Australian Aboriginal sacred sites
Aboriginal sacred sites are areas or places in the Australian landscape of significant Aboriginal Australian meaning within the context of the localised indigenous belief system, known as The Dreaming, which has its origins in Dreamtime. Sites sacred to Aboriginal people are part of Australia's cultural heritage, connecting the land with the cultural values, spiritual beliefs and kin-based relationships of the local people.
Land and The Dreaming
The Aboriginal population of Australia is made up of many tribes and nations, each with their own sacred places, animal totems and other items in the geographic area known as their ‘country’.
Sacred sites are places within the landscape that have a special significance under Aboriginal tradition. Hills, rocks, waterholes, trees, plains and other natural features may be sacred sites. In coastal and sea areas, sacred sites may include features which lie both above and below water. Sometimes sacred sites are obvious, such as ochre deposits, rock art galleries, or spectacular natural features. In other instances sacred sites may be unremarkable to an outside observer. They can range in size from a single stone or plant, to an entire mountain range.
The Dreaming is a term used to refer collectively to Aboriginal religious beliefs. These beliefs endeavour to explain the questions of ultimate human reality, including the origins of humans and animals. The Dreaming is an ongoing phenomenon, incorporating the past, the present and the future. Aboriginal people believe that the Spirits who initially inhabited the land were their ancestors and their identity is derived from the Spirits from whom they descended. Particular tribes have their own totem which is an animal often native to their tribe's territory. Their traditional way of life is based on their relationship with the land, which they believe to be their origin, sustenance and ultimate destiny. They believe it is their duty to look after the land and take only what is needed. The beliefs of the Dreaming are diverse and various. They depend on an individual's tribe, gender, location and totem.
Traditional custodians and management
The traditional custodians of the sacred sites in an area are the tribal elders. "Sacred sites give meaning to the natural landscape. They anchor values and kin-based relationships in the land. Custodians of sacred sites are concerned for the safety of all people, and the protection of sacred sites is integral to ensuring the well-being of the country and the wider community." These sites are or were used for many sacred traditions and customs. Sites used for male activities, such as initiation ceremonies, may be forbidden to women; sites used for female activities, such as giving birth, may be forbidden to men.
Before 1965 there was no legislation protecting Aboriginal sites in Australia, with the exception of some regulations in the Northern Territory. In 1965, the South Australian Government was the first to introduce legislation, and all other States have since done so.
Legislation relating to the protection and management of sacred sites in Australia includes:
|Commonwealth (Aust)||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984
Aboriginal Land and Cultural Legislation Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 
Native Title Act 1993
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
|Australian Capital Territory||Heritage Act 2004|
|New South Wales||National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Aboriginal Ownership) Act 1996|
|Northern Territory||Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989
Aboriginal Land Act
|Queensland||Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003|
|South Australia||Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988|
|Tasmania||Aboriginal Relics Act 1975|
|Victoria||Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006|
|Western Australia||Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972|
Criminal offences apply under Commonwealth and state and territory laws for unauthorised access to sacred sites.
Some documented examples of Aboriginal sacred sites in Australia include:
- Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory was first inscribed on the List of World Heritage Sites in Oceania in 1981.
- Willandra Lakes Region was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981 and included in the National Heritage List on 21 May 2007.
- "Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park is directly and tangibly associated with events, living traditions, ideas and beliefs of outstanding universal significance. Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List for natural values in 1987 and subsequently inscribed for cultural values in 1994."
Sacred sites in the media
In June 2008 BBC released the series Ray Mears Goes Walkabout, composed of four episodes, where Mears tours the Australian outback. An accompanying hardcover book was published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton in March 2008. In the series, Mears meets one of his heroes, Les Hiddins (aka "The Bush Tucker Man"), and he also heads to the Kimberley region to meet the reputed aboriginal artist and bush guide Juju Wilson.
- Aboriginal sites of New South Wales
- Customary Aboriginal law
- Gamilaraay people
- Hindmarsh Island bridge controversy
- "Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority". Northern Territory Government. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013.
- David L. Carmichael (et al), ed. (1997). Sacred sites, sacred places. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-15226-6.
- "The Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws and Traditions Today Recognition through Legislation". Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws (ALRC Report 31). Australian Law Reform Commission. Archived from the original on 19 April 2012.
- "Protection under state and territory laws". Australian Government Department of Environment, Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Archived from the original on 5 June 2013.
- Australia Government Dept of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. and http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/laws/indigenous/protection-laws.html "Indigenous heritage laws". Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Series/C2004A02943
- Aboriginal Land and Cultural Legislation Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976
- Native Title Act 1993, archived from the original on 5 October 2012
- The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Australian Government, archived from the original on 7 October 2013
- Australian Capital Territory Consolidated Acts: Heritage Act 2004, archived from the original on 15 April 2011
- National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Aboriginal Ownership) Act 1996
- Northern Territory Consolidated Acts: Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989, archived from the original on 3 June 2013
- Northern Territory Consolidated Acts: Aboriginal Land Act, archived from the original on 11 March 2011
- Queensland Consolidated Acts: Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003, archived from the original on 15 April 2011
- South Australian Consolidated Acts: Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988, archived from the original on 15 April 2011
- Aboriginal Relics Act 1975
- Victorian Consolidated Acts: Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006
- Western Australian Consolidated Acts: Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, archived from the original on 2 May 2013
- Environmental Defenders Office (NT) Inc. "Protection of Aboriginal sacred sites". Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- Australia. Dept of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. "Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory". Archived from the original on 25 August 2012.
- Australia. Dept of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. "Willandra Lakes Region". Archived from the original on 5 June 2013.
- Bednarik, Robert G. "Murujuga Rock Art Imperiled in Australia". Sacred Sites International Foundation. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012.
- Katsoulis, Melissa (25 April 2008). "Ray Mears discusses bushcraft and his new book about the Australian outback". London: The Times. Retrieved 22 May 2010.