Heritage

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Aboriginal intangible heritage in Victoria

Intangible heritage refers to the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities recognise as part of their cultural heritage.

It is communicated from generation to generation and is constantly recreated by communities in response to their environment and their history.  It provides communities and individuals with a sense of identity and continuity.

In Victoria, Aboriginal intangible heritage includes:

  • ceremony
  • Creation Stories
  • skills involved in the creation of cultural items
  • knowledge and skills associated with medicinal plant use
  • language
  • dance
  • song
  • a great variety of other cultural expressions and cultural knowledge systems.

Aboriginal intangible heritage often has a strong relationship with Country. In some cases Aboriginal intangible heritage is being reclaimed and revitalised in a contemporary context - an expression of living cultural tradition.

"Our intangible heritage is who we are, it defines us. With our way of life being interrupted in the recent past, never has it been more important to come together to protect and share cultural knowledge and skills. This will allow us to connect with and re-imagine who we really are and where we are going into the future".

Daniel Clarke - Wotjobuluk / Gunditjmara / Ngarrindjeri

Recognising intangible heritage in the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (the Act) allows for the registration of Aboriginal intangible heritage on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register (VAHR).

Whereas, for the purposes of the Act, Aboriginal cultural heritage denotes Aboriginal places, objects and Ancestral Remains, Aboriginal intangible heritage denotes elements of living culture – traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, held collectively by Aboriginal people or a particular group of Aboriginal people, and passed down across generations with or without adaptations and evolutions.

How is Aboriginal intangible heritage registered?

A Registered Aboriginal Party, registered native title holder or Traditional Owner group entity can apply to have details of Aboriginal intangible heritage recorded on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register (VAHR)

An application must be in the prescribed form and include details of any consultation undertaken by the applicant with any relevant Traditional Owners or community stakeholders.

See Part 5A of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 for further information.

What is the purpose of including Aboriginal intangible heritage in the Act?

  • to recognise the central role that intangible heritage plays in keeping Victorian Aboriginal cultures strong
  • to recognise Traditional Owners’ rights as cultural custodians, and the shortcomings of existing laws in adequately protecting these rights
  • to give Traditional Owners more control over the protection, management and potential use of their intangible heritage
  • to encourage a focus broader than physical places and objects within the Victorian Aboriginal cultural heritage management system.

How is registered Aboriginal intangible heritage protected?

Once Aboriginal intangible heritage is registered on the VAHR, anyone who wants to use that intangible heritage for commercial purposes has a legal responsibility to seek the permission of the representative group of the Traditional Owners, and may enter into an Aboriginal intangible heritage agreement.

An Aboriginal intangible heritage agreement can be made between the representative group of the Traditional Owners of the Aboriginal intangible heritage (a Registered Aboriginal Party, a registered native title holder, or a Traditional Owner group entity) and any other person or body.

Agreements allow Traditional Owners to identify and/or negotiate the terms under which the Aboriginal intangible heritage may be used by others.

How can I find out if I need an Aboriginal intangible heritage agreement?

If you wish to use Aboriginal intangible heritage, you should contact the representative group of Traditional Owners in the first instance.

Alternatively, any person may apply for access to the VAHR for the purpose of determining whether an Aboriginal intangible heritage agreement is required. Any access restrictions placed on registered Aboriginal intangible heritage by Traditional Owners will be respected and maintained throughout this process.

Find out more about working with Aboriginal intangible heritage.

Celebrating Aboriginal intangible heritage - Earth ovens

Barengi Gadjin Land Council held Bakang Dyakata, a traditional Aboriginal earth oven recreation event, in November 2016.

This annual event, held on the banks of the Wimmera River, brings the community together to cook using traditional techniques and to taste native foods.

It's an example of the rich intangible heritage of Aboriginal communities in Victoria, as well as the resilience and revitalisation of cultural knowledge and practice.

Contact us

Heritage Registry on (03) 8392 5388 or vahr@dpc.vic.gov.au