Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape

The Tyrendarra area is of outstanding heritage value because it contains the remains of a complex system of natural and artificially created wetlands, channels, the stone bases of weirs and stone fish traps that were used by Gunditj Mara people to grow and harvest eels and fish (Builth 2002, 2003). The remains of the channels, weirs and fishtraps are hundreds and probably thousands of years old.

This system is markedly different from contemporary, historical and archaeological records of freshwater fish traps recorded in other parts of Australia which provided a system for channeling fish in streams or rivers into traps (Sutton 2004) rather than creating conditions for fish husbandry.

The remains of the system of eel aquaculture in the Tyrendarra area demonstrate a transition from a forager society to a society that practiced husbandry of fresh water fish (Builth 2002, 2003). This resulted in high population densities represented by the remains of stone huts clustered into villages of between two and sixteen huts (Builth 2002, 2003). It also provided the economic base for a stratified society ruled by chiefs with a form of hereditary succession to this office (Dawson 1881; Clark 1990).

Many of the sites in Western Victoria where eel husbandry was practiced have been destroyed by farming (Clark 1990a). Of the systems that remain, the remains on Tyrendarra are part of the same system as the remains in the Mt Eccles/Lake Condah area. They are a better representative of this Western Victorian system than other examples such as Toolondo (Lourandos 1980) and Mt William (Williams 1988; Clark 1990a). The latter areas have a limited range of the features associated with eel aquaculture, mainly channels and fish traps.

It demonstrates a transition from a forager society to a society that practiced husbandry of fresh water fish (Builth 2002, 2003). This resulted in high population densities represented by the remains of stone huts clustered into villages (Builth 2002, 2003). It is also associated with a form of stratified society (Dawson 1881; Clark 1990a), which is unusual in Aboriginal Australia.

The landscape of the Tyrendarra lava flow in the MT Eccles/Lake Condah area is of outstanding heritage value because it provides a particularly clear example of the way that Aboriginal people used their environment as a base for launching attacks on European settlers and escaping reprisal raids during frontier conflicts (Clark 1990a, 1990b; Builth 2003).

Conflict between Europeans and Aborigines was endemic on the frontier of European settlement (Reynolds 1976). Aboriginal people often used parts of the landscape that Europeans found difficult to access as a base for their resistance to encroaching European settlement. Many of these landscapes of resistance centered on areas where vegetation made access difficult and some of these landscapes have been altered since European settlement.

Gunditj Mara used the Tyrendarra lava flow as a base from where they launched attacks on white settlers. Because the lava flow is uneven and rocky, Europeans and their horses found it difficult to penetrate the area. This allowed Aboriginal raiders to escape from attempted reprisals and to continue their resistance to European settlement for nearly a decade (Clarke 1990a: 238-250, 1990b; Builth 2003).

The system of ponds, wetlands, channels, weirs and fish traps in the Tyrendarra area are of outstanding heritage value. Gunditj Mara people constructed the channels to manipulate water flows and the weirs to modify and create wetlands that provided ideal growing conditions for the shortfinned eel and other fish (Coutts et al 1978; Lourandos 1980; Williams 1988; Clark 1990a; Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and Kerrup Jmara Elders Aboriginal Corporation 1993; Builth 2002, 2003). This system is confined to Western Victoria and shows a high degree of creativity not found in freshwater fish traps in other parts of Australia. Unlike other places in Western Victoria like Toolondo (Lourandos 1980) and Mt William (Williams 1988), the Tyrendarra area contains all the elements that demonstrate the functioning of this system.


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Castlemaine Diggings

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This document has been prepared by the Australian Government’s Department of Environment and Heritage. The help received from Australian government departments, associated organisations and other authorities is gratefully acknowledged. 

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