Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the two Indigenous groups of Australia. There are more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Traditional Owner groups that have long continuing relationships with the Great Barrier Reef region and its natural resources.

The groups that express connections to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are situated along the Queensland coast from the Torres Strait Islands in the north to near Bundaberg in the south.

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 and so have a well developed knowledge about the natural world.

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. It is here, north-east of Murray Island (Mer) in the Torres Strait, that the Great Barrier Reef begins.

Traditional life on the islands 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 amongst the highest in the world. Today, Torres Strait Islander people assert native title rights and interests in the northern Great Barrier Reef region.

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.

There are both similarities and differences between the ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups use the sea in their customary practices. Each group has their own distinctive culture and identity, and often within groups there are many more clans and kinship groups whose discrete characteristics further 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 only of the broad area where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people assert rights and interests.



Torres Strait Regional Sea Claim
Torres Strait region and Cape York region
Darnley Island (Erub) groups Eastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region including Raine Island
Murray Island (Mer) groups
Eastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region including Raine Island
Stephen Island (Ugar) groups
Eastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region including Raine Island
Gudang  Newcastle Bay region
Captain Billy Landing region
Cape Grenville region
Kuuku Ya'u
Portland Roads region
Claude River region
Uutaalgnunu (Night Island) group
Night Island region
Cape Sidmouth South region
Cape Sidmouth region
Lama Lama
Princess Charlotte Bay region
Cape Sidmouth region
Guugu Yimithirr Warra Nation
Lizard Island to Hopevale region
Ngulan people
Starke River region
Walker Bay to Walsh Bay region
Eastern Kuku Yalanji
Cedar Bay to Port Douglas region
Wanyurr Majay
Fishery Falls, Babinda, Miriwinni, Mt Bellenden Kerr region
Yirrganydji people
Cairns to Port Douglas region
Gimuy Yidinji
Cairns/Trinity Inlet region
Kings Beach/Fitzroy Island region
Guru Gulu Gunggandji
Yarrabah/Green Island region
Mandingalbay Yidinji - Gunggandji
Cooper Point region
Lower Coastal Yidinji
Russell River region
Mamu people
Innisfail region
Mission Beach region
Tully region
Cardwell to Murray Upper area
Hinchinbrook region
Lucinda region
Halifax Bay region
Palm Island region
Magnetic Island/Townsville region
Townsville region
Home Hill/Bowen region
Whitsunday region (Mainland)
Whitsunday region (Islands)
Mackay region
Broad Sound to Rockhampton region
Keppel Islands region
Taribelang Bunda
Gladstone/Bundaberg region
Gladstone/Bundaberg region
Gooreng Gooreng   
Gladstone/Bundaberg region
Gladstone/Bundaberg region




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