Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape
Sacred to the Gunditjmara people, the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape is home to the remains of potentially one of Australia’s largest aquaculture systems.
For thousands of years the Gunditjmara people flourished through their ingenious methods of channelling water flows and systematically harvesting eels to ensure a year round supply. Here the Gunditjmara lived in permanent settlements, dispelling the myth that Australia’s Indigenous peoples were all nomadic.
Dating back thousands of years, the area shows evidence of a large, settled Aboriginal community systematically farming and smoking eels for food and trade in what is considered to be one of Australia’s earliest and largest aquaculture ventures.
This complex enterprise took place in a landscape carved by natural forces and are full of meaning to the Gunditjmara people.
More than 30 000 years ago the Gunditjmara witnessed an important creation being reveal himself in the landscape. Budj Bim (known today as Mount Eccles) is the source of the Tyrendarra lava flow, which as it flowed to the sea changed the drainage pattern in this part of western Victoria, creating large wetlands.
The Gunditjmara people developed this landscape by engineering channels to bring water and young eels from Darlots Creek to low lying areas. They created ponds and wetlands linked by channels containing weirs. Woven baskets were placed in the weir to harvest mature eels.
These engineered wetlands provided the economic basis for the development of a settled society with villages of stone huts, built using stones from the lava flow. Early European accounts of Gunditjmara describe how they were ruled by hereditary chiefs.
With European settlement in the area in the 1830s came conflict. Gunditjmara fought for their land during the Eumeralla wars, which lasted more than 20 years.
As this conflict drew to an end in the 1860s, many Aboriginal people were displaced and the Victorian government began to develop resources to house them.
Some Aboriginal people refused to move from their ancestral land and eventually the government agreed to build a mission at Lake Condah, close to some of the eels traps and within sight of Budj Bim.
The mission was officially closed in 1919 with the Lake Condah Aboriginal Church was demolished by authorities in 1957. The Gunditjmara continued to live in the area and protect their heritage and identity to see their Mission lands returned in 1987.
In 2007, the Gunditjmara achieved their recognition of their heritage and identity through the Federal Court of Australia’s Gunditjmara Native Title Consent Determination. In 2008, Lake Condah was formally returned to Gunditjmara people by the State of Victoria.
The Gunditjmara manage the Indigenous values of the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape through the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners and Winda Mara organisations. A large part of the area is the Mount Eccles National Park which is cooperatively managed by the Gunditjmara and Parks Victoria.
The Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape was declared by the Australian Government in July 2004 for the following outstanding national values:
- the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia's natural or cultural history.
- the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the places' possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Australia's natural or cultural history.
- the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period.
- the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance as part of Indigenous tradition.