Bundjalung Cultural Mapping Project

Bundjalung Cultural Mapping Project

The Bundjalung Cultural Mapping Project focused on giving Indigenous communities a greater say on how their traditional lands are managed and preserving the wisdom of Elders in the Northern Rivers region. The Project was a joint venture between Southern Cross University, the Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and Natural Resource Management Committee, Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, and the then NSW Department of Environment and Conservation, National Parks and Wildlife Division.

The Project resulted in the creation of a highly secured, user-friendly computer-based record-keeping system through which communities can record and thus own their cultural knowledge. The system is designed so that it can be administered and controlled by Indigenous communities, with important or significant information only able to be accessed by those persons delegated by the local Aboriginal community. Communities can record oral, visual and written histories, photographs, films and any other kind of digital media about their cultural places and landscapes and file them on the database for the benefit of future generations.

The University's researchers sourced and collected around 1,000 documents from the public domain and the system provides copies, where appropriate, and links to source information for the many Aboriginal communities of the Bundjalung/Yugambeh language chain.

The underlying GIS system enables communities to generate a map of a chosen area of interest, utilising satellite images, and then identify culturally significant and sacred sites and record relevant cultural information including appropriate contact people within the Aboriginal community. With suitable security restrictions on confidential information, the system automatically transfers information to the NSW Government's Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System (AHIMS). The AHIMS is a key tool in ensuring that Aboriginal objects and places in NSW are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

SCU continues to host, support and maintain the underlying infrastructure of the GIS and record-keeping system.

The Cultural Mapping Project has empowered Aboriginal communities in the Northern Rivers region to preserve their cultural heritage and strengthen cultural knowledge and identity. The information collected is used and accessed by communities to assist with a range of initiatives, including the development of Aboriginal Heritage Management Plans, local and regional planning processes, and family or group history projects. For example, the knowledge recorded in Tweed Heads via the Project proved a key resource in allowing the Tweed community to put their case in the design and construction process of the Pacific Highway. The knowledge transferred to AHIMS is vitally important in ensuring that traditional objects and places of the Bundjalung Nation are respected and protected now and into the future.

The Project has deepened the University's academic expertise and experience in working with Indigenous peoples to preserve and secure their cultural heritage, enabling it to play a stronger role in meeting the distinctive knowledge needs of its region. The high-trust relationships that were established from the Project, for example, led to SCU's involvement in the recent repatriation of Bundjalung remains after 200 years in the Netherlands.'

In 2011, SCU was commissioned by the Australian Government to research Aboriginal fisheries in NSW, determining catch, the cultural significance of species and traditional fishing knowledge needs.  The study focused on the Tweed River catchment in partnership with the Minjungbal traditional owners. The project report was influential in strengthening wider recognition of the role of Indigenous cultural fishing within State and Commonwealth fisheries policies and ensured an Indigenous voice was heard in the Fisheries Research and Development report 'Impact of management changes on the viability of Indigenous commercial fishers and the flow-on effects to their communities: case study in NSW'.