Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, Victoria
In 2019, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the first site to be included solely on the grounds of its Aboriginal cultural importance. Dating back at least 6600 years, the budj bim landscape and eel trap network is one of the world’s oldest and most extensive examples of aquaculture and is regarded as being of high Aboriginal cultural.
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape:
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is located within the traditional country of the Gunditjmara Aboriginal people , in southwest Victoria, north of the Great Ocean Road. The site centres around the dormant volcano Budj Bim, formerly known as Mt Eccles.
Budj Bim (Mount Eccles) in South West Victoria was formed by series of volcanic eruption around 27,000 years ago. The volcano erupted at least 10 times, with the most recent eruption dating to around 7000 years ago. The tyrendarra Lavaflow from Budj Bim spread over 50 kilometres to the south, creating a landscape rich in lakes, ponds and swamps – including Tae Rak (Lake Condah) and the Condah Swamp – all rich in aquatic life.
This allowed the Gunditjmara clans to create a complex set of fish trap and eel trap creating stone structures, drawing upon their knowledge of the seasonal rise and fall of water levels and of the geologic processes that surrounded them. They dug shallow channels – some up to 200 metres long – into rock in order to divert water, and used volcanic rock to build V-shaped traps and weirs. It is these structures including stone houses and archeological evidence of how the indigenous people, the Gunditjmara traditional owner built and managed the Budj bim eel traps for the purpose of eel farming.
The complex system of water channels allowed the Gunditjmara clans to control water flows, enabling them to systematically trap and store kooyang (short-finned eel or Anguilla australis ). The Gunditjmara traditional owner also constructed long eel baskets, made of river reeds and steel grass, to regulate and trap the eels according to their size.
As UNESCO writes, ‘The highly productive aquaculture system provided a six millennia-long economic and social base for a Gunditjmara person and society.’ Some eels were kept alive and grown fat in holding ponds, to be eaten later. They were also preserved by smoking in the hollows of large trees.
A valuable commodity, the eels were traded with other Aboriginal language groups, bringing prosperity to the Gunditjmara group. There is evidence of permanent stone dwellings near the traps, indicating that a village was set up nearby. The site – along with other cultural sites around Australia – busts the myth that all Aboriginal people were nomadic hunter-gatherers.
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is intwined with Gunditjmara cultural tradition. The dynamic relationship between the Gunditjmara and their land is ongoing, passed down through oral history, cultural practice, and confirmed by scientific and historical research. The Gunditjmara have what UNESCO refers to as a ‘deep time’ conception of their cultural landscape.
For the Gunditjmara, deep time refers to the idea that they have always been there. From an archaeological perspective, deep time refers to a period of at least 32,000 years that Aboriginal people have lived in the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape.
Budj Bim figures heavily in he Gunditjmara creation story. Thirty thousand years ago, their ancestors watched the eruption of the Budj Bim volcano, where the Ancestral Being, Budj Bim (‘Big Head’) transformed himself into the landscape.
The road to UNESCO World Heritage Status:
Tragically, European colonisation would threaten the Budj Bim cultural landscape. From around 1810, the seasonal presence of whalers and sealers would impact the Gunditjmara people. Following Edward Henty in 1834, European settlers began to arrive in the Portland Area.
The 1840s would see the outbreak of the Eumeralla Wars, a tragic convict between the Gunditjmara people and settlers – with the result that by 1846, Gunditjmara resistance was suppressed. In the 1850s, Aboriginal people across Australia were increasingly moved into church-run missions. Framlingham Mission opened further west, but the Gunditjmara people campaigned to stay in their traditional land. In response, Lake Condah mission opened in 1867.
The mission was officially closed in 1918, and the mission lands returned to the Gunditjmara people in 1987.
The campaign to have the Budj Bim site listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Register began in 2002. Raising knowledge of the importance of the site, the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation succeeded in having Budj Bim listed on the Australian Heritage Register in 2004.
With the support of state and federal governments, Gunditjmara traditional owners prepared a report detailing the archaeological and cultural importance of the site. It was presented to the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan, in June-July 2019. Awarded World Heritage Status, the site joins over twenty other Australian locations on the list.
Tour the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape
Odyssey Traveller visits a number of these important sites – incuding Lake Mungo and the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape – as part of our new tour of the Southern States of Australia. Focusing on New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, our tour gets away from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and casts these states in new light, exploring the little-known places where the three states meet.
Our tour of Southern Australia begins in Adelaide. The trip then heads to the historic shipping town of Port Fairy on the Southern Ocean coastline, stopping for a night in Mount Gambier on the way. The following day, we enjoy a day tour of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, learning about Aboriginal culture and aquaculture with a local tour guide.
Following this, we head further into central Australia, visiting the Naracoorte Caves Park, a UNESCO site home to the fossils of ancient megafauna – recognisable wildlife, such as kangaroos, lions and wombats, on a grand scale. Our southern Australia tour then heads further into the Australian outback, visiting the spectacular scenery of the Willandra Lakes, home to Mungo Lady and Mungo Man. From here, our Australia tour heads to the Murray River town of Mildura, where we enjoy a short paddle steamer trip, before we head to the quintessential outback city of Broken Hill. From Broken Hill, our tour heads back to South Australia, visiting the railway centre of Peterborough and the small town of Burra.
Travellers with an interest in learning more about the Aboriginal heritage of Austrlaia may want to check out our other outback Australia tours, which include visits to the important cultural site of Wilpena Pound on our tour of the Flinders Ranges; to ancient rock art in the Kimberley, Western Australia; and to the Brewarrina Fish Traps in outback Queensland.
Every Odyssey guided tour is designed especially for mature and senior travellers, who want an authentic and informed experience of their destinations. Our tours aren’t the typical tourism Australia holiday – Blue Mountains, the Great Barrier Reef, and the penguin parade on Port Phillip Island. Instead, we pride ourselves on getting of the beaten path and making you think about Australia and New Zealand in new ways. We explore the trading history of the Victorian colony, view Arts and Crafts mansions in the South Australian Adelaide Hills, and learn about the emergence of Australia‘s primary industries of mining and agriculture on our tour of Outback Australia.