Cultural heritage includes culturally and spiritually significant places, stories and traditions for past and present Aboriginal communities. Many places continue to be of significant spiritual and community activity today, and include sacred sites, ceremonial sites, fish traps, burials, scarred trees, camp sites and settlements.

Prior to colonisation the region was home to speakers of Wadawurrung, Woi-wurrung and Boonwurrung. Today the descendants of those Traditional Owners are represented by several groups including the Registered Aboriginal Parties of the Wurundjeri, Wathaurung and Bunurong.

The cultural values of waterways are based on the physical and spiritual connection of Traditional Owners to their lands and waters. This connection has been, and continues to be, damaged by the ongoing process of colonisation. This draft Strategy commits to working with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to reconnect with their Country so that the cultural significance of waterways can be restored.

The rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in land and waters according to their traditional lore are recognised and protected through the Native Title Act 1993 (Cwlth). Where native title is positively determined, government and Traditional Owners may enter into formal agreements that recognise the existence of native title. The Victorian Government has also established an alternative mechanism for negotiating comprehensive native title settlements, through the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 that is designed to be quicker, more cost-effective and more equitable.

Traditional Owners have been systematically excluded from waterway management since the first days of colonisation. The sad outcome of this exclusion is twofold: contemporary waterway managers who lack the unique and proven perspective of Traditional Owners, and Traditional Owners who lack the skills and resources to manage their Country in a contemporary context. The
re-establishment of justice requires both of these issues to be addressed. Empowered contemporary waterway managers must include Traditional Owners in a way that transforms current practices and provides Traditional Owners with the resources and expertise that they need to participate meaningfully.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 recognises Aboriginal people as Traditional Owners of the land. This draft Healthy Waterways Strategy commits implementation partners to working closely with the Traditional Owners of the land on which the stakeholders operate to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, as a key part of healthy waterways.

Registered Aboriginal Parties help manage and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage on behalf of all Victorians. Registered Aboriginal Parties have legal responsibilities for managing Aboriginal cultural heritage, including evaluating Cultural Heritage Management Plans and providing advice on managing cultural material.


Traditional Owners have a recognised role as custodians of waterways and their cultural values. Their unique perspective and knowledge allows them to set the agenda for waterway management and actively participate in caring for their Country.

How will we achieve our goals?

  • Traditional Owners are involved at all levels of waterway management – planning, prioritisation and delivery
  • Traditional Owner groups have the resources and expertise to support a self-sustaining ‘waterway business’
  • Traditional Owners are included in planning and prioritisation processes as early as possible
  • Where possible, waterway management programs are designed to match the existing capability of Traditional Owner groups and participation increases their capability for involvement in future programs
  • The internal collaborative processes of Traditional Owner groups are supported with time and/or resources by waterway management partners
  • Waterway management is a job that an individual Traditional Owner can aspire to.

What we agree on

  • Partnership projects must develop intellectual property or expertise that can be applied by Traditional Owner groups to new situations
  • Participation in waterway management is an expression of culture. It is a cultural value in its own right
  • Contemporary Aboriginal culture is always developing and as a result, things that have not been tried before need to be mutually supported
  • Partnership projects need to proceed at a pace that respects Traditional Owners’ other obligations and allow upskilling and inclusion of diverse individuals and communities. They must also facilitate intergenerational knowledge transfer
  • The water industry is accountable to the general community via Traditional Owners. To judge progress, we rely more on conversations with Traditional Owners than performance measures.

Performance Objectives

  • Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians have an increased expertise in Aboriginal culture, contemporary land and water management, waterway science and lore
  • Partnership projects are extended or develop into new forms. Expertise developed in one project is applied in others
  • Traditional Owner groups and Aboriginal Victorians are supported by industry partners, but set the agenda for waterway management by proactively developing communications, resolutions or project scopes and seeking industry partners
  • Aboriginal cultural awareness training is available to all industry professionals and is actively pursued
  • Cultural competency is valued as a career skill and leads to ongoing relationships
  • Partnerships are fostered between Traditional Owner groups and research groups, and Traditional Owner groups and community groups
  • Public events led and/or organised by Traditional Owners are regular and frequent.