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Cultural Heritage

THROUGH our Cultural Heritage theme a strong, inclusive partnership has been created with the local Noongar community, built on the understanding that Aboriginal people have an inseparable relationship with ‘Country’ and caring for the environment.

This partnership allows us to work in consultation with Traditional Owners and carry out a number of restoration and protection projects at sites of cultural significance.

Some of this work has been carried out at places of international importance, such as the ancient stone fish traps at Oyster Harbour and a number of sites on the Quaranup Peninsula.

The information we continue to glean from these sites is not only improving our knowledge and understanding of Noongar culture and offering us a glimpse of human life before the arrival of Europeans, but is empowering local Aboriginals, by giving them the opportunity to celebrate their history through guided tours and workshops.

When planning new cultural projects we seek guidance from an Aboriginal Reference Group to ensure the needs of the wider Aboriginal community are respected and accomplished.

Much of our cultural work is carried out through Cultural Connections and Restoring Connections, programs which employ Aboriginals to work on “Country” and promote Noongar culture through a variety of educational awareness projects.

Cultural Heritage Gallery

What we know – values and threats

THE region's natural land and waterscapes have a high significance for non-Indigenous cultural practices. The use of these natural assets is an important part of the lifestyle for both people living and visiting the region.

The cultural attachment to the natural and built environment for non-Indigenous Australians, while different to Aboriginal connections, should not be excluded, both are affected by the same degrading processes.

At a national level, the Australian Heritage Council, an independent body established through the Australian Heritage Council Act (2003) assess the values of places nominated for the National Heritage List and the Australian Government Heritage List and advises the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage on conserving and protecting listed values.

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) is the State Government agency responsible for administering legislation affecting the well-being of Aboriginal people. Amongst the legislation administered by DAA is the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, which details specific responsibilities related to the management and protection of heritage sites.

There are more than 600 registered cultural heritage sites in the region, the land tenure for which varies from private freehold to public land held for reserves and national parks  Unregistered sites are still being discovered, documented and registered on private and public land.

More than 285 cultural heritage sites are recorded on the Register of National Estate. Through the Australian Heritage Commission Register of National Estate, the Heritage Council of WA and DAA, sites can be nominated to be included on the relevant cultural heritage databases.

Under the Heritage Act of Western Australia 1990, the Heritage Council of WA was set up as an advisory body for the Government of Western Australia.

The main functions of the council is to establish and maintain the State Register of Heritage Places, ensuring any development of heritage places is in harmony with cultural values and to promote awareness and knowledge of cultural heritage.

Aboriginal people hold recorded and unrecorded generational knowledge of significant cultural sites. Unregistered cultural or archaeological sites are not officially registered for reasons of cultural importance and integrity and remain known only to the custodians. It is therefore important not to confine the management frameworks to sites and areas “registered” with State and Australian Government databases.

Cultural heritage is evident throughout the lands and waters of Australia and all aspects of the country's landscape are important to Aboriginal people. The rights and interests of Aboriginal people arise in their heritage through spirituality, customary law, languages, original ownership, custodianship, developing traditions and recent history.

The effective protection and conservation of this heritage is an important asset in maintaining our Australian identity and the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people. Maintaining Aboriginal heritage will ensure a continuous role for anyone interested in caring for country and this is beneficial to everyone.

Prioritisation of cultural heritage assets and actions requires additional consultation with Aboriginal groups which happen through the development of funded projects. However, an on-going threat is the lack of time and resources necessary to carry out meaningful involvement and consultation with Aboriginal stakeholders.

There are a variety of issues, problems and circumstances affecting Aboriginal communities and land managers participating in natural resource management:

  • As a result of the passing of Aboriginal Elders areas of traditional knowledge are being lost at an alarming rate.

  • There is often a lack of community awareness, skills and capacity to deal with existing new and emerging problems.

  • There is a perception in the Aboriginal community that when consultation for natural resource management issues occurs, recommendations made by the Aboriginal community are not acted upon, which has a negative impact on future involvement in natural resource management.

  • There is a limited commercial base to support natural resource management. Traditional owners and managers need funding and other resources to deal with these issues.

  • Aboriginal communities and their organisations have limited resources to undertake natural resource management because their generally scarce resources are focused on meeting more immediate and other local priorities, such as maintenance of community infrastructure, overcoming housing shortages and health issues.

Gaps in our Knowledge

The following gaps in Cultural Heritage theme knowledge and information have been identified:

  • Need for a strong focus on implementation due to lack of NRM funding streams.

  • A need for education and ongoing skills development in NRM with recognition of traditional learning to provide opportunities for other/ongoing employment.

  • Joint management approach to natural resources between the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and relevant stakeholders.

