Late last year I was fortunate to visit Lake Condah to lead a workshop discussing the values associated with the Budj Bim network of 6,000-year-old eel traps.
The Gunditjmara people, represented by elder Dennis Rose, were clearly interested in the protection of the site and increasing the cultural connections with their traditional lands and practices.
Also apparent was a strong desire to increase tourism, to make people aware of the huge cultural and historical significance of the area, but also for the economic benefit of the Gunditjmara people.
When policy makers think of environmental or cultural heritage it can often be bound by outcomes related to protecting physical assets. However, tourism has the potential not only to become an add-on benefit of protection but to drive protection itself. It can do this through both recognition among the public of the importance of certain areas and through generating an income stream that can be reinvested in protecting and improving a site or asset.
The area has now been put forward for inclusion in the Australian government’s nomination to the Unesco world heritage council by the Victorian government, at the instigation of the Gunditjmara people. Achieving a world heritage listing would help provide the reputation the Budj Bim area deserves as a site of cultural heritage and as a tourism destination.
Work has already begun to improve the area for visitors, with proposed construction of interpretive signage, improved access and a traditional eel aquaculture interpretation centre. Gavin Jennings, the acting Aboriginal affairs minister, said it could become a world-class sustainable tourism site.