‘The sea, its natural resources and our identity as Traditional Owners, are inseparable... Our ancestors have hunted and fished in this sea country since time immemorial...’2 The strong ongoing links between Traditional Owners and their sea country is one of the attributes recognised as contributing to the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef as a world heritage property. There are more than 70 Traditional Owner groups who are responsible for maintaining the cultural values of their land and sea country in and adjacent to the Region. This includes a small number of Torres Strait Islander groups who express traditional and spiritual connection in the northernmost area of the Region. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have some common heritage values, there are also many unique expressions of heritage for each. Throughout this chapter Indigenous heritage values are grouped into four broad components: • cultural practices, observances, customs and lore • sacred sites, sites of particular significance and places important for cultural tradition • stories, songlines, totems and languages • Indigenous structures, technology, tools and archaeology. While this chapter presents information on Indigenous heritage values under discrete headings, in reality they cannot be separated. In addition, the natural heritage values described in Chapters 2 and 3 are fundamental to Traditional Owners and their connection to land and sea country. All values are connected and interrelated and the descriptions of each value should be viewed in this context.
Traditional Owners are maintaining their cultural practices and transferring them to future generations.
4.2.1 Cultural practices, observances, customs and lore
Cultural practices, observances, customs and lore are comprised of intangible features such as skills, folklore, rituals, religious beliefs and intellectual traditions, passed down from generation to generation. They are an intrinsic part of custom and continue to be observed by Indigenous people in their sea country. Throughout the Region, Traditional Owners maintain their cultural practices and customs and pass information and knowledge across generations. Practices and customs are an integral part of their sea country management. For example, controlling use of and access to sea country estates by Traditional Owners regulates resource use based on cultural practices and belief systems. It is consistent with the recognition of traditional customs, practices and lore. Seasonal and cultural use of marine resources and the opening or closing of harvesting seasons according to ecological events (for example, flowering of particular plants or the arrival of migratory bird species) continue to be practised by Great Barrier Reef Traditional Owners.3 Important skills and traditional ecological knowledge are passed down from one generation to the next, enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to follow the same seasonal patterns as their ancestors. The transfer of these skills and knowledge means different resources continue to be exploited at different times of the year.4
Indigenous heritage values associated with these sacred rocks include protection over sea country areas
Photograph by Kathi Gibson-Steffensen