Aboriginal Culture and Heritage

Bundjalung people

It is well understood that prior to European settlement of the Ballina Shire area the Bundjalung people were its custodians, having cared for and lived off the land for thousands of years. The many natural features and landforms that make up the Ballina Shire landscape were understood by the Bundjalung people to be the creation of their Dreamtime ancestors.

Bundjalung people tell of how, before the coming of white man, they lived in harmony with the natural environment. Like other Indigenous culture, the Bundjalung people suggest they belong to the land and the land to them. The land provided a wide variety of foods including fish, crustaceans, mammals, birds, reptiles vegetables and fruits. Shelters were made of timber, bark, branches and palms. Fire was used to cook food and timber, rock and fibres used to make tools and utensils with which to hunt, gather and prepare food. Individuals were part of a complex kin and tribal grouping that frequently moved across different parts of the land in search of food and in response to seasonal change and for ceremony. Bundjalung peoples' culture and traditions evolved over many thousands of years with the passing down of knowledge from previous generations and adapting to environmental change.

Aboriginal cultural heritage sites in the ballina shire

Management of Aboriginal Heritage matters in the shire is overseen by JALI Local Aboriginal Land Council and is supported by the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974) and the NSW Heritage Act (1977) which provide legal protection for Aboriginal sites and relics in NSW, including sites yet to be recorded.

Ballina Shire is rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage sites and history – with the archaeological record indicating Bundjalung occupation of the region for at least 6000 years. Aboriginal cultural heritage sites are important to the local Aboriginal community for cultural, historic and spiritual reasons. The poor environmental management of these sites in the past has led to a significant loss of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, in the past century especially, and thus eroded Aboriginal peoples’ wellbeing and the potential knowledge sites can contain.

The careful management of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites in the shire is important to Aboriginal people, culture and identity today, as well as understanding the past for the benefit of all community members.

Aboriginal cultural heritage sites in NSW are managed in accordance with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974) and the NSW Heritage Act. The management of Aboriginal cultural heritage in the case of development in all local government areas throughout NSW is also guided by various Office of Environment and Heritage guidelines and conservation principles, including consulting with Aboriginal communities/stakeholders and exercising Due Diligence in the case of proposed development that has the potential to impact Aboriginal cultural heritage sites. This information can be accessed through the NSW Government Environment & Heritage website.

Enquiries regarding Aboriginal sites and places in the Ballina Shire can also be directed to JALI Local Aboriginal Land Council on telephone 02 6686 7055.

Recognising Aboriginal Culture and Heritage

The Ballina Shire local government area falls within a greater geographical area known as the Bundjalung Nation. The Bundjalung peoples are the traditional custodians of this area, including the Ballina Shire.

In consultation and/or partnership with Aboriginal community members and organisations, Council fosters the recognition and celebration of Aboriginal people and culture through the following activities and events:

  • raising the Aboriginal flag at the Ballina Shire Customer Service Centre each day
  • acknowledgement of Bundjalung custodianship of the Ballina LGA at Council’s monthly Ordinary Meetings and at other Council events
  • annual NAIDOC Week celebrations
  • project partnerships with Aboriginal community groups and organisations in the shire.

Object of the Story: Reflections on Place – Oral History Project
Council undertook the Object of the Story oral histories project with the local Aboriginal community, in partnership with the Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council, during 2013. 
The project captured oral histories from a variety of members from the local Aboriginal community based on objects of significance identified by the participant. The oral histories were published in an exhibition held at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery in September 2013 and an associated book.
The publication of the stories provides an opportunity for the broader community to access and share in knowledge and history provided by the project participants.  Significantly, the oral histories largely focus on the everyday lives of the project participants, resulting in a diversity of stories about place, community, family and relationships.
A copy of the project book can be downloaded below:

Last reviewed July 2013

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