Strong culture, engaged people and confident communities


Culture has the power to build resilience, strengthen local communities and forge a sense of identity and belonging. Stronger appreciation and awareness of Aboriginal culture can foster confidence and resilience, as well as connections and respect across the Victorian community. That is why it is vital to work in partnership with Aboriginal Victorians, other tiers of government and the private and community sectors to protect and manage Aboriginal cultural heritage, strengthen Aboriginal community organisations, and support strong communities. Here are some of our highlights from the past 12 months.

Key statistics: Aboriginal culture, identity and social networks

  • 57% of Aboriginal Victorians identified with a clan, tribal or language group
  • of Aboriginal Victorians aged 3 years and over, more than half (57%) participated in cultural activities
  • more than 9 out of 10 (93%) Aboriginal Victorians felt they were able to get support in times of crisis from outside the household
  • 37%of Aboriginal Victorians felt they had been unfairly treated at least once in the previous 12 months because they were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander

Headline Indicator 12. Strengthen Aboriginal culture and support Aboriginal people's engagement with community and society

Other measure: Participation by Aboriginal people in community-related arrangements and events.

According to the ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (2014–15), over half of Aboriginal Victorians participate in cultural activities, and more than 9 out of 10 report having strong social networks which they can draw on in times of crisis. These indicators suggest Aboriginal Victorians experience a high degree of social support; however, experiences of racism are all too common. 37% of Aboriginal Victorians felt they had been unfairly treated at least once in the previous 12 months because they were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Strong communities are about more than where you live. A strong community is a source of resilience in times of stress and offers far-reaching benefits such as improved maternal health, mental health, and feelings of neighbourhood safety and cohesion.

Local Aboriginal Networks (LANs) are community networks that bring Aboriginal people together at the local level to set priorities, develop community plans, and build relationships with Aboriginal Victorian communities.

LANs know and understand their communities better than anyone else. As such, they are well placed to implement local area initiatives and maximise benefits of stronger, more resilient and productive communities. LANs work to strengthen the physical, social, cultural, mental, and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people, their families, and the whole community.

Being with other blackfellas, catching up, letting off some steam, having a laugh, talking about OUR agenda is what attracts me to the LAN.

- Wangaratta LAN Community Forum

There are now 39 LANs across Victoria, with 2,297 Aboriginal Victorians participating. The Local Aboriginal Networks Five Year Plan 2016–­2020 identifies 6 priority areas, developed in partnership with LANs, to help inform and guide government action to ensure LANs’ future success and sustainability. They are:

  • strengthening culture
  • economic participation
  • support for young people
  • building a stronger LAN
  • community planning and partnerships
  • working with local government
The LAN is a great way to be in the loop. It can feel a bit like everything happens in Melbourne sometimes but the Broker keeps us informed about the deadly things we've got happening local. Makes me proud of our local stuff.

- Lake Tyers LAN Community Forum

Other measure: The proportion of Aboriginal people who felt that there are opportunities to have a real say on issues of importance to them.

The voice and leadership of the Aboriginal community in decision-making is a central part of supporting self-determination and ensuring the overall success of policy responses in Aboriginal affairs.

The Victorian Government has, over successive years, worked with key Aboriginal stakeholders to develop and implement strategies to achieve better outcomes for individuals, families and communities. Partnership structures include LANs, the Koori Youth Council, the Victorian Advisory Council for Koori Health, the Aboriginal Justice Forum, the Indigenous Family Violence Partnership Forum, the Aboriginal Children’s Forum, and new structures to support the implementation of Marrung.

Over the last 18 months, key engagement structures have been established to deliver wide-reaching self-determination reforms including the Aboriginal Executive Council (working name), the Aboriginal Community Assembly, the Ministerial Forum on Aboriginal Affairs, Aboriginal Victoria Forums and the Premier’s Gathering. 

Treaty is one vehicle to support the advancement of Aboriginal self-determination, and treaty talks are a fundamental part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to self-determination. The Aboriginal Treaty Working Group is currently providing advice on the process for treaty, guidance on community engagement and examining options for a permanent Victorian Aboriginal representative body.

