Ancient Innovation at Budj Bim

When the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in the Western District was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2019, it was a deep acknowledgement of the innovation of the Gunditjmara people. They had created one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems creating weirs and fish traps through the lava flows and basalt pathways of the region thousands of years ago.

Gunditjmara Elder Denis Rose said the recent fires in December and January have uncovered more fish traps, and helped them to pinpoint the exact position of some that were listed over 150 metres away. He said they are continuing to record the aquaculture system and will soon be working with The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DEWLP) to fly over and map the region through aerial photographs.

A vital part of the aquaculture system were the long elegant eel baskets or ‘gnarraban’ woven by the Gunditjmara women from a local grass so the men could place them across small weirs to catch eels and fish. Warrnambool artist Bronwyn Razem has played a vital role in the revival of the traditional eel trap baskets and in 2013 her work ‘eel trap with emu feathers’ won the Victorian Indigenous Arts Acquisitive Award. You can see an example of Bronwyn’s eel baskets from the WAG collection below.

Denis Rose said once the restrictions lift they welcome people to come and take a tour of the Budj Bim site and the Tyrendarra Indigenous area.

If you would like to learn more about the detective work behind Budj Bim eel traps here is an article in The Conversation written by Ian J. McNiven Professor of Indigenous Archaeology at Monash University