Australia’s Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, known for its indigenous eel trap site, has formally been recognised on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We can practically hear you lot asking “Why? What’s so special about a place where you catch eels? Even my grandparents have a huge one in the countryside!”
Well, for starters, is your Gramps and Granny’s eel catching ground in Kampung Sawah Padi older than any of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Because Budj Bim is! The highly sophisticated Aboriginal aquaculture systems were developed over 6,600 years by the Gunditjmara people, making them older than the Pyramids, the Acropolis and Stonehenge!
Budj Bim as an Aboriginal Masterpiece
Located in southwest Victoria, along the Great Ocean Road, Budj Bim also holds the distinction as the first and only World Heritage site in Australia listed exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural values.
Traditionally engineered by Gunditjmara Ancestors, the systems are connected across nearly 100 square kilometres and were used to trap eels for food. Alongside these aquaculture systems, the Gunditjmara built round houses out of basalt stones with large numbers still visible in the landscape today. It’s important to note that the site’s existence busts the myth that all Aboriginal people were nomadic.
George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector of Aborigines, reported in 9 July 1841: “An immense piece of ground trenched and banked, resembling the work of civilised man but which on inspection I found to be the work of the Aboriginal natives, purposefully constructed for catching eels.”
Despite his disparaging view of the indigenous population, Budj Bim proves how far the Aboriginal people shaped and altered the Australian landscape.
The complicated traps made it possible for the community to catch a large number of eels and fish. What’s even cooler, the system is so sophisticated that smaller eels and fish were transferred to adjoining pools through woven nets. This system provided the Gunditjmara people with enough food to sustain them the whole year and even enable them to trade.
The Future of Tourism in Budj Bim
There’s no doubt that the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site will boost tourism in the area. The Victorian Government has shown strong support with an overall commitment of AUD13 million to the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation to implement the Budj Bim Master Plan to support tourism infrastructure projects.
The development of Budj Bim as a world-class tourism destination will also support self-determination for the Gunditjmara People. The great thing about Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is that it’s situated near the Great Ocean Road, where existing Aboriginal tourism businesses and experiences are among the most mature and established within regional Victoria. So if you’re visiting the site, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local Aboriginal culture!
How to Get to Budj Bim Cultural Landscape
Budj Bim National Park is 330 kilometres southwest from Melbourne. If you’re booking a car for your trip in Victoria, take the scenic route from Hamilton-Port Fairy Road to Macarthur and then travel west along the sealed Mount Eccles Road.
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