C21 - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders reporting

The Directorate recognises the importance of a longer-term commitment to an active Indigenous partnership, with relationships built on mutual respect.

As part of this commitment, the Directorate is currently developing a draft Reconciliation Action Plan. This draft plan acknowledges the Ngunnawal people as the traditional custodians of the land in the ACT. The plan ensures that the operations of the Directorate recognise the traditional significance of the land to Australians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. It guarantees that the voice of the indigenous community is heard in matters ranging from nature conservation through to future planning of the Territory.

Indigenous participation can be found in many of the Directorate’s activities, as outlined below.

Natural resource management

ESDD has a strong partnership with the Australian Government and receives funding for natural resource management activities through the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country (CFOC) initiative and Biodiversity Fund. The ACT Natural Resource Management (NRM) Council provides advice to the ACT Government on Australian Government investments in natural resource management in the Territory and has strongly supported these projects.

Aboriginal NRM facilitator

Through CFOC funding, the Directorate employs an Aboriginal NRM Facilitator who plays an important role in promoting Aboriginal participation to achieve better environmental outcomes. The position has increased Aboriginal participation in NRM by supporting traditional ecological knowledge underpinning biodiversity conservation. The position is also an important vehicle for advancing reconciliation, and economic and community development of Aboriginal people.

Bush resources book

The Directorate is developing Ngunnawal Plant Use, a book that documents the Ngunnawal uses of plants endemic to the ACT. The book is being developed in partnership with the Ngunnawal people, TAMS, Greening Australia Capital Region and Murumbung Yurung Murra (a forum for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff working in the NRM and Heritage units of ESDD and the Parks and Conservation Service (PCS) within TAMS). The book is expected to be finalised by December 2013 and is primarily funded through CFOC.

Caring for the Cotter

The Directorate finalised delivery of the two-year $937,000 Caring for the Cotter Catchment project, which employed four Aboriginal trainees and an experienced supervisor to undertake environmental restoration in the Cotter Catchment. The trainees received training in conservation and land management at the Canberra Institute of Technology and worked with Ngunnawal Elders and other local Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge holders to document their knowledge of the use of the catchment and biodiversity conservation. The project was primarily funded under CFOC, with additional support coming from DEEWR and ACTEW Water. The project has fostered numerous partnerships between agencies and the community including the CFOC program, ESDD, Ngunnawal people, ACT PCS, Greening Australia, ACTEW Water, DEEWR, ACT Waterwatch and ACT ParkCarers.

Building restored resilient landscapes in the ACT and Greater Goorooyarroo

In partnership with Greening Australia and TAMS, ESDD is delivering a woodland restoration project across 60,000ha of nationally significant lowland woodland areas of the ACT and adjacent NSW. The Building restored resilient landscapes in the ACT and Greater Goorooyarroo project, which received $2.155 million (2011–2017) through the Australian Government’s Clean Energy Future Biodiversity Fund, includes a strong Aboriginal engagement component.

In the ACT and adjacent NSW, box-gum grassy woodland areas are part of the Aboriginal cultural landscape. The prevalence of Aboriginal artefacts, scar trees and travelling routes across the region are telling of these cultural connections. Caring for these sites and engaging the local Aboriginal community in woodland restoration activities is a key component in achieving positive outcomes for woodland landscapes. An extensive consultation process was undertaken with Aboriginal people in the ACT and region, and there was interest in a range of activities, such as cultural heritage field trips for Aboriginal people, protection of cultural sites in restoration areas and involvement of young Aboriginal people in restoration plantings and related land management. The project has also provided funding to Greening Australia to employ an Indigenous restoration officer to deliver project outcomes. A former trainee with the Caring for the Cotter project was successful in winning this position.

ACT Heritage Unit

The ACT Heritage Unit, in conjunction with the ACT Heritage Council, has facilitated numerous heritage projects, including coordinating and producing Aboriginal heritage interpretative sites throughout the ACT, to recognise and promote the history of Aboriginal occupation and culture in the ACT.

ACT Heritage Grants

The Conservation Council of the ACT was funded $25,350 for Stage 2 publication of 5,000 copies of a booklet entitled Tuggeranong’s Treasures, describing the natural, Indigenous and European cultural heritage of the Tuggeranong Valley.

Cultural Heritage Management Australia (CHMA) received $38,120 to conduct an archaeological investigation of two potential archaeological deposits identified within the Lanyon Precinct. The investigation will explore the nature of Aboriginal occupation within the area and characterise any detectable contact between Aboriginal and European settlers at the site.

Canberra and Region Heritage Festival 2013

Events celebrating our Aboriginal Heritage were held during the annual Canberra and Region Heritage Festival in April. Events included the Tidbinbilla Extravaganza and Ranger Guided activities and a tour through Gubur Dhaura. A month-long exhibition ‘I have a Belief’ featured an exhibition talk by Euroka Gilbert. The Conservation Council of the ACT held at least nine events at sites from each of the ‘Treasures’ series of booklets featuring the natural and cultural treasures of the Tuggeranong Valley. In connection with their Heritage Grant, Cultural Heritage Management Australia led an archaeological tour at Lanyon during the festival.

Conservation works

Detailed archaeological investigations involving the Representative Aboriginal Organisations (RAOs) were completed by BIOSIS Research during the reporting period, ascertaining the extent and density of a large cache of Aboriginal artefacts named ‘Kenny 7’ (K7).

A conservation management plan outlining conservation recommendations for K7 was approved by the Heritage Council in 2012. The Council provided advice to the LDA to ensure K7 is fenced for protection during construction.

