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Aboriginal red ochre hand stencils, Mutawintji Historic Site. Credit: John Spencer

Aboriginal cultural heritage

We protect, respect and conserve Aboriginal cultural heritage in NSW.

Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for more than 60,000 years. This is the oldest living culture in the world.

Aboriginal cultural heritage consists of places, traditions, beliefs, customs, values and objects that represent the living history of past Aboriginal generations and are of important cultural and heritage significance to Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal cultural knowledge provides crucial links between the past and present and represents an essential part of the identities of Aboriginal people and all Australians.

photo: with permission from Gunni Thakun Cultural Association

Aboriginal cultural heritage includes tangible and intangible values, such as Song Lines, Dreaming stories and ceremonies passed from generation to generation, as well as physical objects and places. These important objects and places provide evidence of the diverse values, activities and knowledge of Aboriginal people who co-existed with the natural environment by living in harmony with the land they cherish and, which the Aboriginal communities now manage and protect for future generations.

Aboriginal Objects

Aboriginal objects provide physical evidence of the use of an area by Aboriginal people.

Credit: Colin Davison Heritage NSW

Physical objects could include items such as stone, wood and shell artefacts that were used to make tools, weapons and implements. They could include fish traps, stone arrangements, middens, scarred or carved trees and sites of occupational fringe camps that still exist today.

Known Aboriginal objects and sites are recorded in our Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System.

If you discover something you think should be recorded as an Aboriginal object please refer to Record Aboriginal Sites.

Aboriginal Places

An Aboriginal Place is an area of land that has special significance to Aboriginal people. It can have spiritual, historical, social, educational, natural resource use or other type of significance to Aboriginal people. These places range from small ceremonial sites to mountains and lagoons and have been identified all over NSW.

Photo: Colin Davison Heritage NSW

For an area of land to be declared an ‘Aboriginal Place’, the Minister is required to formally and legally recognise that the place is, or was, of special significance to Aboriginal culture.

When a significant place is declared an Aboriginal Place, it is protected under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

Aboriginal objects and places can be on public or private land, and do not change the land tenure. Landowners or land managers are encouraged to prepare a management plan to guide the management of Aboriginal Places.

More information

Aboriginal Place proposal form

Declared Aboriginal Places: Guidelines for developing management plans