GREAT BARRIER REEF
// Outlook Report 2014
4.2.2 Sacred sites, sites of particular significance and places important for cultural tradition
Sacred sites, sites of particular significance and places of cultural tradition are tangible aspects of the Region’s Indigenous heritage. Sacred sites are significant heritage places for Indigenous people and their enduring traditions. For example, they may be creation or resting places for ancestral spirits, places that contain healing water and medicinal plants, burial grounds, traditional tracks of Aboriginal peoples’ movements or sites associated with special events.5 Many sites of significance are areas of great importance for the conservation of biodiversity across land and sea country, and many communities are unable to separate the reasons for protecting the spiritual connections between people and the earth from the reasons for conserving biodiversity. In most cases, natural and cultural heritage values of sites form a continuum rather than being separate entities.6 As on land, sea country contains evidence of events that occurred during the Dreaming through which all geographic features, animals, plants and people were created. Sacred sites often relate to creation events, Dreaming tracks or songlines travelled by spiritual beings during the creation period. A defining feature of sacred natural sites is that Aboriginal people have known about and cared for them since time immemorial. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have custodial responsibilities as part of their lore which connect them to country, thereby ensuring the maintenance of spiritual, cultural, biological and other values of such sites.6 There are sacred sites, sites of particular significance and places important for cultural tradition along the length of the Region, often linking land and sea. Some examples include: • There are fish traps on Hinchinbrook Island, a system of stone-walled pools that flood at high tide, trapping fish as the tide goes out. • Worrungu Bay (near Cape Upstart) is a significant area for the Juru people. The bay is a women’s meeting area. Traditionally, Juru women collect shellfish from the swamp and walk to the sand dunes to cook them on a fire.7 • Cape Hillsborough National Park is known to contain burial grounds of the Yuibera clan and is a sacred place for Aboriginal spirits. Mangrove areas along its coast are still used for men’s ceremonies in the early wet season and the eastern area of the beach contains fish traps that can only be seen during a very low tide.8 It can be predicted that the Region contains significant underwater Indigenous sites9 from tens of thousands of years ago when sea levels were up to 130 metres lower than current levels and past generations of Traditional Owners lived and moved over parts of what is now the Great Barrier Reef seafloor. Such sites can be expected to provide unique insights into past peoples’ uses of the land. None of these have yet been discovered. The previous occupation of the continental shelf is reflected in some Aboriginal place names for marine areas. For example, for speakers of Yidiny, just south of Cairns, there is a place halfway between Fitzroy Island and King Beach called mudaga (pencil cedar) after the trees which grew there — the area is now completely submerged.10 There are many places, especially in coastal systems and on islands, where there is pressure on sacred sites and other sites of cultural significance. This is particularly around areas of development or intensive use and those exposed to severe weather events. Other sites are intact and are being managed by Traditional Owners.
Some known sites of cultural significance are under pressure, including from coastal development and severe weather events.
4.2.3 Stories, songlines, totems and languages