Traditional Owners

The North Central CMA region includes the traditional lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung, Taungurung, Yorta Yorta, Barapa Barapa, Wamba Wemba, Wadi Wadi people and clans represented by Barengi Gadjin Land Council (Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk). The map here shows the boundaries of Country for those with Registered Aboriginal Party status under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and labels show approximate location of other traditional lands.

The term ‘Traditional Owners’ acknowledges the distinct custodial rights of peoples who, over countless generations, have a unique spiritual, social, and cultural connection with their Country, and it respects the principles of ‘Right people for Country’.

To inform RCS renewal, we reviewed Country Plans (where available) and engaged Traditional Owners. Each group was asked to provide an Introduction to people and Country. We asked about values and priorities for the future to inform the development of priority directions and outcomes for all Traditional Owners as outlined on this page.

The specific values and priorities for each group are described on a dedicated page for each group – to find these pages, click on the labels on the map here. We have sought to highlight Traditional Owner values and priorities in this RCS, at a high level. For more specific information, RCS partners should refer to Country Plans (where available) which include more detail and engage directly with the relevant Traditional Owners.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in our regional communities and have a strong connection to Country and/or an interest in natural resource management (NRM) but may not be recognised Traditional Owners of this region. Our engagement for RCS renewal focused on Traditional Owner groups in respect of cultural custodianship and rights to determine appropriate spokespeople. Non-Traditional Owner Aboriginal perspectives and participation in NRM may be enabled through the Traditional Owner groups with which they are connected, or through broader community engagement.


Country includes the land, water and all living things. Prior to colonisation, Country was cared for by Traditional Owners, using a social structure and knowledge system that enabled a sustainable lifestyle over thousands of generations. Traditional Owners have a deep connection with, and obligation to care for Country. Some express being born from the land, that they belong to the land or that the land and people exist as one. We are told that, spirit and identity are at the core of this connection to land. Rather than talking about land, water and biodiversity separately, as we do in this RCS, these elements are all inter-connected and the health of Country is very much connected to their health – ‘Healthy Country, healthy people’.

“Hundreds of years ago, our Country was mostly covered in open forests and woodlands, providing us with the plants and animals that we used for food, medicine, shelter and customary practices. Today, though our Country is vastly changed, it still holds many important values. We feel a moral responsibility to care for our Country as it binds us to the past, present and future.”

-Dhelkunya Dja Country Plan

Traditional Owners have a holistic view and understand Country to be interconnected. The separation of RCS themes and prioritisation of specific assets in this RCS runs contrary to this view. When asked about important places, we were often told that all of Country is important. When presented with a draft map of priority biodiversity assets, one Traditional Owner suggested that we start by connecting them all up. Exploring how cultural landscapes might inform future planning is an emerging priority for some Traditional Owners. Cultural landscapes are a traditional way of understanding and managing Country – the planning unit of choice.

Spending time on Country, connecting to Country, to share knowledge and practice culture is a clear priority for all Traditional Owners.

Cultural heritage and other cultural values

Throughout the north central region, the landscape is embedded with the physical imprint and spiritual connections of thousands of generations of Aboriginal people. Physical or tangible Aboriginal cultural heritage such as stone artefacts remain in situ, predominantly in relatively undisturbed remnant patches of native vegetation. However, tangible heritage and other cultural sites can also be located within highly modified landscapes. Intangible cultural heritage includes cultural knowledge and practice (e.g., indigenous biocultural knowledge, language, stories, ceremonies) passed down from generation to generation, and often has a strong connection with Country.

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 provides for the management of cultural heritage, covering both tangible and intangible heritage. Areas of cultural heritage sensitivity, as defined in the Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018, identify landforms and soil types where Aboriginal places are more likely to be located and include land within 200 metres of named waterways and within 50 metres of registered Aboriginal cultural heritage places. Registered places are those that have been surveyed, mostly for proposed developments, and likely represent only a small proportion of all such places. To date there is only one instance of intangible cultural heritage being registered. Protecting cultural heritage from damage and increasing awareness of the requirements of the Act, was identified as a priority by many of the Traditional Owners engaged, and a priority direction has been developed in response.

