Indigenous group wants stronger cultural heritage protections

WORK TO DO: Victorian Aboriginal Heritage council chair Rodney Carter says now is the time to give thoughts on how to protect cultural heritage. Picture: NONI HYETT
WORK TO DO: Victorian Aboriginal Heritage council chair Rodney Carter says now is the time to give thoughts on how to protect cultural heritage. Picture: NONI HYETT

TRADITIONAL owners say change is needed to better protect the oldest living culture on earth.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council wants local governments to better understand how to protect important cultural links, and give Indigenous people more control.

It has just released Taking Control of Our Heritage, a discussion paper on 13-year-old laws designed to protect Indigenous lore, practices, places and objects, often on the land where they were found or took place.

It's how we get others to value these places and materials, so they are afforded greater degrees and protection.

Rodney Carter

That law might have brought in some of the nation's strongest protections for Aboriginal heritage but there is some room for improvement, VAHC chair Rodney Carter said.

"It's how we get others to value these places and materials, so they are afforded greater degrees and protection," he said.

That could mean reforms that press local governments to know more about what they need to protect, and why, Mr Carter said.

It could also mean giving Aboriginal groups more influence over the maintenance and protection of heritage.

An example could be allowing the VAHC to prosecute minor offences similar to bodies like the Environmental Protection Authority.

There are thousands of sites that could be protected in Victoria's landscape in one form or another, Mr Carter said.

They show how Indigenous people have moved through and managed the landscape.

State government reforms are expected as early as 2021.

They could also help people clarify why some things should be protected.

"It's OK to ask sometimes for us to ask ourselves why we are protecting something," Mr Carter said.

"We might be asking it because we are disconnected (from it) and are only protecting it because the law says we have to."

A campsite, for example and might not be able to tell its own story in the way that a tree scared by the removal of bark to make a tool would.

Telling its story might require more thought.

SCAR TREE: One of the many pieces of cultural heritage that laws protect. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

SCAR TREE: One of the many pieces of cultural heritage that laws protect. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

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