Back in 2003, massive bushfires exposed a rich Aboriginal heritage across the Victorian Alps. 1.1 million hectares of land was burnt, and it led to the discovery of huge numbers of artefacts and sites linked to indigenous habitation of the High Country.
As one example, at the Dinner Plain airport site, on the high ridgeline that leads from Mt Hotham to Cobungra, and which is recognised as an ancient travel and trade route, more than 46,000 artefacts were found. As a result of the fires removing so much vegetation, in total 350 new sites were found across 14 alpine areas in Victoria. This sparked a rethink of how First Nations people had lived in the Alps.
It highlighted the fact that life in the alps was good pre invasion: as an archeologist said at the time, “people were up here eating very, very well’. Foods included bogong moths, daisy yams, emus, kangaroos, wallabies and lots of fruits and berries. As a result, large numbers of people lived in the high country during the summer months. It also highlighted the number of travel routes into the mountains from surrounding low land areas and the fact that people lived for much of the year in some high elevation sites.
The fires of 2019/20 also burnt large areas of the high country, and will have exposed additional artefacts.
What should you do if you find artefacts?
1/ Leave the item where it is, but try to identify the exact spot (eg with a GPS marker) so traditional owners can find it later.
2/ The next thing to do is work out who the traditional owner group is for that area and contact them.
In Victoria, you could check the ‘Local Nations’ map available here.
MAP ABOVE: Registered Aboriginal Parties.
MAP ABOVE: The map depicts traditional languages and is historical as many languages have dissipated and not all First Nations are defined by their language today.
The Taungurung people
The Taungurung people are recognised as the traditional owners of a large part of the Central Alps of Victoria, and have been proactive around the issue of artefacts.
They say that ‘Taungurung are in no position legally or logistically to confiscate artefacts – nor do they seek to have artefacts returned to them’.
However, they welcome approaches from community members who think they may have found an artefact:
Given much of their traditional lands are now privately owned, landowners or people visiting Taungurung country might find artefacts. One recent example is that of Amanda McLaren and her husband Ian, who found a greenstone axe head on their Graytown farm after a significant rain event. Graytown is located on the northern slopes, between Heathcote and Nagambie.
Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWC) cultural heritage programs manager and archaeologist Francisco Almeida inspected the artefact, saying the greenstone material was typical to Victoria only.
“The greenstone geological formation can only be found in Taungurung country, or at the boundary with other Aboriginal cultural groups,” Mr Almeida said
Amanda says ‘I handed the artefacts over to the TLaWC Cultural Heritage Programs Manager (Francisco Almeida) in Broadford, expecting not to see them again. Francisco’s eyes lit up. He’d not seen examples like this in Victoria. He made resin replicas of the tools and gave the originals back to me.’
‘The current legislation states that only secret/sacred objects or Ancestral Remains are to be returned,’ says Francisco. ‘The most common artefacts, such as groundstone axes and other knapped stones belong on the country where they are found and it is the preference of Taungurung people for them to stay as close as possible to the areas where Taungurung ancestors left them.
We encourage anybody finding artefacts to advise us so we can study, record and perhaps replicate them if they are deemed important for educational purposes, but then we hand them back for future generations. Most people put them on display somewhere safe. If they sell the property, we encourage them to hand the tools on to the next owner or, if they’re not interested, to contact TLaWC to decide their future.’
It is important for landowners to understand that the presence of Aboriginal cultural heritage on their properties is something that will not interfere with their ownership. It should be looked at as something that enhances the historical and heritage value of the area, and an essential element to tell a very old story of how it was cared for and managed for thousands of years.’
If you would like to share knowledge or discuss artefact finds, email email@example.com or call the TLaWC office. 03 5784 1433.