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Gunditjmara Cultural Values Discussion Paper

Gunditjmara Cultural Values Discussion Paper

‘Ngootyoong Gunditj Ngootyoong Mara’
South West Management Plan 

Gunditjmara Cultural Values

(download  a PDF from the Resources page)


The Gunditjmara people are the recognised traditional owners for the South West of Victoria, and have a rich living culture whose heritage is embodied in the landscape. There are many landscapes within Gunditjmara Country – Sea Country, Stone Country, River Country and Forest Country – connecting Gunditjmara Traditional Owners to Country through dreaming stories, language, oral histories, cultural law/lore and customs. This heritage is a vital legacy for the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners today and in the future. There are many special cultural places in Gunditjmara Country and these must be protected. These places are important culturally and spiritually to the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners who care for them and who continue their connections to the land today.

Aboriginal places and objects are part of a cultural landscape

The Gunditjmara Traditional Owners have been here from the beginning. The legacy of Gunditjmara ancestors can be seen on the shores of Lake Condah on the Stone Country where Gunditjmara engineering works including weirs, channels and eel traps, as well as settlements of circular stone dwellings, remain. Traces of shell midden sites, stone tools, scar trees, camp ovens and other special places can also be seen in the planning area. The names and dreaming stories associated with the landscape are still remembered today passed down by Gunditjmara elders for future generations. Both science and cultural knowledge bring to life a story of a cultural landscape and heritage which each new generation must re-discover. Many places are still being re-discovered and recorded, and this is an important rebirth of knowledge.

Over the past decade, bushfire passed through Tyrendarra Indigenous Protected Area opening the landscape and creating opportunities for archaeological and cultural values surveys. These have greatly improved the understanding of the Gunditjmara occupation and the nature of cultural sites and knowledge across the area. Only a small percentage of the planning area has been effectively surveyed for cultural heritage. Sites and objects, whether they have been recorded or not, are protected under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic.).


The Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 provides for the preservation and protection from injury or desecration of areas and objects in Australia and in Australian waters, being areas and objects that are of particular significance to Aboriginals in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic.) provides for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria. Importantly, it recognises Aboriginal people as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage. Under the Act, Aboriginal groups can be appointed as a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAPs) for a given area granting them legislative responsibility regarding cultural heritage management within that area. This responsibility includes evaluating and approving Cultural Heritage Management Plans. Parks Victoria consults with RAPs regarding Cultural Heritage Permit applications.

Parks Victoria’s Indigenous Partnership Strategy and Action Plan 2005 guides Parks Victoria’s approaches to Indigenous affairs. The strategy is currently being reviewed.

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

Gunditjmara Traditional Owners are represented through the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation. The corporation is recognised as a Registered Aboriginal Party see the Department of Planning and Community Development under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 for all Crown Land within the planning area boundary. The Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation RAP boundary aligns with the planning area.

Gunditjmara Native Title Determination

The Gunditjmara Traditional Owners reached an agreement in 2007 with the State of Victoria over 2000 parcels of Crown land, national parks, reserves and other Crown land in Victoria’s far South West recognising the Gunditjmara as the Traditional Owners of this Country. The determination can assist the broader community to accept and support indigenous culture, law and the important connection to the area. Gunditjmara Traditional Owners will maintain their involvement and enjoyment of all public land.

The determination relates to only Crown land and waters including lakes, rivers, creeks, swamps and other waters that are not privately owned. The determination does not affect any privately owned land. Existing rights of the public over Crown land are also unaffected. The determination acknowledged the strength of the Gunditjmara people’s connection to their Country. The agreement specifically preserves all existing interests and ensures that they will not be adversely affected. Gunditjmara Traditional Owners have the responsibility to protect important places, hunt, gather and collect bush foods.

The recognised native title rights and interests include the non-exclusive right to:

  • have access to or enter and remain on the land and waters
  • camp on the land and waters landward of the high water mark of the sea
  • use and enjoy the land and waters
  • protect places and areas of importance on the land and waters
  • take resources of the land and water

Where the native title rights and interests are inconsistent with those of the other parties, the native title rights and interests have no effect.

The Gunditjmara Traditional Owners also received a native title determination in 2011 over 6,581sq km north west of Warrnambool which follows up the Hopkins River west to the Wannon River, relates to parcels of unclaimed Crown land within the external boundary of the first Gunditjmara claim but not claimed in their first application.


Mount Eccles National Park is Victoria's first co-managed national park. The co-management agreement between the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and the Victorian Government was formalised with the establishment of the Budj Bim Council, which includes representatives of the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners, PV, DSE and the Glenelg Hopkins CMA. The Council forms part of the 2007 Native Title Settlement Agreement between the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and the Victorian Government bringing them together to manage the area’s highly significant Aboriginal cultural heritage and natural values (see Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape).

The Gunditjmara Traditional Owners aspire to re-name Mount Eccles National Park to Budj Bim National Park.

National Heritage Listing

The Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape was included in the Federal National Heritage List in 2004. The listing acknowledges the areas social significance to Indigenous communities and recognises its heritage significance including that, ‘Potentially one of Australia's largest aquaculture system dating back thousands of years, the area shows evidence of a large, settled Aboriginal community systematically farming and smoking eels for food and trade’.


The ‘Ngootyoong Gunditj Ngootyoong Mara’ South West Management Plan will reflect the need to:

Continue the strong partnership in the planning area.

Integrate cultural knowledge and traditional land management in contemporary protected area management.

Manage Gunditjmara Traditional Owners places and objects in accordance with any relevant legislation, the views of the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners.

Respect Gunditjmara Traditional Owners knowledge, places, objects and cultural obligations and address these matters in a culturally appropriate way.

Maintain confidentiality and sharing of Gunditjmara Traditional Owners knowledge, places, objects in accordance with the views of the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners.

Develop a holistic approach to the ‘body of knowledge’ and management of cultural and environmental values.

Present a strategic approach to prioritising future archaeological survey, historic research recording of oral history and other research opportunities in traditional land management.

Wherever possible seek to improve fire management policy and procedures by:

  • Further influencing the development of fire policy and procedures to provide more appropriate consideration of Gunditjmara Traditional Owners cultural heritage values during fire planning, suppression and rehabilitation activities;
  • Further involving Gunditjmara Traditional Owners in fire planning and suppression activities;
  • Incorporating traditional burning practices;
  • Protection of sites during wildfire suppression;
  • Skills audit and training/capacity building in all aspects of protected area management for Gunditjmara Traditional Owners.

The ‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara’ South West Management Plan project is developing a sub project assessment on Cultural Heritage and Social Values which will aim to:

  • collate cultural heritage and land use history information for the planning area
  • assess  historic and contemporary connections between Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and the planning area using techniques such as cultural mapping and oral history research
  • assess and document the distribution and significance of non-Indigenous places within the planning area.
  • provide a set of recommendations about the approaches that can be taken by protected area managers to integrate cultural and social values into planning and day to day management of lands within the planning area.


  • In what ways can the broader community work together with Gunditjmara Traditional Owners, Parks Victoria and DSE in managing the cultural landscape of the planning area?
  • How can Gunditjmara Traditional Owners, the community, Parks Victoria and DSE improve management partnerships in the planning area?
  • How can the broader community be engaged in Gunditjmara Traditional Owners cultural values / history?


The Victorian Native Title Settlement Framework, Department of Justice, 2008

Indigenous Partnership Strategy and Action Plan, Parks Victoria, July 2005

Rights strengthen Gunditjmara identity - Talking Native Title - National Native Title Tribunal

Contact: James Hackel

Phone: 0429950623