Wet Tropics Aboriginal Culture
The ecosystems of the Wet Tropics region have evolved over thousands of years through active Aboriginal interaction with the land. Aboriginal cultural practices, including activities such as fire management, hunting and gathering, and harvesting of materials for shelter, tools, ceremony or art and craft, has always been integral to the ecology of the Wet Tropics.
Still today, being on country, eating bush tucker, using plants and animals for curing sickness and disease, telling visitors creation stories and practicing traditional and contemporary ways of looking after country are critical to enriching the lives of Rainforest Aboriginal people.
Connection to the land
For Aboriginal People of the Wet Tropics, the distinction between natural and cultural places has little meaning. The concept of ‘cultural landscapes’ has been used to describe Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples’ perceptions and relationships with their traditional land and sea Country.
Traditional Owners’ connection to ancestral lands and waters derives from customary law/lore. Sometimes called ‘Bama’ or ‘Murri’ law/lore, it is the source of customary beliefs and practices, protocols and procedures, as well as traditional interests and rights.
Rainforest Aboriginal People’s Vision for Country
"We are the Traditional Owners of the Wet Tropics Natural Resource Management Region.
We have custodial obligations and responsibilities for our traditional estates, which include the land and waters of this region.
We belong to many different language groups and we are culturally diverse. Although we have many similar aspirations, we also have different priorities in caring for Country. It is important for people to recognise our cultural differences. Authority and decision-making for Country happens at a local level for each tribal group.
We want to continue our obligation to care for our Country by keeping our languages and our knowledge strong. We want to look after special places and sacred sites as well as the plants and animals by being on Country. We want to pass on our knowledge to young people as this is important for the cultural survival of all the tribal groups in the Wet Tropics."
Wet Tropics Aboriginal Cultural Values
The unique and exceptional cultural value of the Wet Tropics was officially recognised through the re-listing of the World Heritage Area for its cultural values, with official recognition of the significant and enduring connection of Aboriginal People with the landscapes of the Wet Tropics.
Unlike in many areas of this dry continent, the Traditional Owners of this region have made rainforest their home and heritage for thousands of years. The cultural values of our Wet Tropics landscape must be protected and celebrated as it is part of what makes the Wet Tropics the extraordinarily special place that it is.
Wet Tropics Aboriginal Cultural Connections Live on Today
Traditional Owner connection with the landscape is not simply historical, but it is the essence of living with Country. Traditional Owners often speak of being guided in their actions by their ‘old people’ and of acting in a ‘proper way’ when on Country, by observing a range of cultural protocols when occupying and using traditional lands and waters.
It is this spiritual relationship to Country which sets Traditional Owner aspirations and rights apart from those of the broader NRM stakeholder groups, and adds further weight not only to Traditional Owner connections to country, but also to its management.
These days, as well as playing a key role in industries such as tourism and agriculture, more and more Rainforest Aboriginal People are managing businesses and organisations with a primary focus on caring for Country.
In communities across the Wet Tropics there are Traditional Owners actively working on Country, employing and upskilling Rainforest Aboriginal People to be leaders in the area.
There are also two Aboriginal Councils, Yarrabah and Wujal Wujal, with local government responsibilities.
Places of Cultural Significance
Both tangible and intangible features of the lands, waterways and the sea have special values for Traditional Owners.
Hearths, fireplaces, stone artefacts, shell middens, artefact scatters, dwellings and campsites
Locations where materials for making artefacts were gathered for use and trade
Carved & Scarred Trees
Trees may show scars from the removal of bark to make various artefacts including canoes, shields and containers. Carved trees mark locations of cultural significance
These include drawings, engravings, stencils ad paintings on rock faces that can have various functions
Individual and collective
These places are important for Aboriginal people as meeting places or where ceremonies are performed. These can include Bora Grounds
These can include habitual areas of resource exploitation. Fish traps are important which can be linear arrangements, barriers of stone set across inlets and bays or woven branches set across creeks or rivers
Contact sites between Europeans and Aboriginal people, historic cemeteries, massacre sites, missions and burials sites
Traditional pathways of Aboriginal people (including trade routes)
Culturally Significant Places
Dreaming tracks and story places
Waterways of Significance
Rivers and streams created and occupied by Dreaming beings