Budj Bim World Heritage Listing

This is a story about Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and their ongoing relationship with and connection to the Budj Bim cultural landscape.

Budj Bim by Erin O’Donnell.

Budj Bim by Erin O’Donnell.

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in south-west Victoria is the first Australian landscape to be gazetted on the World Heritage List purely for its cultural values. The site was created about 6,600 years ago by the Gunditjmara People, who used stones to build an elaborate series of channels and pools to harvest eels from Lake Condah.

This World Heritage listing is truly a historic moment for the Gunditjmara People – so what’s next?

Well we caught up with Gunditjmara man Damein Bell at Budj Bim to find out just that.

The old Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission.

The old Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission.

What are some of the existing areas of work?

We discussed current projects including the Aboriginal Water Access project and the development of a Native Foods and Botanical Strategy and support around building on the current aquaculture setup. Ideas flourished around infrastructure development and the possibilities of commercial opportunities such as restaurant ideas with the harvesting of eels. There were also discussions around opportunities for a bush foods business more generally. For example, opportunities connected to Lake Condah’s output of 5000L of nutrient rich water each week and part of the broader consideration of algae and seaweed.

It was a very inspiring meeting to witness.  A clear example of what can happen when innovation, ingenuity and initiative coincide.

Damein Bell CEO of Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation.

Damein Bell CEO of Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation.

During an afternoon at the old Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission, Damein Bell CEO of Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation met with us and discussed the history and future plans for Lake Condah.

From the outset of the interview, Damein Bell is quick to note that he will never underestimate the significance of this world heritage status or the possibilities that come with it. In his mind, limitations don’t exist.

“Our previous big dream was to restore Lake Condah. Everyone said that couldn’t be done. We did that. World Heritage – they said you’ll never get that. So we’ve got that now. So really anything is possible,” Damein said.

Lake Condah.

Lake Condah.

But Damein said he also recognises the roles and responsibilities that this listing carries.

“World heritage it’s what we’ve worked towards for a long, long time and it’s about the protection of our ancestors’ innovation, intelligence, science and technology,” he said.

He said this while reflecting on the past 30-years of work, and more over the past 30,000 years of work that his ancestors have put into Budj Bim. He goes on to say that it’s vital to ensure the community “gets it right” particularly with their aspirations around aquaculture.

“It’s  a protected landscape, it’s a sensitive landscape and we’ve got other challenges like climate change and surrounding land use change, so we just need to be on top of our game.”

So what’s next we ask Damein?

“Managing it all. We still need to raise the bar on ourselves with regards to what we set out to achieve we still need to make sure of our measured approach because there is only so many people in our community and we need to make sure we continue our connection to country, caring for country, our cultural strengthening, our song, our dance, to do it in a way where we make a living from it as well,” Damein said.

“We must create an economy for ourselves and we participate in the broader economy.

“But we’ve always said with tourism and the visitor economy if we make enough to keep us out on country especially our younger people and continue the connection that our elders have and our community as well then we will be happy with that.”

Damein says this World Heritage Listing has really created a lot of hope and excitement with our community and with the broader community, but that looking into the future capacity will be key.


Listen to Damein talk more about that here:


Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations
PO Box 431, North Melbourne VIC 3051
t: (03) 9321 5300 |
Website: www.fvtoc.com.au

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we work on as the First People of this country.