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Cultural Heritage

CliffCare acknowledges Aboriginal Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Victoria and pays respect to their cultures and Elders past, present and emerging.

Registered Aboriginal Parties of Victoria

First Nations peoples retain sovereign laws, customs and stories that are specific to certain areas and language groups. We acknowledge that one group cannot speak for another. Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) hold decision-making responsibilities under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.

We have begun a consultation process with Registered Aboriginal Parties where climbing exists in Victoria in order to learn and build mutually beneficial relationships that will help discover and protect cultural heritage in the places we visit. This will be ongoing.


Source: Aboriginal Victoria. Click for full view, high resolution.

Outcomes of Consultation

The information below is a general overview for best practice while climbing on country. Consultation is aimed at receiving area-specific cultural heritage protection advice throughout the state. It is important to know that sometimes this advice cannot be supplied fully until surveys have been undertaken. At present (2019), less than 5% of Victoria has been adequately surveyed for cultural heritage. It is our hope that climbers will be able to assist Traditional Owners with this monumental task by participating in upcoming data gathering projects.


The preservation of history and respecting the cultural values of First Nations peoples is of utmost importance for all climbers throughout Australia. For a more complete picture, Parks Victoria have supplied us with their Aboriginal Heritage Identification Guide which we urge you to read. 

Cultural heritage can be tangible or intangible. Tangible is historical, physical evidence of Aboriginal habitation in Australia, while intangible heritage relates to lands and waters that have spiritual, cultural or ceremonial connections throughout history. Navigating this landscape can only be achieved through cooperation with Traditional Owners of Country in Victoria. 


Aboriginal peoples proudly represent one of the oldest living cultures on Earth, but with so much damage done by the ravages of colonisation, it is incumbent on all of us to respect and preserve what we can in order to heal and work towards a shared future.

Importantly, this means being aware of the access status for an area, and observing restrictions if climbing is deemed a risk to heritage sites.


Heritage can also include past artefacts from eras such as the Gold Rush, but our focus for this page will be on recognizing and respecting First Nations cultural heritage. 


Country refers to the land and waters around us in Australia.  Caring for country is intertwined with The Dreaming, creation stories passed down orally through thousands of generations that inform of our role in interacting with the natural world. 

"The Law - an ecological philosophy enforced by religious sanctions - compelled people to care for all their country. People lived and died to ensure this."

- Bill Gammage (Historian) - The Biggest Estate on Earth

Cultivating an understanding of the significance of country through the lens of First Nations people is an important step in modifying our own impact on the environment.

Through that lens, the country owns the custodians, not the other way around. Custodians have a responsibility to care for and protect it - nobody is the owner with the right to do as they please. It comes down to respect for the environment and the people who first inhabited and managed this landscape.

Caring for country helps foster a connection to it - with proven positive outcomes in health and wellbeing for both people and the environment. How can climbers of a non-Indigenous heritage honour this in our day-to-day activities? What will we leave behind for future generations?

It's hard to put forward a stronger case for the need of our climbing community to adopt a stewardship culture, rather than a 'user group' culture,  and to continue to learn from the experts with 60,000+ years of knowledge in land management.

Learn more about Connection to Country at Common 

As a community we need to respect all Country.

Litter is disrespectful. 

Visible human waste is highly disrespectful. 

Bolting and climbing in sacred areas is disrespectful. 

Excessive chalk use and tick marks are disrespectful.

Rock Art

While there are many different types of Aboriginal cultural heritage (several listed below), one of the most sensitive for climbers to be aware of is rock art. 

Throughout Australia, where ever there are large rock formations, there is potential for rock art.

In Victoria, rock art occurs primarily in natural rock shelters - overhung escarpments that offer protection from the elements, and in limestone caves. Gariwerd (the Grampians) contains the majority of southern Australia’s rock art, dating back tens of thousands of years. 


Aboriginal peoples made red, purple and yellow pigments from ochre clay, and white pigment from kaolin clay to produce rock art. Ancient artwork includes hand prints and stencils, ghostly stick figures and native animal tracks. 

Many overhung rocky outcrops that offer good bouldering would have also been suitable shelters and may contain rock art. It is of vital importance that we do not climb on the same rock where artwork is found. 

Sometimes these art works are not immediately obvious, which is why it is important to only climb and boulder in approved areas and minimise chalk use. Likewise, climbing routes must not be developed near rock art sites. 

In 2016, Barengi Gadjin Land Council, Aboriginal Victoria and Parks Victoria worked with an Art Conservator to remove graffiti (mostly names and dates thoughtlessly scratched into artwork) at Black Ians (Lil Lil). As you will read below, there is a sad history of vandalism to rock art sites in Victoria dating back to the 1930's. 

It is vital that everyone helps preserve this irreplaceable connection for First Nations peoples to their ancestors. If you see anyone marking rock - put a stop to it.

iDStretch App for Rock Art

Rock art is not always easily visible. Around the world, researchers are using Dstretch to more easily view rock art by cycling through colour enhancement options. 

For climbers who love to explore, this could be a useful tool in helping discover and preserve rock art. It is available to download from the App Store.



Reporting Aboriginal heritage finds

You can help preserve Cultural Heritage by reporting findings to local Traditional Owners (see map and links above) and Aboriginal Victoria by phone or email at:

Tel: 1800 762 003



Other Types of Heritage

Besides rock art, there are multiple types of places and objects that make up First Nations history, many of which can be found in climbing areas. 

We have been kindly supplied with the Parks Victoria Aboriginal Heritage Identification Guide, and urge you to review it. 

Below are a few examples of different types of heritage found in Victoria.

