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'Conserving Aboriginal Heritage' by Heidi Crow

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 is the principal legislation in South Australia for the protection of Aboriginal heritage.

The Department of State Aboriginal Affairs (DOSAA), administers the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 (the Act). The Act provides for the protection of Aboriginal sites, objects and remains that are of significance to Aboriginal tradition, Aboriginal archaeology, anthropology or history.

DOSAA's daily activities include site identification and recording programs, site conservation programs, and assistance with repatriation of cultural materials. It protects and preserves Aboriginal heritage, providing advice to Aboriginal communities, government agencies, landowners, community groups and the general public on site conservation and management.

Any land, developed or undeveloped can contain Aboriginal sites. These sites relate to the living patterns and use of environmental resources such as water, animal and vegetable foods and stone by Aboriginal people. They also relate to spiritual beliefs and ceremonial activities.

Aboriginal Rock Art, 'emu tracks'

image of Aboriginal rock art

Aboriginal sites commonly include:

archaeological sites, campsites, middens,

burial sites,

quarry sites- stone tool, grindstone and ochre quarries,

stone arrangements- ceremonial, hunting hides, fish traps,

mythological sites,

historic sites, contact sites, fringe camps, missions and massacre sites,

painting and engraving sites,

scar trees and shelter trees.

Aboriginal sites are an irreplaceable part of South Australia's heritage and hold great meaning for the Aboriginal community. But it is vital that everybody takes responsibility for helping to look after them. Through our conservation program, we are trying to promote more Aboriginal heritage awareness within the wider community. In cooperation with Aboriginal communities, landowners, land managers and land care groups can learn about and help protect Aboriginal heritage.

A common fear (and misconception) is that the presence of an Aboriginal site on private land means that large areas of that land are unusable. The process DOSAA undertakes for site protection projects is consultative, involving negotiation between the landowner, DOSAA and the relevant Aboriginal community group to find the best solution - acceptable to all parties - for protection of that site.

Conservation projects DOSAA has undertaken range from simple agreements with landowners for site avoidance to projects incorporating fencing and signage costing the Department many thousands of dollars.

To help protect natural and cultural heritage resources, community groups should consult and where necessary gain approvals and permits from a range of authorities, agencies and organisations including DOSAA. We can advise whether there are Aboriginal sites of significance in your area of interest and can help you contact the relevant Aboriginal groups for advice. Consultation and working with Aboriginal interest groups is an important part of site conservation.

 Chambers Gorge, Flinders Ranges

All Aboriginal sites are protected by law. It is an offence under the Act to damage or disturb them. If you think you have located an Aboriginal site, particularly a burial site, stop all activities in the area and contact DOSAA.

By working together we can all help to protect Aboriginal heritage for present and future generations to appreciate.

It is an offence under the Act to disturb sites and collect artefacts. However, in the past, many people made personal collections of Aboriginal artefacts such as stone tools, sacred and non sacred objects and also skeletal remains. These items are the cultural property of the Aboriginal community and consideration should be given to their return. If you wish to return any items you hold to the Aboriginal Community, please contact DOSAA for assistance.

Heidi Crow is the Acting Executive Project Officer at DOSAA. Website: www.dosaa.sa.gov.au

This article first appeared in Environment South Australia, Vol 9 No 1 - October 2002. The whole or part of this journal may be reproduced without permission provided that acknowledgement is made and provided the reproducer agrees to provide gratis a right of reply in the publication or medium in which the reproduction was published or broadcast, and in a form similar to the reproduction should the Conservation Council of SA or its agents desire to make such a reply. Views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the Conservationn Council of South Australia. Non-sexist and non-racist language is a policy of Environment South Australia.

┬ęCopyright of the Conservation Council of SA.
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