Establishing a Traditional Owner, rights-based approach for Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and ‘two-way’ knowledge management system

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
Published: 04 October 2020
Last edited: 07 May 2021
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The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape lies within the Country of the Gunditjmara and is comprehensively managed and protected under a system comprising Gunditjmara customary knowledge and practices in conjunction with National and State legislation, management plans and associated policies and programs. The management system combines Traditional Owner and adaptive management approaches, in which governance and decision-making is shared.

In the early 19th century, Gunditjmara Country was occupied by British colonists and access to Country became increasingly denied to Traditional Owners until the late 20th century. The Gunditjmara retained connections to the aquaculture system through knowledge of the stories of Budj Bim and associated land-use practices. In recent years, the work of the Gunditjmara within Budj Bim has increasingly turned to the renewal and transmission of cultural traditions and practices through the access to and control of those parts of Country owned and managed by them.


Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Access and benefit sharing
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Legal & policy frameworks
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
World Heritage
Increasing temperatures
Invasive species
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 18: Traditional knowledge


Lake Condah, Victoria, Australia | Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is located in the Gunditjmara Country. The boundaries of the serial nominated property are those
of Budj Bim National Park, Budj Bim Indigenous Protected Area, Tyrendarra Indigenous Protected Area, and Lake Condah Mission.


  • Environmental challenges: The management and protection of the ecological and social wellbeing of the landscape is directly interconnected with the traditional knowledge and practices of the Gunditjmara, it is key to safeguarding ongoing connections. Additionally, climate change is potentially a key challenge for the future of Budj Bim as an eco-cultural landscape.
  • Cultural and social challenges: Some loss of traditional knowledge and practices was caused by the invasion of Gunditjmara Country by British colonists. Many cultural practices have been revitalized and continued (e.g., weaving of baskets to capture eels). Ownership of the 'territory' is essential to Gunditjmara wellbeing and cultural-thriving.
  • Economic challenges: Development of sustainable and manageable tourism led and implemented by Gunditjmara across the World Heritage property of Budj Bim Cultural Landscape.


The main beneficiaries are Gunditjmara Traditional Owners as well as Gundijmara Country, since Traditional Owners and Country are inextricably linked in notions of ‘Caring for Country’. Ecological and community wellbeing are deeply intertwined.

How do the building blocks interact?

The solution recognizes the important role played by ownership in the management of Indigenous landscapes. There is the need to ensure that the ownership of the territory is in the hands of Aboriginal / Indigenous peoples and that the customary rights and obligation of traditional owners are freely exercised by Indigenous communities.

In Budj Bim, the ownership of the territory is in the hands of traditional owners and customary rights and obligations are exercised by Gunditjmara.

The care and safeguarding of the attributes and values of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape have been enhanced through the ‘two-way’ sharing of expertise between Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and Victorian Government agencies. Additionally, Gunditjmara knowledge transmission is supported via the customary governance arrangements and via the Budj Bim Ranger Programme.

The shared and integrated protection is enforced through the established management system which is based on a framework of integrated and shared governance and an Adaptive Management Framework focused on enabling ongoing learning and adaptation by continually assessing the success of actions in meeting management objectives, and allowing for adjustment of management actions.


The solution stresses the importance of Indigenous ownership and offers a direct example of the reason why World Heritage properties whose outstanding values are associated with lands, waters and cultures of First Nations should be managed through Traditional Owner ownership and/or joint management arrangements.

  • Environmental: Sustainable management of aquaculture systems and natural resources based on an adaptive management framework based on traditional and Western knowledge and practices.
  • Cultural and social: Gunditjmara ownership, along with rights and obligations to Country, has seen a resurgence and flourishing of creative expression through art, craft (including weaving,possum skin cloak making), dance, song and sculpture that reinforces Gunditjmara spirituality and connection to Country. Land ownership and active management enable the Gunditjmara to continue to care for the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape. Today, Gunditjmara cultural traditions, knowledge and practices continue to be part of the six-millennia long connection with Budj Bim. 
  • Economic: The engineered aquaculture wetlands of the Gunditjmara have historically provided the economic basis to sustain large groups of people living in the vicinity of Tai Rak (Lake Condah). Today, Budj Bim offers an opportunity for the development of a sustainable and inclusive tourism industry that is led and managed by Gunditjmara.


Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

In July 2019,the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was inscribed by the World Heritage Committee on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a series of three serial components containing one of the world’s most extensive and oldest aquaculture systems.

Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is the first place in Australia to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List purely for its Aboriginal cultural significance. The nomination was community-led and directed by the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners.


The World Heritage inscription crowned a 17-year long process of preparing the nomination, which celebrates the outstanding value of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners.


The video "Budj Bim - One Year On" ( looks at the path to World Heritage, one year after inscription and the impact of global challenges.

Contributed by

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Damein Bell Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

Other contributors

Gunditjmara Elder, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
GML Heritage-Context consultants