One of Australia’s oldest and most extensive Indigenous aquaculture sites has received World Heritage recognition

Tae Rak channel and holding pond. Photo: Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

A millennia-old aquaculture system set within volcanic lava flows and marshes in the south-west of the Australian state of Victoria has joined the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park and the Sydney Opera House on UNESCO’s World Heritage List of sites of significance to all humanity.

Unlike previous Australian listings, however, the Budj Bim aquaculture network is the first to be recognised exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural values.

Created by the Gunditjmara people, the system uses weirs, dams and stone channels – some hundreds of metres long and dug out of basalt lava flow – to divert water, kooyang (Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis) and other fish to holding ponds and wetlands.

The sophisticated engineering means eels and other fish can be ranched and then harvested year-round using woven baskets set as fish traps in gaps in the weirs. Traditionally, excess eels were smoked and traded.

The success of the aquaculture system allowed for permanent settlement, confirmed by the remains of more than 300 round, basalt stone houses also found at the Budj Bim site.

Carbon dating found the settlement and aquaculture enterprise date back 6,600 years, making it one of the oldest and most extensive aquaculture systems in the world.

The Victorian State Government has invested AU$13 million (US$8 million) to protect the area and develop it as a tourism destination.

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