About us

Aboriginal people and Country

OEH acknowledges the inherent rights of Aboriginal people to maintain culture, language, knowledge and identity. How are the rights and interests of Aboriginal people incorporated into the cultural heritage work of the OEH?

OEH’s cultural and heritage research engages critically with many complex questions about how we manage a diverse set of Aboriginal values and heritage places in the NSW landscape. Our research focus is Aboriginal post-contact (post-1788) period heritage places in NSW, how government can support Aboriginal communities manage their heritage, and research that facilitates Aboriginal involvement in natural resource management.

 Aboriginal youth from the Northern Territory visiting the Basin in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park  The Arrawarra fish trap on the NSW north coast  Inspecting rock art, Jibbon, Royal National Park

Research projects

This resource paper helps us to understand the ways in which, for Aboriginal people, the importance of many coastal places today is connected with their historical significance. It shows that the beaches, dunes, headlands, estuaries and waters of coastal NSW contain many ‘footprints’ of Aboriginal cultural life, and that Aboriginal people continue to maintain cultural connections to all of these heritage places and landscapes, although they may have lost physical access to many of them.

What cultural values do Aboriginal people associate with wild resource use places and the health of the environment? This project (2000-2002) documented the history of using wild foods and medicines over the last 50-100 years by Gumbaingirr people at Corindi on the NSW mid-north coast. It demonstrated that there is a direct link between the well being and cultural identity of Aboriginal people at Corindi Beach and their ability to access valued places and resources.

  • Cultural places, contested spaces (unpublished)

This (2000-2003) examined ways of integrating a broad range of Aboriginal heritage values into land-use planning and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes. Over 400 Aboriginal places were identified in the Coffs Harbour region (from interviews with Aboriginal Elders and from text sources), mapping methods were developed and consideration was given to how Aboriginal views and values could be included in local government planning processes.

What is the relationship between land management and the social and religious affiliations Aboriginal people have towards plant and animal species (‘totemism’)? This research, funded by the NSW Biodiversity Strategy (2002-2003), explored this question in order to consider the implications of ‘totemism’ for land management programs.

This project looked at the effects of salinity, and environmental problems more generally, on Aboriginal cultural heritage in NSW. It also examined ideas and strategies for dealing with these problems. The research recognised the need to link the management of natural and cultural heritage and understand the relationship between people’s sense of place and the condition of the environment around them. The research project (2003-2005) was funded by the NSW Salinity Strategy.

Where did Aboriginal people live in NSW after 1788? The Aboriginal ‘Living Places’ project (2002-2005) identified over 800 Aboriginal settlements across NSW comprising former Aboriginal reserves, fringe camps, pastoral station camps, town dwellings, seasonal work camps and holiday camps. The project investigated the heritage values of living places in north-eastern NSW. The research wasa joint project between NPWS and the NSW Heritage Office.

What are the connections between the ecological health of wetlands and Aboriginal cultural values of wetlands? Research in this area has been undertaken as part of the NSW Wetlands Recovery Program (Macquarie Marshes and Gwydir Wetlands). The research (2006-2009) focused on ways in which the interests and aspirations of contemporary Aboriginal communities can be incorporated into environmental management. Community consultation, oral history interviews and archaeological surveys were conducted as part of the project. Aboriginal cultural values form an important component of the Adaptive Environmental Management Plans for the Macquarie Marshes and Gwydir Wetlands.

How does cultural heritage, as an activity field, enhance Aboriginal wellbeing? How can cultural notions of wellbeing be applied to government policies concerned with Aboriginal people in NSW? This research (2005-2009) provides OEH with evidence of Aboriginal peoples’ approaches to their cultural heritage and proposes ways in which a culturally grounded concept of wellbeing could function as a framework for the organisation’s policies and programs concerning Aboriginal people.

Selected papers

Denis Byrne 2003, 'Nervous landscapes: race ands space in Australia', Journal of Social Archaeology 3(2):169-193.

Denis Byrne 2003, 'The ethos of return: erasure and reinstatement of Aboriginal visibility in the Australian historical landscape', Historical Archaeology 37(1):73-86.

Anthony English 2002, 'More than archaeology: developing comprehensive approaches to Aboriginal heritage management in NSW', Australian Journal of Environmental Management 9(4): 218-227.

Denis Byrne 2002, 'An archaeology of attachment: cultural heritage and the post-contact', in Rodney Harrison and Christine Williamson (eds) After Captain Cook: The archaeology of the recent indigenous past in Australia, Sydney University Archaeological Methods Series 8. Archaeological Computing Laboratory, University of Sydney, 135-146.

Anthony English 2000, 'An emu in the hole: exploring the link between biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage in New South Wales, Australia', IUCN Parks Journal 10(2): 13-25.

Anthony English 2000, 'This continent of smoke: exploring the relationship between fire management and Aboriginal heritage in NSW', in Red Trucks: Green Futures. A Conference on Ecologically Sustainable Bush Fire Management, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Sydney, 55-65.

Anthony English 2004, 'Echidnas and archaeology: understanding the Aboriginal values of forests in NSW', in Dan Lunney (ed) Conservation of Australia's Forest Fauna (2nd edition). Royal Zoological Society of NSW.


Page last updated: 15 May 2018