To be successful, key reforms must be driven and implemented by the Aboriginal community in strong partnership with the government.

A voice for Aboriginal young people

The Koorie Youth Summit is an annual, statewide gathering for and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to discuss what is important to them, and to share and celebrate their culture. With young people accounting for over half the Victorian Aboriginal population, the summit has become an important avenue for Aboriginal young people to meet, empower and inspire one another. The 2017 Summit brought together 160 young people to address the themes 'our identity, our resilience, our story.' 

I think there’s been an incredible push for young people to come together, to learn to grow and contribute to the community and how much they want to make a difference. It is really heart-warming.

- Koorie Youth Summit delegate

A river is recognised by law as a living entity

The Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017, identifies the Birrarung (Yarra River) and the many hundreds of parcels of public land it flows through as one living, integrated natural entity for protection and improvement.

The requirement to touch the land and waterways lightly, respecting that which provides life, is implicit … Wilip-gin Birrarung murron (Keep the Birrarung alive).

- Wurundjeri Council

Victoria hosts first national weekend retreat for trans and gender diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Australia’s Aboriginal population is rich in diversity, and many factors combine to create each individual’s identity and experience. Kunghah: Brotherboys and Sistergirls Retreat was the first nationwide gathering of gender-diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. An outcome of the 2015 Koorie Youth Summit, the aim of the weekend was to create a safe space for trans and gender diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to share their experiences and knowledge and address community issues.

For me, the smoking ceremony was so powerful. It is the first ceremony I have ever taken part in, due to being disconnected from culture…so to have access to this ceremony, where my Sistergirls and Brotherboys and nonbinary/gender-diverse siblings could take part with their real genders respected and celebrated was incredible. I'll remember that ceremony for the rest of my life.

- Kunghah participant

The rate of access by Aboriginal Victorians to their traditional lands

Maintaining strong connection to land and culture is central to Aboriginal culture. Amendments to the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (‘TOS Act’) came into force in May 2017. The changes are aimed at streamlining Traditional Owners’ access to Crown Land and natural resources, so as to offer an attractive alternative to determinations under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). There are currently a total of 4 Traditional Owner groups negotiating new settlements under the ‘TOS Act’ and another four groups in the threshold stage of negotiations. While no new settlements were reached in 2016­–17, progress has been made on settlement negotiations with the Taungurung People, Gunditjmara People, Wotjobaluk People and the Easter Maar People.

The Right People for Country program supports Traditional Owner groups in the process of making agreements about boundaries and extent of Country and around group representation and membership.

Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) are Victoria’s first and foremost authorities on the cultural heritage of their regions and hold decision-making powers under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 for protecting Aboriginal cultural and intangible heritage. There are currently 10 RAPs in Victoria with a collective responsibility for more than 39,000 registered Aboriginal cultural heritage places around the state. The 2016 amendments to the ‘Aboriginal Heritage Act’ broadened RAP roles and responsibilities to include the power to grant or refuse permits that may harm their cultural heritage. In support, the 2017/18 Victorian Budget allocated $4.7 million for the employment and training of 10 new RAP compliance officers to ensure better protection for Victoria’s Aboriginal cultural heritage, demonstrating the government’s commitment to self-determination.

Intangible heritage

In 2016, Victoria become the first state in Australia and one of the first jurisdictions in the world to provide legal protection for Aboriginal intangible heritage via amendments to the ‘Aboriginal Heritage Act’. Aboriginal intangible heritage is elements of living culture passed down across generations such as language, oral traditions, performing arts, stories, rituals, festivals, social practices, craft, visual arts and ecological knowledge. The 2016 amendments recognise the central role that intangible heritage plays in keeping Victorian Aboriginal cultures strong, and gives Traditional Owners more control over the protection, management and potential use of their intangible heritage by third parties. The legal protection for Aboriginal intangible heritage will create further economic opportunities for Traditional Owners. Under the new provisions, Traditional Owners may enter into economic agreements with corporations wishing to benefit from traditional knowledge.

