What is Aboriginal Heritage
Aboriginal heritage includes both physical (places, sites and artifacts) and intangible (values, cultural practices, beliefs, spirituality, laws, traditions and knowledge) items. This heritage links generations of Aboriginal people over time.
The country in its entirety—landscapes, sites and areas, and plants, animals, and artifacts are all inherently linked to Aboriginal people and are the basis for their spirituality, customary law, and ways of living, including identity and the ethic for custodianship—caring for and protecting their country. As such, all aspects of the natural environment may be important to Aboriginal people as part of their heritage.
Aboriginal Heritage, Land Rights and Your Property
The belief that Aboriginal people can claim anyone’s private land is not true. Only Crown (Government) land, which is not required for an essential purpose or is for sale can potentially be claimed. Aboriginal Land Councils can buy private property, but do not have any special rights in this regard. Having Aboriginal heritage on your property will not result in your land being taken from you. If you think places or items on your property may be considered Aboriginal heritage, contact your Local Aboriginal Land Council office or the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage for advice.
Protecting and Conserving Aboriginal Heritage
Aboriginal heritage is unique, and an irreplaceable part of Australia’s national cultural heritage. Protecting and conserving Aboriginal heritage values and places is an important part of the whole community’s ‘sense of place’ and cultural identity. This applies to every current and future generation of Australians, and those who identify themselves as Aboriginal.
Many activities can unintentionally damage Aboriginal heritage, due to lack of awareness or understanding. Part of the significance of some Aboriginal heritage sites are that they are not openly known about and will only be disclosed under direct threat of damage or desecration. Uncertainty about Aboriginal heritage should not be used as justification for proceeding with activities that may cause damage. If you are unsure about the presence or significance of artifacts or sites, you should use a precautionary approach. That is, stop any activities that may cause damage until you are sure it is safe to proceed.
Consultation and negotiation with Aboriginal stakeholders is the best way of protecting and conserving Aboriginal heritage. Adhering to cultural restrictions on information about an Aboriginal heritage place is also essential to protecting and conserving its heritage value. Furthermore, protecting and conserving Aboriginal heritage must comply with customary law, relevant Federal and State laws, and relevant International treaties and covenants.
Who To Talk To
Aboriginal people are the primary source of information on the value of their heritage and how it is best protected and conserved. If you would like advice about the Aboriginal heritage on your rural residential property, it is best to get in contact with an Aboriginal officer from any of the following organisations:
- Local Aboriginal Land Council
- New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service)
- Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority
- New South Wales Heritage Office
- New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs
- National Native Title Tribunal