Places of significance
Aboriginal people have lived in the area known as New South Wales for at least 45,000 years. Many sites around the state show the remains of Aboriginal occupation, or are significant to Aboriginal communities today.
These places are important to Aboriginal people for social, spiritual, historical, and commemorative reasons. They reflect the ways in which Aboriginal people view their cultural heritage. These places carry a relationship between one person and another, and between people and their environment.
There are over 65,000 known Aboriginal sites in NSW. Aboriginal sites are found all over the landscape, including:
in towns and cities
- on popular beaches
- along river banks and tracks
- on open plains
- in dense forests.
Different environments and cultural practices produce different types of sites.
The Aboriginal 'Living Places' project was a four-year study, which aims to record places in NSW where Aboriginal people have settled since colonisation.
Types of sites
Aboriginal sites in NSW range from large shell middens on the coast, to small surface scatters of stone artefacts on the inland semi-arid plains. They can include:
Development has destroyed many sites, and those that remain need to be protected. The primary piece of legislation which protects Aboriginal cultural heritage in NSW is the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act). Under the NPW Act it is an offence to harm (destroy, deface, or damage) or desecrate an Aboriginal object or Aboriginal place, or in relation to an object, move the object from the land on which is has been situated.
An Aboriginal Place declaration recognises that places are (or were) of special significance to Aboriginal culture. It gives the land a higher level of protection, to safeguard its significance to Aboriginal people.
The NSW Atlas of Aboriginal Places provides detailed information including a map, photos, location information, gazettal notices, and an explanation of the significance for each of the declared Aboriginal Places.
Learning from the sites
When Aboriginal places are protected, there are benefits for both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal sites can tell us a lot about the history of Aboriginal people in NSW. The next time you drive into the NSW countryside, think about how the landscape may reveal a very different story to Aboriginal people who understand the land. They may see such things as:
important food and medicinal plant species
territories, important sites, or good camping areas, reflected in landscape changes such as soil colour or plant species, rivers or mountains
cultural aspects of prominent natural features, formed long ago by one of the creation ancestors.
Declared Aboriginal Places in NSW
Learn more about the legal recognition and protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage on public and private lands.
Places of significance in parks and reserves
Get information on some of the Aboriginal places you can visit in parks and reserves around NSW.
Shell middens, rock shelters and open camp sites all show where Aboriginal people have lived.
Get information on ceremonial grounds, carved trees, scarred trees and stone arrangements.
See how tools were made by grinding or flaking stone, and learn how to look for signs of Aboriginal toolmaking in the bush.
Aboriginal 'Living Places'
Find out about this four-year study, which aims to record places in NSW where Aboriginal people have settled since colonisation.
Aboriginal people and biodiversity
Find out how Aboriginal heritage is inseparable from the natural environment - from individual plants and animals to whole ecosystems.
Gundabooka National Park oral history project
This project, which began in 1996, allows the NPWS to work with local Aboriginal communities in understanding and protecting this park in western NSW.
Revival, Renewal and Return: Ray Kelly and the NSW Sites of Significance Survey
This publication reflects upon the career of the service's first Aboriginal employee, in particular his work on the documentation of Aboriginal heritage across NSW.
Mapping attachment: a spatial approach to Aboriginal post-contact heritage
This 'cultural mapping' study shows how Aboriginal people in NSW 'possess' their local landscapes by imprinting them with their life stories, histories, memories and emotions. Buy a copy from the NSW government's online bookshop.
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Page last updated: 21 May 2013