  • Investigation of the potential for Indigenous Protected Areas across the region, including the employment of Aboriginal rangers by DPaW at key cultural locations.

  • Enterprise development opportunities need to be explored to foster long-term sustainability of Indigenous NRM and continuing economic and social benefit are sought.

  • Projects similiar to Restoring Connections which allow the community to protect and restore places of cultural significance need to be developed.

  • Funding sources for the cultural heritage theme may not necessarily be available in NRM programs.  Alternative sources of funding will need to be sought to progress Aboriginal consultation on the South Coast region.

  • A need to explore opportunities to protect and restore places of cultural heritage significance, such as sites listed on the National Heritage List, where values relate to NRM.


OUR region boasts a diversity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural heritage sites.

To date, Aboriginal involvement in natural resource management has been strengthened by the formation of the Aboriginal Reference Group and efforts to engage with the Indigenous community.

For increased involvement, projects resulting from Southern Prospects 2011-2016 must to be culturally aware of Aboriginal issues, which may impact on project timing and actions. Few surveys have been conducted on the risk to culturally significant sites from degrading processes and as a result many may already be highly threatened. Actions to protect these sites could be seen as addressing symptoms of the threats, as opposed to the causes.

This may have a lower priority than actions addressing the causes of threats.

Due to the significance of cultural heritage sites, the possibility of addressing the symptoms of threats, rather than the causes of them, needs to be considered carefully.

Significant social and economic implications would result from the degrading processes of cultural heritage sites, knowledge and connections to Country. Consideration will need to be given to where and/or how cultural heritage assets fit in with the region’s NRM scheme


The involvement of Aboriginal communities has been a major achievement, leading to on-ground restoration and preservation works at sites of cultural and natural significance. 

A cross-regional project, Restoring Connections between People and Land, was initiated and largely developed through South Coast NRM's Aboriginal facilitators and the South West Catchments Council, with substantial consultation with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council and Goldfields Land and Sea Council, training institutions and a number of other organisations and individuals within the two regions.

The project linked Aboriginal Elders and youth and strengthened traditional connection to country and knowledge of natural resource management. This project supported the restoration and protection of highly significant cultural sites including help purchasing, handing-over and managing Lake Pleasant View at Manypeaks by the Indigenous Land Corporation.

The project addressed cross-regional and cross-cultural needs and is fundamental in strengthening the capacity for Aboriginal people to increase their role in culturally appropriate natural resource management. While this project initially focused on southern WA, it has developed approaches and elements which can be applied in adjacent regions.

Restoring Connections was the National and State Landcare Award winner for Indigenous Project in 2010.

NRM projects with the Aboriginal community in Esperance have included restoration and protection work at Bandy Creek, Cape Arid, Stokes National Park, Mt Ridley and other locations as well as the Culham Inlet survey and Stockyard Creek mapping (including Phytophthora dieback training).

The training provided through these projects is building community capacity for future involvement in NRM work. Two cultural project officers are employed in the eastern part of the region.

Since commencement in 2006, the Gondwana Link partnership has facilitated Indigenous involvement in:

  • Management of properties at Nowanup, Yarrabee and Chereninup, including training for Aboriginal people.

  • Construction of a meeting place where Elders exchange cultural information.

  • Awareness raising events with more than 500 participants, strengthening of community natural resource management and heritage capacity.

  • Cultural mapping of selected river systems.

  • Exploration of business enterprise opportunities.

  • Facilitation of cross-regional cultural exchanges and field days.

  • Participation in Biodiversity Week educational activities to encourage cultural knowledge transfers with regional schools.

  • The Sustainable Land Management Program assists eight Aboriginal-owned properties with NRM projects, training and capacity building. This program will be expanded to include on-ground restoration and revegetation projects. On-ground works have been conducted, field days promoted and six environmental property management plans developed to assist funding applications

  • Identification of 24 priority heritage sites threatened by degrading processes, such as Bandy Creek in Esperance, resulted in preparation of management plans by a project officer employed at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) through the South Coast Heritage Restoration Project. The second phase of this project saw the implementation of recommended on-ground works to protect and restore the sites. The Indigenous Biodiversity Project coordinated by DAA involved a work team of six young Aboriginal men to restore five sites in the region. This assisted the participants in obtaining Level II Certification with TAFE. Cultural awareness and heritage training was undertaken to increase knowledge and capacity about cultural sites' planning and legislation. This has been and continues to be delivered on an as-needs basis.

  • North Albany Senior High School Indigenous Environmental Practices students were selected as finalists in the United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day 2007 awards and highly commended by the judging panel. This project will be extended to other schools across the region. Manypeaks Primary School contributed to the Lake Pleasant View project and won a United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day 2008 Award.