Images and documents: Aboriginal Victoria.

Scarred Trees

Bark was removed from trees for a range of purposes, such as building canoes, shelters, containers, shields. The removal would expose the sapwood underneath which would eventually regrow.

Scar Trees are a native such as box and red gum, and usually around 200 years old or more. The scars themselves are fairly regular in shape, with rounded ends. Being generally easier to find, they often help in locating areas of Aboriginal activity and lead to other archeological discoveries. 

Learn more

Aboriginal Mounds

Often, but not always, found near rivers, lakes or other water

courses, Aboriginal mounds are what remain of areas where people have lived over many years. They are typically circular or oval-shaped, approximately 10 metres wide and a half metre in height (on average). The soil is soft, and can contain charcoal, burnt clay, animal bones, shells, old tools. 

Some mounds also contain human burials which are of great significance. 

Mounds were mostly formed through the traditional cooking process of using earth ovens - heating stones and clay and placing these underground with food such as kangaroo or tubers, then filling in with earth. Over time, the debris from this cooking process, along with other domestic debris, combined with natural sediments to form a mound. 


Learn more

Shell Middens

Shell middens are clusters of shells produced over periods of time - either from a single meal or up to thousands of years worth - by collecting, cooking and eating shellfish. Middens are found both in freshwater areas from rivers and lakes and on the coast. 


Early European settlers witnessed Aboriginal people collecting shellfish from rivers, lakes and swamps. They were generally cooked over an open fire, allowing shells to open and the meat inside to be consumed. 


Middens are among the oldest organic artefacts in Victoria as they have been generally able to survive longer than animal bones and plant remains. They give us insight into the use of freshwater sources, the economy and land management over tens of thousands of years. 

Learn more. - Freshwater Middens / Coastal Middens 

Flaked Stone Tools

Flaked stone tools were used for a range of purposes including shaping wood and bark, hunting, and preparing food. They were made by hitting a piece of stone, called the core, with a ‘hammerstone’ to break away a sharpened flake. Both the core and the flake could be used as stone tools. 


They are generally composed of hard, brittle rock such as quartzite, chert, flint, silcrete and quartz. The stone type is often different to the other rock found in the area. Study of flaked stone tools can give us insight into Aboriginal way of life for millenia, since they do not rust or rot. 


Learn More

Aboriginal Burials

Aboriginal Burials are usually found as concentrations of human bones or teeth which have been exposed due to ground disturbance such as earthworks or erosion. They are usually found in soft soils and sand, but also occur in rock shelters and caves. 

Burial sites are of extremely important spiritual and cultural significance, and must not be disturbed. 


Any discovery of human remains should be reported to the police for investigation. 


Learn More


Surface Scatters

Surface scatters are the remains of past Aboriginal activity, they can include stone artefacts, charcoal, animal bones, shells and ochre. Sizes of scatters can vary from one square metre to a hectare. 


They provide us with an insight into everyday life and form a very important link to the past. Because organic material is often found in these sites, carbon dating can help us determine when people were living in a certain area. 


Learn More


Aboriginal quarries are rocky outcrops where people took stone to manufacture tools. Since not all rock provides the best type of material for purpose, specific areas were selected to quarry as a valuable resource. 


Characteristics of Aboriginal quarries include scars from flaking and crushing, large amounts of broken stone, and rock types that can be made into stone tools such as greenstone, silcrete and quartzite. 

Some quarries give an indication of trade networks that existed long ago, as certain stone tools are found in some areas that could only have been quarried in another. 


Learn More

Ground-Edge Axes

Ground-edge axes are stone chopping tools with a sharp edge formed by grinding. Made to be attached to a handle, they were a multi-purpose tool for activities such as cutting trees and bark and butchering animals. 


While they vary in shape, they are usually round or oval, with a smooth section and a sharpened edge. They are often found in Aboriginal quarries or around areas of earlier habitation. 

Ground-edge axes not only provide an important link to the past, but also give us clues into the trading practices for thousands of years in the region. 

Learn More

Grinding Stones

Grinding stones are large stones with a depression, usually circular or oval-shaped, and have been found in areas of habitation.


They were used primarily for grinding and crushing food for cooking and ochre to make colour pigments. 

Similar to a mortar and pestle, grinding stones were generally used with smaller stones, which could be flat or rounded. 


Learn More

Stone Arrangements

One of the oldest surviving relics from the past, Aboriginal Stone Arrangements are sites where rock has been positioned by human hands for a specific purpose.

The reasons are diverse and not always known. One example points to an early astronomical observatory that pre-dates the Pyramids, while at Lake Condah, south-western Victoria, a vast aquaculture system built approximately 6,600 years ago has recently been given World Heritage Listing.

Learn More

Axe Grinding Grooves

Axe grinding grooves are oval-shaped indentations in sandstone outcrops.


They are formed by the shaping and sharpening of axe tools against the rock.


They are usually always found near water. 


Learn More

A History of Vandalism

Sadly, vandalism to ancient rock art sites in Gariwerd is nothing new, and is just one of the reasons for both the secrecy of their locations and the protective cages that house them. 

Aboriginal Cave Paintings - Senseless Destruction

23rd April, 1935. The Argus Newspaper, Melbourne

Aboriginal Art Damaged by Vandals

8th January, 1936. The Herald, Melbourne


Photo: Brett Williams

Helpful Resources

Aboriginal Victoria

List of Registered Aboriginal Parties in Victoria

Ask a question or read countless other insightful answers about Aboriginal culture at: 

Deadly Questions

Learn more about First Nations from: 

Common Ground

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