National Heritage List inscription date 20 July 2004
Sacred to the Gunditjmara people, the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape provides evidence of a system of channels and weirs constructed from the abundant local volcanic rock to manage water flows from nearby Lake Condah to exploit eels as a food source.
The remarkable Gunditjmara community
An eel trap system at Lake Condah in south-west Victoria, one of five around the lake’s edge, has been carbon dated to a remarkable 6600 years old. The area had a permanent supply of freshwater and abundant eels, fish and water plants. The Gunditjmara people used ingenious methods of channelling water flows and systematically husbanded and harvested eels to ensure a year round supply.
Historical and archaeological evidence demonstrates that a large, settled Aboriginal community farmed and smoked eels for food and trade at what is considered to be one of Australia’s earliest and largest aquaculture systems.The Gunditjmara people managed the area by engineering 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 weir to harvest mature eels. These engineered wetlands provided the economic basis to sustain large groups of people living in the vicinity of Lake Condah.
The Budj Bim creation story
The Budj Bim landscape is full of meaning to the Gunditjmara people. More than 30,000 years ago the Gunditjmara witnessed the ancestral creation-being, Budj Bim, reveal himself in the landscape. Known today as Mount Eccles, the now dormant volcano is the source of the Tyrendarra lava flow, which, as it flowed to the sea, changed the drainage pattern in this part of western Victoria and created large wetlands.
Europeans started to settle the area in the 1830s and, like in many other frontier areas, conflict between Europeans and Aboriginal people was common. The 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 mission was destroyed in the 1950s but the Gunditjmara continued to live in the area and protect their heritage. The mission lands were returned to the Gunditjmara in 1987.
The Gunditjmara manage 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, managed by the Gunditjmara and Parks Victoria.
National Heritage listing means this important Indigenous heritage place is protected and conserved for future generations.
Consultation with Indigenous people about the Budj Bim national heritage listed place
The Indigenous values of the Budj Bim National Heritage Place are not definitively mapped. Indigenous people are the primary source of information on the value of their heritage and should be consulted on a proposed action likely to significantly impact on the listed Indigenous heritage values of the place and/or on a protected matter that has Indigenous heritage values (like listed threatened species).
Prior to undertaking any action, proponents should contact the appropriate Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of the land on which the action will occur that has listed values that may be significantly impacted, as well as the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of adjoining lands that may be significantly impacted by the action.
A letter from the appropriate representative bodies declaring that they have been adequately consulted on the action informs the Department that a best practice approach has been undertaken. Further information on Aboriginal representative bodies is available from Native Title Corporations or via local Aboriginal Land Councils. Guidance about best practice Indigenous engagement can be found at Engage early – guidance for proponents on best practice Indigenous engagement for environmental assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).