Aboriginal Culture

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The Awabakal and Worimi peoples are acknowledged by Council as the traditional custodians of the land and waters of Newcastle.

Aboriginal people lived a very rich and vibrant existence in and around Muloobinba (Newcastle) and the Coquon (Hunter River). Food was abundant in marine life and bush tucker. Ceremonies and feasting were generally times for sharing of resources and trading of implements with inland clans. Shell middens at Meekarlba (Honeysuckle) and a tool making site at Pillapay Kullaitaran (Glenrock Lagoon) are remnants of those communal gatherings.

Dreaming stories

Aboriginal peoples’ connectedness to places and communities is linked through their dreaming stories. Biraban, the eagle hawk, is held in highest regard by the coastal tribes. Homage to the eagle hawk is conveyed in their stories and linked to their tribal social structures. Koin is another revered local sky-hero who announces the coming of Kooris from distant tribes for rites or corroborees.

Sacred sites

Natural landscape features and known sacred sites include Whibay Gamba, Newcastle’s famous landmark Nobbys. It is said that a notorious kangaroo jumped from Tahlbihn Point, at the site now known as Fort Scratchley, to the safety of Whibay Gamba. The kangaroo remains hidden in the island’s bowels occasionally thumping its tail and making the land tremble. The thumping is said to be a reference to the region’s earthquake activity.

There is also a high cliff named Yi-ran-na-li, renowned for being a fearful place. Yi-ran-na-li must be respected by all and no one should linger or speak in its vicinity because of the danger of falling rocks.

Newcastle Aboriginal Heritage Study

The City of Newcastle engaged Australian Museum Business Services (AMBS) in 2003 to undertake a city-wide study of Aboriginal heritage across the LGA. A final report was accepted by Council in December 2005. The study aimed to develop a management framework for the identification, consideration and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage, providing Council with a set of guiding principles for understanding and valuing Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Accordingly, an important set of principles were established in the Heritage Study including the following:
 
  1. Aboriginal cultural heritage is to be recognised as a finite and valuable resource of the Newcastle LGA.
  2. Aboriginal community members are to be pivotal in the identification, assessment, and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage, as it is primarily Aboriginal people who should determine the significance of their heritage.
  3. Places of Aboriginal cultural value within the Newcastle LGA are to be actively conserved and managed to retain those cultural values. Appropriate conservation action will vary according to the level of significance.
  4. Aboriginal cultural heritage is to be actively managed during the development process, to ensure appropriate conservaton and impact mitigation outcomes are achieved.
  5. Compliance with relevant statutory controls, specifically the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974) and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (1979), is to be required for all development and heritage programs.
  6. Sustainable, ongoing management strategies for Aboriginal cultural heritage should be promoted within Council and the broader community, through heritage training for Council personnel and public interpretation programs.
Recent development activities in Newcastle West and Newcastle East give us further insight into the existence of Aboriginal heritage sites below the modern city.  An Aboriginal heritage investigation of the former Palais Royale site in 2010 revealed the presence of an important ancient Aboriginal cultural heritage site, between Hunter Street and the Great Northern railway. 
 

Aboriginal cultural heritage conservation

The  Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) is the regulator of Aboriginal heritage across New South Wales. 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. 

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 OEH.

Aboriginal places

The NPW Act can 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

Due diligence must be followed in determining whether your actions will harm Aboriginal objects. The Due Diligence Code of Practice for the Protection of Aboriginal Objects in NSW 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.
 

Declared Aboriginal Places in NSW

Aboriginal Places are a way of legally recognising and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage on public and private land. Under section 84 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974), the Minister for the Environment may declare land as an Aboriginal Place when it is or was of special significance to Aboriginal culture. An area can have spiritual, historical, social, educational or other significance or could have been used for its natural resources. Aboriginal Places protect ceremonial and spiritual values and areas containing objects such as middens, burials, reburials, Bora rings and rock art.

Atlas of Aboriginal Places

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.

Nominations

The  Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) welcomes nominations for Aboriginal Places supported by the local Aboriginal community, as Aboriginal people are the main determinants of Aboriginal cultural significance. OEH will support the Aboriginal community in considering:

  • Teir aspirations for a site 
  • Other available mechanisms for a site
  • Te risks to and ways of enhancing a site’s cultural values
  • Longer-term site management issues.

Where there is a proposal to declare an Aboriginal Place, OEH encourages the preparation of a formal management plan by the landowner/ land manager or occupiers with agreement with the Aboriginal community. 

Aboriginal Heritage Management in New South Wales and Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) maintains the Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System (AHIMS) which includes:

  • Information about Aboriginal objects that have been reported to the Director General, Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Information about Aboriginal Places which have been declared by the Minister for the Environment to have special significance with respect to Aboriginal culture archaeological reports.

AHIMS has operated since the 1970s, and as at June 2011 contained detailed information on 67,000 recorded sites and 10,700 archaeological and other Aboriginal heritage reports.

AHIMS is used by government, industry and heritage professionals who need the information for land-use planning, regulation and conservation management. It is also used by Aboriginal communities to help them manage, conserve and protect local sites and heritage. Some of the many reasons people and organisations require information from AHIMS is for natural resource management, cultural heritage assessments, archaeological surveys, development proposals, property purchases and oral history projects.

AHIMS and Due Diligence

The Due Diligence Code of Practice for the Protection of Aboriginal Objects in NSW sets out the process which you need to follow in order to satisfy due diligence requirements when dealing with Aboriginal heritage. A step in this process is checking for Aboriginal sites on AHIMS. This can be done by logging in to AHIMS web services and conducting a free AHIMS Basic Search in the area of your proposed activity.

If the results of the initial AHIMS Basic Search indicate that AHIMS contains information about an Aboriginal site in the area of your proposed activity, you must request an Extensive Search. For the purposes of due diligence, you may rely on the AHIMS Basic Search results for 12 months.

An AHIMS Basic Search will tell you whether there are any Aboriginal sites recorded in the search area. An Aboriginal site that is recorded on AHIMS could be:

  • An Aboriginal object (as defined under the NPW Act)
  • A group (i.e. a collection, scattering, deposit, etc.) of Aboriginal objects
  • An area of land containing Aboriginal objects
  • A 'potential' archaeological deposit which is an area where, based on previous investigation, Aboriginal objects are likely to be present
  • A declared Aboriginal Place (as defined under the NPW Act) which may or may not contain Aboriginal objects
  • An Aboriginal site that has been partially or completely destroyed under the conditions of a past consent.