as they lead the development of this landscape to share it sustainably with the world,” Victoria’s Aboriginal affairs minister, Gavin Jennings, noted.
Budj Bim Landscape are recognized and protected by the Victorian Government under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and by the Commonwealth Government under the National Heritage List, and was added to Australia’s Tentative World Heritage List in 2017.
Australia has 19 world heritage sites, including Sydney Opera House, Kakadu national park and the Great Barrier Reef.