Aboriginal cultural heritage conservation

We can all contribute to the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage by always respecting its presence in the landscape, and considering carefully how to minimise impact on the land where it is situated.

OEH administers legislation which ensures that Aboriginal cultural heritage must be considered as part of land management practices. OEH protects Aboriginal cultural heritage through:

  • regulation
  • management planning
  • public education and awareness
  • physical protection works.

Aboriginal sites are a very important part of Australia's cultural heritage, and many are on the register of the National Estate. Even more important is the significance these sites have for Aboriginal communities. To Aboriginal people, the sites provide a direct link with their traditional culture. It is important to preserve as many of them as possible.

OEH is responsible for the protection and preservation of all Aboriginal objects and places in NSW. 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. If you find an Aboriginal object you should report it to us. Find out more on Regulation of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Aboriginal objects

Aboriginal objects are physical evidence of the use of an area by Aboriginal people. They can also be referred to as 'Aboriginal sites', 'relics' or 'cultural material'.

Aboriginal objects include:

  • physical objects, such as stone tools, Aboriginal-built fences and stockyards, scarred trees and the remains of fringe camps
  • material deposited on the land, such as middens
  • the ancestral remains of Aboriginal people.

Handicrafts made by Aboriginal people for sale are not 'Aboriginal objects' under the NPW Act.

Known Aboriginal objects and sites are recorded on OEH's Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System (AHIMS). If you find a site you should report it to us.

Aboriginal places

The NPW Act can also protect areas of land that have recognised values of significance to Aboriginal people. These areas may or may not contain Aboriginal objects (i.e. any physical evidence of Aboriginal occupation or use). Any person can nominate such an area to be considered for Aboriginal Place gazettal. Once nominated, a recommendation can be made to the Minister for the Environment.

The Minister for the Environment can declare an area to be an 'Aboriginal place' if the Minister believes that the place is or was of special significance to Aboriginal culture. An area can have spiritual, natural resource usage, historical, social, educational or other type of significance.

Protecting Aboriginal objects and places

You will need to exercise due diligence in determining whether your actions will harm Aboriginal objects. The Due Diligence Code of Practice for the Protection of Aboriginal Objects in NSW (10798ddcop.pdf, 1.0MB) explains and provides practical guidance about what due diligence means. Anyone who exercises due diligence in determining that their actions will not harm Aboriginal objects has a defence against prosecution for the strict liability objects offence if they later harm an Aboriginal object.

An Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit (AHIP) can be issued by OEH under Part 6 of the NPW Act where harm to an Aboriginal object or Aboriginal place cannot be avoided. An AHIP is a defence to a prosecution for harming Aboriginal objects and/or Aboriginal places if the harm was authorised by the AHIP and the conditions of that AHIP were not contravened.

Find out about AHIPs, due diligence and care agreements see Information on Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permits.

More information

Page last updated: 28 January 2014