Module 14

Module 14 Home

Multi-cultural perspectives:
Indigenous People





Resource 1


Resource 2 Possible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interpretations Resource 3 Aboriginal resource use and management

Resource 4

Aboriginal resource use and management

Resource 5 Customary law and lore of the coast Resource 6 Valuing traditional ecological knowledge
Resource 7 Case study - Focus on a local marine resource use issue Resource 8 Case study - Turtle and dugong hunting management in Far North Queensland


Resource 1



turtle tourism vessel resort on island



pandanus fish catch in esky




fisher in tinny

litter on beach marine park sign


Resource 2

Possible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interpretations

These phrases represent possible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interpretations of the symbols in Resource 1. Any one phrase could match several different symbols. There is no one right answer. These ideas are designed to stimulate discussion.


an important means of maintaining

cultural links to sea country

a source of competition for
limited marine resources
raw materials for traditional pursuits



Lack of respect for culture
and country

potential for developing economic independence
a traditional food resource to be

shared amongst family



symbol of the Dreaming and

responsibility for country

a means of excluding Indigenous
people from their traditional

country and their rights


good tucker and a healthy
subsistence lifestyle




Resource 3

The importance of sea country

Indigenous peoples' traditional links with sea country

Source: Adapted from Coastal Zone Inquiry Final Report . Resource Assessment Commission. 1993. Ch 10. The role of Indigenous people.


Indigenous peoples express a strong and continuing sense of belonging to, and responsibility for, their traditional estates. Their sense of custodianship extends to sea as well as land areas and often focuses on particular places of cultural significance. These may include Dreaming tracks, story places, poison places, burial grounds and archaeological sites.

Cultural sites occur in all types of coastal and marine environments including beaches, headlands, estuaries, reefs and the sea. Indigenous people in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland also identify cultural sites offshore; such sites are known up to 80 km off the coast in the Northern Territory. Some inland groups also have cultural links with the sea through Dreaming tracks that cover long distances to the sea.

Many groups of Indigenous people consider areas in the sea to be integral parts of their traditional country, known as `sea country'. Some of these groups identify with the coastal and marine environments, calling themselves `salt water people' or `white sand beach people' and so on. Anthropological research shows that distinct maritime cultures continue to exist among some Indigenous communities. Early records describe systems of Indigenous property rights related to reefs and seas.

Although the knowledge, observances and management practices associated with owning and caring for sea country may have disappeared from parts of the coast, they continue to exist in varying degrees in some areas.


Understanding the importance of sea country

Source: Extracted from Understanding Country. The importance of land and sea in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies. Key Issue Paper No.1. Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1994.


Understanding the importance of sea country to Indigenous Australians involves recognising that certain areas of land and sea are central to the identity, culture and social structure of particular groups of Indigenous peoples. It involves recognising the significance of sacred sites, the contemporary importance of traditional hunting, fishing and gathering, and the need to secure an independent economic base while maintaining traditional associations with land and sea.

It also involves recognising the effects of dispossession and the importance of present efforts to recognise, rebuild and strengthen links with traditional land and sea country.

Resource 4

Aboriginal resource use and management

Source: Extract from "Rekindling culture through country: the land and sea use, management and aspirations of the local land-owning families at Napranum", Sandra Suchet, in: Cordell, J. (1995), Indigenous management of land and sea and traditional activities in Cape York Peninsula, The University of Queensland.

“It’s still here and it’s still happening” (Cheryl Pitt 1994.)

Almost a century of contact with Western Society has brought many changes to Aboriginal life around Weipa; bush food no longer form the basis of the average diet; the landscape has been altered; traditional morals and values have been challenged and supplemented by Christianity and the presence of an industrial and materialistic culture; the community is part of the cash economy and problems which face the Australian community as a whole - alcoholism, domestic violence, unemployment - are all present in Napranum.

Despite these daunting changes and challenges the traditional Aboriginal owners of the region have survived with a complete sense of their Aboriginal identity. As is the case elsewhere in Australia, the foundation of Aboriginal identity at Napranum is the complex relationship between culture, people, country and resources. By understanding the present Aboriginal use and management of resources, the tenacious efforts of the traditional Aboriginal people can be recognised and valued.


Elders' words

"The land is our mother... we have got to look after it. We must self-manage it with love and respect".

"Aboriginal people must look after land, we need protection for lagoon, swamps, beaches, everything. We have to care for the country."

"The sea is important to us. We have always lived off the sea. When we go hunting and fishing today, we take our children and teach them how to hunt and fish."

"Today there is too much waste. People go fishing, take too much fish. Aboriginal people don't waste."

"I want to make sure that tourists do the right thing - no littering, not too much fishing - they have to respect our place."

"We want to show tourists our sea country and help them to understand a little bit about Aboriginal culture. Maybe then they will understand why Aboriginal peoples' connection to the sea is so strong."