Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef

There are two Indigenous groups in Australia: Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people. More than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner groups have long, continuing relationships with the Great Barrier Reef region and its natural resources.

The groups with connections to the Great Barrier Reef region are situated along the Queensland coast from the Torres Strait Islands in the north to near Bundaberg in the south.

Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people are the first Australians and are widely recognised as the oldest civilisation in the world. Archaeological evidence of their presence across the continent dates back many thousands of years before the European colonisation of Australia in 1788.

As hunter-gatherers, Aboriginal people relied on plants, animals and the environment for their survival, giving them a well-developed knowledge about the natural world.

Torres Strait Islander people

Torres Strait Islander people are sea-faring people related to the Melanesians of the south-west Pacific. While some have moved south to the mainland, their homelands lie in the Torres Strait, which is located between the tip of Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea. The Great Barrier Reef also begins in the Torres Strait, north-east of Murray Island (Mer).

On the islands, traditional life involved hunting, fishing, gardening and trading with neighbouring Papuans and mainland Aboriginal communities. Food from the sea is still a valuable part of the modern economy, culture and diet of Torres Strait Islander people whose seafood consumption per person is among the highest in the world.

Traditional connections, lore and customs, saw them sail vast distances along the Great Barrier Reef and Cape York Peninsula coastline gathering vital resources and exchanging tools, culture and goods with Aboriginal groups.

Today, Torres Strait Islander people assert native title rights and interests in the northern Great Barrier Reef region.

Similarities and differences

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups share both similarities and differences in their sea-related customs. Each group has their own distinctive culture and identity, and within these groups there are many clans and kinship groups whose discrete characteristics distinguish one from the other.

Ancestors, languages and ceremonies can provide a link between coastal clan groups and their particular areas of land and sea country. Today trade networks, beliefs, music, art, creation stories, traditional lore and customs maintain a living culture. Published information about the connections that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have with the Great Barrier Reef can be found in Story Place.

The following list identifies some of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner groups and nations of the Great Barrier Reef. These regions are an indication of the broad area where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people assert rights and interests.



Torres Strait Regional Sea ClaimTorres Strait region and Cape York region
Darnley Island (Erub) groupsEastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region including Raine Island
Murray Island (Mer) groupsEastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region including Raine Island
Stephen Island (Ugar) groupsEastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region including Raine Island
GudangNewcastle Bay region
YadhaiganaCaptain Billy Landing region
WuthathiCape Grenville region
Kuuku Ya'uPortland Roads region
KanthanumpunClaude River region
Uutaalgnunu (Night Island) groupNight Island region
UmpilaCape Sidmouth South region
AngkumCape Sidmouth region
Lama LamaPrincess Charlotte Bay region
PaalPaal   Cape Sidmouth region
Guugu Yimithirr Warra NationLizard Island to Hopevale region
Ngulan peopleStarke River region
Yuku-Baja-MulikuWalker Bay to Walsh Bay region
Jajikal peopleDaintree/Cedar Bay/Hope Island/Agincourt Reef region
Eastern Kuku YalanjiCedar Bay to Port Douglas region
Wanyurr MajayFishery Falls, Babinda, Miriwinni, Mt Bellenden Kerr region
Yirrganydji peopleCairns to Port Douglas region
Gimuy YidinjiCairns/Trinity Inlet region
GunggandjiKings Beach/Fitzroy Island region
Guru Gulu GunggandjiYarrabah/Green Island region
Mandingalbay Yidinji - GunggandjiCooper Point region
Lower Coastal YidinjiRussell River region
Mamu peopleInnisfail region
DjiruMission Beach region
GulnayTully region
GirramayCardwell to Murray Upper area
Bandjin   Hinchinbrook region
WarrgamayLucinda region
NywaigiHalifax Bay region
ManbarraPalm Island region
WulgurukabaMagnetic Island/Townsville region
BindalTownsville region
JuruHome Hill/Bowen region
GiaWhitsunday region (Mainland)
NgaroWhitsunday region (Islands)
YuwibaraMackay region
DharumbalBroad Sound to Rockhampton region
WoppaburraKeppel Islands region
Taribelang BundaGladstone/Bundaberg region
BailaiGladstone/Bundaberg region
Gooreng Gooreng   Gladstone/Bundaberg region
GurangGladstone/Bundaberg region