  • An archaeological survey and training research partnership project is based in the Pallinup area.  This project included cultural and family mapping for the central part of the region.

  • The DPaW Indigenous liaison officer (2008/09) worked towards joint management of the Lake Pleasant View property at Manypeaks and adjoining reserves.  The officer also delivered cultural awareness training for DPaW staff and the wider community

  • The restoration of the Aylmore Springs site at Gnowangerup linked with activities undertaken by the Gnowangerup Heritage Centre to deliver NRM outcomes through the Restoring Connections project.  This included development of plans for a native plant nursery with on-ground training in seed collection and species identification. The nursery was built with links to the Ongerup Heritage Trail.

  • An Aboriginal employment initiative, which funded a pilot project to develop a strategy for employment and the South Coast region, has included facilitator, project coordinator, project officers, support officers and administrative support. Positions funded at other organisations have included project officers, liaison officers and implementation officers, as well as casual employment in fencing, weed removal and survey work.

  • Formation of an Aboriginal Reference Group to be involved in NRM planning processes across the region.

  • Key achievements have been made through the identification of non-Indigenous, culturally significant places and the recognition of social values of natural resources through the following:

  • The evaluation of western South Coast water resources by the Department of Water which included the assessed of social values of the 45 river systems from Deep River to the small coastal creeks flowing into Cheyne Bay. This important work will be used to guide the development of the South Coast Regional Water Plan and ensure ecological, social and Aboriginal cultural values are properly recognised and supported in decision making.

  • A community survey, which included resource-use attitudes and perceptions of the Ravensthorpe Range was conducted to inform future land use planning. The study provided a framework to consider the concept of connection to place and local communities' multiple relationships with the environment.

  • The development of the Mt Hallowell Reserve Management Plan 2008, Wilson Inlet Foreshore Reserves Management Plan 2008 and the Culham Inlet Management Plan 2008, documented and considered management actions for the European history and community values of the reserves and inlet.

  • The University of Western Australia's assessment of European cultural heritage values of regional estuaries, provided non-Indigenous information to be used in the management of priority estuaries. This project established a methodology which can describe, evaluate and rank the heritage values of priority estuaries and sites on/or immediately adjacent to them on a landscape scale. This methodology should be readily extended to other estuaries, rivers and wetlands and to link with existing mechanisms of heritage evaluation. 

Significant progress has been achieved in the following areas:

  • A recognition and acceptance of the Noongar belief that there is no distinction between natural resources and cultural values.

  • A comprehensive, transparent and inclusive engagement across the region guided by a reference group including Aboriginal land managers, corporations, families and Elders.

  • Empowerment of the community to make choices and decisions about the management of their natural and cultural resources.

  • A flexible approach to managing community capacity to work within expected timeframes - capacity has been strong enough for groups to deliver and drive projects.

  • The integration of Cultural Heritage with other South Coast NRM themes.

  • Documenting and considering social and cultural heritage values (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) in management plans for reserves and waterways.

Goals and Aspirations

Aspirations - 25+ years

All NRM actions in the South Coast region recognise and respect cultural heritage values.

Aboriginal practices, spiritual and cultural values are considered across all South Coast NRM themes to support conservation and protection of our natural environment.

  • Protect natural cultural heritage places.
  • Ensure the community recognises and values Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge, land management practices and connection to country.
  • Empower the Aboriginal community with a capacity to engage in all areas of natural resource management.

Goals - 10+ years

Goal H1: Capacity: Enable the South Coast Aboriginal community to apply traditional and contemporary knowledge and have the capacity and skills to restore and protect cultural heritage landscapes.

Goal H2: Traditional knowledge: Respectful integration of traditional ecological knowledge and cultural heritage values in all NRM projects with recognition of intellectual property rights.

Goal H3: Representation and participation: Regional Aboriginal representation and participation in planning and implementation processes.

Goal H4: Protection of heritage places: Aboriginal cultural significance of national parks and reserves are formally recognised and protected by 2020.

Goal H5: Protection of places of high cultural natural heritage significance: Identify and protect sites and locations of high cultural natural heritage significance at risk from degrading and threatening processes by 2020.

Outcomes - 1-5 years

Measures and Monitoring

Outcome H1: Improved information: Survey of the Aboriginal community and other sources to gather information on traditional ecological knowledge, connection, interest and land management practices for use (respecting intellectual property) by the community by 2012.

On-ground actions

Outcome H2: Protection of heritage places: identification and protection of three significant cultural natural heritage places per year, as prioritised by the community.

