Culture and heritage

Aboriginal heritage

Connection to Country

Learn about Aboriginal connection to country and how we support opportunities for land access, cultural connection and employment.

Aboriginal people in NSW recognise the cultural values of biodiversity and the environment. Plants, animals and ecosystems are at the core of their attachment to the land and the sea. Plants and animals are valued as part of 'Country' and may also act as totems.

The continued use of wild foods and medicines allows people to pass on cultural knowledge, to use and maintain places of cultural value, and to benefit their well-being. The health of waterways and the land is central to Aboriginal heritage.

Over the last few years, OEH and Aboriginal communities in different parts of NSW have been working together. We've been trying to develop approaches to land management that recognise the cultural values of biodiversity and the environment.

Strategies are being developed that bridge the gap between 'natural' and 'cultural' heritage. Examples include:

  • the joint management of national parks such as Mutawintji National Park
  • Aboriginal involvement in biodiversity surveys and research
  • the mapping of people's attachment to landscapes using oral history and participatory planning techniques.

We hope that, in time, the complex living culture of Aboriginal people in NSW will be fully recognised in our approach to managing the land and sea.

What people have said

'If you got a wallaby or a kangaroo, when you brought it back you'd skin it and clean it off and then you'd take each family some, see. We'd have a fire going all the time in the day. Logs with smoke. We'd hang the leg and all the other meat on a wire and it would smoke all day. It would last for a week. All you did was cut off pieces when you wanted it. You didn't have to have a fridge or anything. But while you were doing that, the women or someone, they might have gone down the beach to get pippies and fish so that when you came back you were sharing different food.'

… Tony Perkins describing life at the Old Camp at Corindi Beach, 30km north of Coffs Harbour, in the 1950s and 1960s, recorded in an interview during the Aboriginal People and Biodiversity Project, 1999

'I've got three boys and I can take the boys down the track with me and they know all the bush tucker on that track, especially the little six year old … and I take them bush with me. When we do go bush and they know the places in the bush, my kids love it there, running around the scrub trying to find the bush tucker. They love it if a tree grows fruit and they can eat off it.'

… Mark Flanders, a Gumbaingirr man, talking about life with his children in the Coffs Harbour region today, recorded as part of the Aboriginal People and Biodiversity Project, 1999

More information

Cultural Connections
This report introduces the Cultural Connections model as a practical approach for Indigenous communities to access ecological, cultural and economic benefits through biological and cultural diversity management.

Murni, Dhungang, Jirrar: Living in the Illawarra - Aboriginal people and wild resource use
This book is about Aboriginal people's uses of plants and animals in the Illawarra area, south of Sydney.

Aboriginal communities and the coastal environment
Shell middens are the most obvious sign of the strong, ongoing relationships between Aboriginal people and the sea. Find out more.

Indigenous kinship with the natural world
Download this report, which describes the social and religious affiliations Aboriginal people have with plant and animal species, and outlines the implications of this 'totemism' for land management programs.

The sea and the rock gives us a feed
Download this study into the Gumbaingirr people's use of wild foods and medicines over the last 50 to 100 years in a small town on the NSW mid-north coast.

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Regional Studies: An illustrative approach
This report presents a general approach to conducting an assessment of Aboriginal cultural heritage at a regional scale.

Aboriginal heritage and salinity
This project aims to look at how salinity affects Aboriginal cultural heritage in NSW and the production of guidelines to protect this heritage.

General information about biodiversity
Find out more about biodiversity: what it is, how much there is in NSW, and why it's under threat.

Aboriginal land management for biodiversity
Aboriginal landowners have a chance to create jobs and business opportunities while they manage Country for conservation. It's all possible under Land Alive, an Environmental Trust-funded project under the BioBanking Scheme run by OEH.

Gundabooka National Park oral history project
This project, which began in 1996, allows NPWS to work with local Aboriginal communities in understanding and protecting this park in western NSW.


Threatened species recovery planning and Aboriginal community involvement
This discussion paper outlines some practical steps that can be taken to embed Aboriginal cultural values into OEH decision-making during future recovery planning.

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Page last updated: 24 September 2015