Victorian cultural site makes UNESCO history

Travelling Well | RACV | Photos: Shannon Morris | Posted on 08 July 2019

One of the world's oldest aquaculture sites, Budj Bim, added to World Heritage List.     

Forget Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza, Victoria’s ancient Budj Bim Cultural Landscape has become the first site in Australia to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural significance.

After more than a decade of lobbying by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, the southwest Victorian indigenous site was officially added to the list on Saturday (July 6) at a meeting held in Baku, Azerbaijan. It is the 20th site in Australia to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status.

Budj Bim waterways were manipulated to capture eels

Budj Bim waterways were manipulated to capture eels.

Located in southwest Victoria, Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was recognised for its sophisticated aquaculture system that manipulated water flows and ensured eels could be harvested throughout the year. It also highlighted indigenous peoples' commitment to agriculture, farming and biodiversity.

Gunditjmara Elder Denise Lovett said receiving recognition of the site's historic contributions and value was a "very special day" for the Aboriginal community.

"This landscape, which we have cared for over thousands of years, is so important to Gunditjmara People," she said. "The decision also recognises Budj Bim’s significance to all of humanity. We are so proud to now be able to share our achievements and story with the world.”

Budj Bim, which reclaimed its original name in 2017 after European settlers claimed it as Mount Eccles in the mid-1800s, is an extinct volcano area within the Country of the Gunditjmara, an Aboriginal nation in the southwest of Victoria. It's formation dates back more than 6600 years. 

It’s wonderful to see their ingenuity and determination globally recognised.

The property includes the Budj Bim Volcano and Tae Rak (Lake Condah), as well as the Kurtonitj component, characterized by wetland swamps, and Tyrendarra in the south, an area of rocky ridges and large marshes.

The Budj Bim lava flows, which connect these three components, have enabled the Gunditjmara to develop one of the largest and oldest aquaculture networks in the world. Composed of channels, dams and weirs, they are used to contain floodwaters and create basins to trap, store and harvest the kooyang eel (Anguilla australis), which has provided the population with an economic and social base for six millennia.

Budj Bim also features the remains of more than 300 round, basalt stone houses – evidence of the Gunditjmara People’s permanent settlement in the area.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gavin Jennings, said that, in recommending Budj Bim for World Heritage listing, the International Council on Monuments and Sites acknowledged the Gunditjmara community’s involvement and leadership in nominating the site for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

“The Gunditjmara People have managed their Country for thousands of years and pursued Budj Bim’s World Heritage listing over several decades," he said. "It’s wonderful to see their ingenuity and determination globally recognised.”