Many of us who love and respect the coast also acknowledge and respect the role that Indigenous Australians have played in its history over the past 25,000 years and the ongoing relationship that they share with the land as traditional custodians.
The Wathaurong people were our coast’s original settlers and land managers, arriving on what is now the Great Ocean Road coast long before us non-indigenous folk.
They ranged across the land, according to seasonal food sources, ceremonial obligations and trading relationships, with the coast offering them a rich supply of fish and other marine-based food sources.
As the first residents and coast managers, the Wathaurong conscientiously managed the land by building substantial houses, cultivating root vegetables and promoting grasslands through the use of controlled winter fire to promote the best conditions for plants and game while eliminating the risk of wildfire in summer.
One can still find evidence of their footprints along the coast today. Midden sites (pictured), for example, are quite common and are generally recognisable by a collection of several different types of shells (e.g. abalone, mussels, oysters, limpets, periwinkle, pippis) plus evidence of burning such as pieces of charcoal.
To ensure our precious Indigenous cultural heritage is protected and conserved, the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee has recently started work on a Cultural Heritage Management Plan.
The plan is being prepared in partnership with local Aboriginal representative groups and will help us to identify and conserve important cultural sites along the coast. It will also provide a sound foundation for bringing our coast’s cultural heritage to life through education and interpretation.
In this way, we hope to honour the Wathaurong people of the past, present and future, and to share their stories with you.
(Note: Indigenous languages are orally-based and spelling of names and words can vary. The use of Wathaurong in this blog is one of several ways the name can be spelt.)