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Land Management Agreements—introduced in 2016—also have the potential for significant economic benefits for RAPs through future land management activities or ongoing heritage management. Most importantly, land management agreements have the potential to transform the way public land managers work with Aboriginal people in caring for public lands.

Currently, 3 RAPs are in the process of drafting the first applications to register their intangible heritage on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register (VAHR). In supporting these and ongoing applications, the government is also seeking to adapt the VAHR to accommodate the unique requirements of intangible heritage, and Traditional Owner interests.

Our intangible heritage is who we are, it defines us. With our way of life being interrupted in the recent past, never has it been more important to come together to protect and share cultural knowledge and skills.

- Daniel Clarke, Wotjobuluk / Gunditjmara / Ngarrindjeri

Budj Bim

The World Heritage listing will provide significant financial, employment, and social benefits for south west Victorian communities, especially for its Traditional Owners. This will generate increased income for Aboriginal businesses and organisations, increasing our capacity for self-sufficient business models.

- Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

The tourism potential of Budj Bim is being explored through a 3-year, $8 million investment to develop infrastructure at Budj Bim’s key sites. Regional Development Victoria is working with the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation to implement plans for key tourism infrastructure with an estimated potential to attract $13.5 million worth of tourism to the area and provide significant financial, employment and social benefits to the community.

Options for all Victorians to be engaged with Aboriginal culture

Investing in local cultural resources including tangible and intangible heritage, traditional knowledge and skills can open up opportunities and strengthen identity and social cohesion. This includes raising the profile of Victoria’s Aboriginal arts and culture through programs such as the Koorie Art Show and Indigenous Runway Project, and investment in cultural heritage infrastructure like Budj Bim.

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Certificate IV is a fully-accredited course designed in partnership with Aboriginal Victoria, the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council, RAPs and Latrobe University. Since 2012, 89 students have graduated with cultural heritage management skills, leading to employment across RAPs, government and private consulting.


Budj Bim Cultural Landscape moved a step closer to being named a UNESCO World Heritage site in January 2017 after it was added to Australia’s World Heritage Tentative List. Sacred to the Gunditjmara people, Budj Bim is one of Australia’s earliest and largest aquaculture systems. Dating back thousands of years, Budj Bim shows how a large, settled Aboriginal community systematically farmed and smoked eels to provide food for themselves and as an economic and social base for trade. A formal World Heritage nomination is now being prepared by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and the Victorian Government, with technical support from the Federal Government. If successful, it will become the first Australian World Heritage site listed solely for Indigenous cultural values. Recognition will bring enormous benefits in terms of identity, confidence, wellbeing and tourism to Gunditjmara people, and to the rest of Victoria.

Gunditjmara people lived a life differently to that imagined—that people generally imagined—of Aboriginal people, We had stone houses, we lived in villages, we manipulated water flows, we altered water flows along the wetland systems to farm eels.

- Denis Rose, Gunditjmara Elder

Aboriginal Fire Strategy

We don’t see fire on Country as a fearful force, we see it as a tool, if it is used right, to heal and care for Country. In fact, some of our people have fire as part of their dreaming.

- Mick Bourke, Dja Dja Wurrung District Planner, Forest Fire Management Victoria

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is supporting the development of an Aboriginal Fire Strategy and is committed to working with the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations to ensure the strategy reflects the aspirations of Traditional Owners and Victorian Aboriginal communities in caring for Country.

The co-design process will incorporate a robust and representative engagement plan, will be underpinned by research and cultural knowledge and will provide practical outcomes that work towards embedding cultural burning practices into land management in Victoria.

Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) Loddon Mallee and the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation have partnered to bring traditional burning practices into Victoria’s existing fuel management program. Such a strategy will seek to restore thousands of years of land management practice with a focus on reducing bushfire risk and ensuring Aboriginal traditional knowledge is employed into the future. This is a practical example of Aboriginal intangible heritage being used for the benefit of all Victorians.