Grinding Grooves site MV18 consists of a set of grinding grooves located on a sandstone outcrop in the Molonglo Stage 2 development footprint. The Heritage Council endorsed the final conservation management plan for the site, which establishes the requirement for an interpretation plan to be drafted by the proponent in consultation with the RAOs. The LDA recruited Stepwise Heritage and Tourism to facilitate a workshop with the RAOs in order to devise culturally appropriate conservation and interpretation measures. The Council has endorsed the interpretation plan arising from this workshop.

A geological assessment has also been completed in the vicinity of the site, determining the extent of the sandstone outcrop and recommending appropriate conservation actions.

Consultation between the developer and RAOs will be ongoing to ensure the implementation of clear procedures for long term conservation and management.

Return to Country

All artefacts collected from the Murrumbidgee to Googong Water Transfer Project were reburied in the Murrumbidgee River Corridor in 2012 during a Return to Country event approved by the Heritage Council and involving RAOs, PCS and Bulk Water Alliance. This was the first Aboriginal repatriation of stone artefacts to occur under the Heritage Act 2004. The objects were reburied in a location managed by PCS, and a detailed recording of the new deposit was lodged within the Heritage Unit.

Consultation occurred throughout 2012–13 between the developers of Forde North, the Heritage Council, the Heritage Unit, the archaeological consultants and the RAOs regarding impacts to Site BPAD1. The site contains the highest concentration of Aboriginal artefacts yet found in the ACT and it was to be impacted by the installation of water quality control ponds. When the importance of this site was identified, the ponds were redesigned to protect the highest concentrations of artefacts. In September 2012, all artefacts previously collected from the site were reburied in direct contact with soil. This occurred with the approval of the Council, in accordance with cultural preferences of the Aboriginal community.

Aboriginal heritage policies

The Heritage Unit, on behalf of the Council, engaged four heritage consultants to draft four policies concerning the conduct of cultural heritage reporting, repatriation of Aboriginal artefacts, consultation with RAOs, and methodological requirements for archaeological investigations in the ACT.

Consulting with Representative Aboriginal Organisations (RAOs)

The Heritage Act 2004 formally recognises RAOs, which also provide input into cultural heritage investigative processes. This policy will formalise requirements and protocols surrounding RAO consultation on heritage matters in circumstances which are not clearly outlined under the Act. It will also provide clarity for RAOs, heritage consultants, government agencies and developers with regard to the consultation process.

Return to Country: repatriation of Aboriginal artefacts

It is the preference of the RAOs that Aboriginal cultural material remain or be ‘returned to country’, in direct contact with soil. However, in the absence of a Return to Country protocol, it is informal practice for Aboriginal cultural material salvaged during archaeological excavations to be placed with the Heritage Unit (the Unit) for temporary keeping. This policy will address the cultural preference for Aboriginal material to be returned to country, in addition to s. 115 of the Heritage Act that stipulates the requirement for a suitable repository.

Reporting and structural requirements for cultural heritage in the ACT

It is an offence under s. 75 of the Heritage Act to damage an Aboriginal place or object other than where there are exceptions permitted as detailed in s. 76. One of these exceptions includes the approval by the Heritage Council of a conservation management plan. These plans form part of the body of heritage literature submitted to the Council for approval as part of cultural heritage due diligence studies undertaken ahead of development. This policy will address the structural and content requirements of conservation management plans, and provide clarity to consultants and RAOs surrounding the Council approvals process.

Methodological review of sub-surface testing and excavations in the ACT

This policy will entail a review of methodologies used in archaeological investigations over the past three years, and will clearly establish a defined rationale for selection of appropriate methodologies for projects in the ACT. The recommendations will be considered in the drafting of a policy for conducting Aboriginal and historic heritage investigations. The inclusion of the report recommendations in the future policy will help streamline the approval of methodologies and assist in making Heritage Council decisions more transparent and more comparable.

City Planning

ESDD engaged with the Aboriginal community during the Pialligo and Oaks Estate master plan projects in recognition of the important heritage values in these outlying areas of Canberra. Representatives from a number of Aboriginal groups inspected the study areas and provided comments on the planning policies to protect Aboriginal heritage values. A special meeting was arranged for the local community to meet Aboriginal representatives and members of the ACT Government Heritage Unit and better understand the importance of protecting heritage values.

Transport plays a critical role in meeting the targets of the COAG’s Closing the Gap Strategy by:

  • improving access to early childhood and schooling programs, health services and employment opportunities
  • creating healthier homes by improving access to goods and services and safer communities and
  • fostering community governance and leadership in the operation of the program.

The ACT Government has allocated on-going funding of $190,000 (indexed yearly) to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander transport service. An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Transport Development Officer researched transport issues, consulted with the community and made recommendations to establish a culturally competent service targeted to those most in need.

The project was informed by the principles of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Agreement 2006, and advised by a project steering committee of representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

ACT Place Names

The Place Names Unit within the Office of the Surveyor-General and Land Information proposes names for public places, including roads, to the Minister in accordance with the Public Place Names Act 1989. Section 4 (2) (e) of that Act requires the Minister to give regard to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vocabulary when determining names.

To assist in this requirement, the ACT Place Names Committee includes an Indigenous representative, currently Ms Roslyn Brown, a Ngunnawal Elder.

Outreach energy and water efficiency program

The Outreach energy and water efficiency program assists residents receiving low incomes who need to save energy and water and are in financial hardship. In 2012–13 approximately 5% of the contact persons for the 1075 households assisted by the program identified themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. See Section A9 for more information on the Outreach program.