Some plant and animal species have particular significance for Traditional Owners, either spiritually or as a source of traditional food and fibre. Several of these species are now rare or regionally extinct and there is a desire to restore or return them to the landscape. A priority direction has been developed in response.

Waterways and water have significant value to Aboriginal people as recognised in Victoria’s Aboriginal Water Policy that was announced in Water for Victoria. Implementation of this policy to date has involved engagement of Traditional Owners to identify cultural risks, values and outcomes, to inform environmental water deliveries. This is an example of ‘projects/programs that incorporate and deliver on culturally relevant objectives’ (refer medium-term outcome below). Further to this, several of the Traditional Owners engaged indicated a desire for cultural flows. Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) has developed the following definition of cultural flows, which is recognised in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan:

“Cultural flows are water entitlements that are legally and beneficially owned by the Nations of a sufficient and adequate quantity and quality to improve the spiritual, cultural, natural, environmental, social and economic conditions of those Nations. These are our inherent rights.”

-MLDRIN Echuca Declaration, 2007

Other places, connections between places and cultural landscapes also have value. Cultural landscapes can be described as a traditional way of understanding and managing Country – the planning unit of choice. They were highlighted by Taungurung and Dja Dja Wurrung, as an emerging priority.

Cultural values, as referred to in the priority directions below, are intended to include tangible and intangible cultural heritage as defined by the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, as well as species, places and landscapes of significance. Documenting cultural values, is a priority of many Traditional Owners, to enable better protection and restoration.


There have been instances where knowledge shared by Traditional Owners has been misappropriated, misused or used without authority. There are also opportunities for Traditional Owners to benefit from partnerships where the sharing of knowledge will achieve mutual outcomes (e.g. to conserve cultural heritage). In these circumstances free, informed prior consent should be given, and the nature, extent and use must be agreed to, and be culturally appropriate.

For the purposes of this RCS, the North Central CMA offered to sign an Intellectual Property Commitment with each Traditional Owner group engaged, to cover the potential sharing of any intellectual property during RCS engagement and its use. Pages for each group were not published until written approval was obtained.

Traditional Owners we engaged acknowledged there is a lot to learn from each other. However, they also expressed frustration that traditional knowledge is not respected in the same way as western science, and when this knowledge is shared, it is not well integrated into management. Bridging tools that enable a respectful integration of knowledge systems and practices were suggested to facilitate this.

Self-determined participation and leadership

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples identifies Free Prior and Informed Consent as essential, to enable Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination in decisions that affect their lives, their ancestral lands and natural resources. Put simply, Free Prior and Informed Consent is good process, which ensures people have adequate knowledge and understanding of the consequences and outcomes which may result from their contribution or permission.

The guiding principle for Traditional Owner participation and leadership in NRM, is self-determination. This is described in DELWP’s Pupangarli Marnmarnepu ‘Owning Our Future’ Aboriginal Self-Determination Reform Strategy 2020-2025, which aligns with whole-of-government commitments set out in the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework (VAAF), and the VAAF Self-Determination Reform Framework, which guides government and agencies to enable action towards Aboriginal self-determination.

For RCS delivery this will include enabling Traditional Owners the opportunity to participate and lead, if and how they choose, working collaboratively from the outset to plan and implement projects, working and ‘walking together.’ With reference to the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, ‘walking together’ is at the Collaborate or Empower level of the spectrum. Some Traditional Owners also suggested that the Aboriginal Participation Guideline for Victorian Catchment Management Authorities was a good reference for working with Traditional Owners. The Victorian Government Traditional Owner Engagement Project focuses on improving engagement where there is no formal recognition. In our region that includes; Barapa Barapa, Wamba Wemba and Wadi Wadi Traditional Owners. The Project has published a report and developed a Draft Framework for strong relationships and engagement between the Victorian Government and Traditional Owners. For Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung their Recognition and Settlement Agreements stipulate formal requirements for notification and participation in NRM and enable joint management of Country.