Outcome H3: Landscape scale approach: Identify, plan and implement a landscape scale cultural natural heritage project by 2015.

Outcome H4: Establishment of sustainable enterprises: Support the establishment of two sustainable enterprises based on NRM principles by Aboriginal communities by 2015.

Outcome H5: Application of traditional knowledge: Apply the use of traditional ecological knowledge to South Coast community projects by 2015.

Capacity Building

Outcome H6: Improved community capacity: Ensuring the Aboriginal Reference Group has the on-going capacity to be actively involved at every level of the planning processes at South Coast NRM.

Outcome H7: Improved communication: That the wider community understands, respects and is involved in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage by 2015.

Outcome H8: Improved training and career pathways: Support the development of training resources and career pathway identification in NRM for Aboriginal people by 2012.

Planning and policy frameworks

Outcome H9:Agreed protocols: Protocols for Aboriginal engagement in NRM developed and endorsed by 2011.

Outcome H10: Improved knowledge: Increased knowledge of cultural heritage asset values and their management enhanced and embraced by the development (2012) and implementation of a regional cultural heritage education program by 2015.

Outcome H11: Improved Aboriginal employment: An Aboriginal Employment Policy for South Coast NRM is developed and implemented by 2012.

Regional capacity

THE acknowledgement and understanding of the region’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural heritage values and their management has increased over the past seven years.

Cultural heritage and social values of natural assets have been specifically assessed and addressed in many management plans.

The community has become more willing to incorporate cultural heritage values into management projects. In some circumstances this can be limited due to lack of skills and resources, or suitable funding to undertake assessments.

However, the region benefits from a core body of research organisations and individuals with the necessary skills and capacity to undertake this work when funding permits.

It is important to maximise the benefits of Aboriginal knowledge of land and culture to all South Coast NRM themes and present opportunities for Indigenous involvement in natural resource management.

Aboriginal people's continued involvement with environmental projects is vital to the cultural identity of Western Australians and needs to be nurtured through its early stages and reviewed to assess its progress, successes and failures.

Cultural Heritage has primarily focussed on developing the capacity of Aboriginal people within the region to manage priority sites of cultural significance. Our current focus is to identify streams of funding to continue cultural projects to help build greater Aboriginal involvement and cultural understanding of natural resource management.

In recent years Aboriginal involvement has greatly expanded with active engagement of communities in environmental activities. Better communications have been established, including the formation of the Aboriginal Reference Group.

A range of policy initiatives, legislation and regulations in Aboriginal Affairs have been designed to provide opportunities for members of the Indigenous community to pursue economic, social, cultural, linguistic and environmental benefits of land-associated activities.

Mainstream government programs also provide land and natural resource management opportunities, particularly in the areas of agriculture, environmental restoration and conservation. State Government commitments to Indigenous involvement in NRM include:

  • Joint management of protected areas, including the establishment by the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) of Demonstration National Park Councils and memorandums of understanding with regional Aboriginal Land and Sea Councils.

  • The active development and delivery of traineeship programs by the Department of Fisheries WA and DPaW.

The past seven years has seen more opportunities for the Aboriginal community to engage in natural resource management, including the employment of Indigenous NRM officers who have assisted Aboriginal land managers, community organisations and individuals to have a greater role in on-ground actions across South Coast NRM themes.

The region has 13 Indigenous Land Corporation properties of less than 15,000 ha and nine Aboriginal Lands Trust  properties of 10 - 10,000 ha which can have a significant contribution to achieving outcomes.

Aboriginal NRM officers and others, engage key stakeholders such as land and sea councils, together with managers of Aboriginal lands and State agencies with Indigenous interests or responsibilities. Most importantly, are coordinated with NRM groups throughout the region.

The implementation of the regional Aboriginal consultation framework will expand the existing cultural knowledge within regional communities and therefore enhance NRM.

Outcomes improve when Aboriginal representation is involved in the type of decision-making which affects the lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Effective Aboriginal participation is dependent on the capacity to engage and negotiate to effect these decisions.

South Coast NRM involvement

South Coast NRM employs a community and cultural program leader, a cultural program leader and two cultural project officers, responsible for involving Aboriginal people in:

  • Planning and management of natural resources.
  • building linkages between Aboriginal groups and the South Coast community, government agencies and Local Government Agencies.
  • Encouraging and assisting people to implement sustainable land use on their properties through the incorporation of traditional practices and the further development of industries based on bush products.
  • Developing training opportunities for land managers to increase their land management skills and providing employment and training opportunities through work teams in partnership with employment agencies.

Project Snapshots

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Opening hours
Mon – Fri 9am – 3pm
Contact details:
Tel: (08) 9845 8537
Fax: (08) 9845 8538

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