Aboriginal people and heritage

Aboriginal heritage consists of those places and objects that contribute to the story of Aboriginal people in NSW. It can help identify the links that places may have with each other. Aboriginal people moved around NSW and passed on stories, information and knowledge by going to these special places.

Aboriginal heritage includes places and items that are important to the local Aboriginal community or to Aboriginal people of NSW. These are places or objects that people have a connection to, both physically and spiritually.

Aboriginal heritage can include natural features such as creeks or mountains, ceremonial or story places or areas of more contemporary cultural significance such as Aboriginal missions or post contact sites.

Protecting Aboriginal heritage

Aboriginal places and objects are an important part of the rich heritage of NSW. And they are of great significance to Aboriginal communities, providing links to culture, environment and knowledge.

It is important to look after and protect these special places for future generations. Listing heritage places and objects means that Aboriginal communities can assert their right to manage their own important places.

In NSW the principle laws which deal with Aboriginal heritage are:

  • National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974
  • Heritage Act 1977
  • Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979
The National Parks and Wildlife Act provides statutory protection for all Aboriginal objects and places in NSW. Areas are gazetted as Aboriginal places if the Minister is satisfied that there is enough evidence to show the area is, or was, of special significance to Aboriginal culture.

The Heritage Act protects the State's natural and cultural heritage. Aboriginal places or objects that are recognized as having high cultural value are listed on the State Heritage Register.

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act provides protection by considering impacts on Aboriginal heritage in land use and planning decisions. The three main areas are:

  • planning instruments allow particular uses for land and specify constraints. Aboriginal heritage is a value which should be assessed when determining land use;
  • section 90 of the Act lists impacts which must be considered before development approval is granted. Aboriginal heritage is one of these possible impacts;
  • State government agencies act as the determining authority on the environmental impacts of proposed activities and must consider a variety of community and cultural factors, including Aboriginal heritage, in their decisions.

The State Heritage Register & Aboriginal items

Places and objects of particular importance to the people of NSW are listed on the State Heritage Register.

Recognizing and listing items of special value are the first steps in protecting and managing those places and things that the community wants to keep. The Heritage Branch is working with Aboriginal communities to increase the number of items on the State Heritage Register that are significant to Aboriginal people.

The register lists a diverse range of heritage items including: Aboriginal places and objects, buildings, monuments, gardens, bridges, natural landscapes, archaeological sites, shipwrecks, relics, industrial sites, streets and precincts.

Communities can nominate an Aboriginal item for listing on the State Heritage Register. Go to the Aboriginal nomination page to find out more about how to nominate an Aboriginal place.

What does listing on the register mean?

Listing on the State Heritage Register means that a place is protected and that the approval of the Heritage Council is required for any changes or demolitions. Exemptions can be arranged for cultural practices by communities so that places continue to live and be used by current and future generations.

The difference between the State Heritage Register and the Department of Environment and Climate Change Register

The Aboriginal Heritage Inventory Management System at the Department of Environment and Climate Change is responsible for the protection and preservation of all Aboriginal places and objects in NSW. The State Heritage Register protects particular places and items that the community has formally recognized as being of high cultural value.

The State Heritage Register provides an extra level of protection beyond that provided by the Department of Environment and Climate Change's register as it protects against any damage or destruction to these special places. The Aboriginal heritage of NSW is irreplaceable. There are heavy penalties for offences under the Heritage Act.

Why list Aboriginal places on the register?

Listing Aboriginal places of high cultural value on the State Heritage Register is a way that communities can preserve and protect their most special places. The main reason why we list places is to tell people that they are important to us and should be looked after for future generations.

And listing on the register brings other benefits:

  • Communities can have a hands-on role in caring for their heritage. It means that people can have a say about how special places are cared for.
  • Listing provides a framework for community-driven management so that communities can be involved in making decisions about conservation and management.
  • Protection of an item through listing on the State Heritage Register requires the local council to consider the effect of any proposed development in the area surrounding the item.
  • Listing means eligibility for grants and funding through the Heritage Incentives Program.
  • It recognizes the significance of Aboriginal culture and heritage to NSW.
  • Listing is a way to raise awareness and promote Aboriginal heritage in NSW.

Communities can nominate an Aboriginal item for listing on the State Heritage Register. Go to the Aboriginal nomination page to find out more about how to nominate an Aboriginal place.

Aboriginal Heritage Advisory Panel

The Aboriginal Heritage Advisory Panel provides advice on managing and conserving heritage places that are important to Aboriginal communities. A key role is providing advice to the Heritage Council on Aboriginal issues from a regional and community perspective.

The panel can also recommend grants through the Heritage Incentives Program to Aboriginal organisations or community groups throughout NSW to help them identify, conserve or promote Aboriginal Heritage in NSW.

While funding is targeted to Aboriginal communities and organisations, non-indigenous organisations such as local councils are encouraged to seek grant co-funding in partnership with an Aboriginal community applicant.

How do I apply for a grant?

You can check if your project is eligible and download an application form from the funding page on this website.

After reading the relevant information and listing anything that you are unsure of, you can contact the Aboriginal Heritage Officer, Tanya Koeneman, for further information on (02) 9873 8567 or email Tanya.Koeneman@heritage.nsw.gov.au

Applications can be made at any time.

Aboriginal Heritage Unit

Behind the scenes at the Heritage Branch, Tanya Koeneman assists in co-ordinating and working with the Heritage Branch on matters relating to Aboriginal heritage.

The Aboriginal Heritage Unit is responsible for promoting the Heritage Branch to Aboriginal communities and engaging and encouraging communities to actively participate in not only listing places or sites which are deemed highly significant to the cultural and heritage values of Aboriginal peoples of NSW but also in European listings. The unit also promotes the Aboriginal Heritage Incentives Program, a funding program available to Aboriginal communities and organisations for projects that conserve, interpret and promote Aboriginal Heritage.

Tanya is keen to hear from anyone who has feedback, comments or information on Aboriginal heritage.

Email: Tanya.Koeneman@heritage.nsw.gov.au or ring Tanya on (02) 9873 8500.

For further information

See Frequently Asked Questions, or contact the Aboriginal Heritage Unit at the Heritage Branch on (02) 9873 8500.

Page last updated: 01 September 2012