4680.0.55.001 - Information Paper: An Experimental Ecosystem Account for the Great Barrier Reef Region, 2015 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/04/2015  First Issue
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The focus of this section is Indigenous cultural services which are the intellectual and symbolic benefits that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples obtain from ecosystems through recreation, knowledge development, relaxation, and spiritual reflection. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have strong, ongoing connections to the GBR Region and its natural resources. As a result, geographical and natural features are now embedded and interconnected in the cultural landscape of land and sea. This underpins the cultural significance of such features for the more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional owner clan groups in the GBR Region.

The GBR Region includes: the Kuku-yalanji, Umpila and Yadhaigana peoples of Cape York; the Nyawaygi and Bindal peoples near Townsville; the Djabuganjdji and Wargamaygan peoples of the tropical rain forests; the Yuibera people near Mackay; and the Darumbal and Gureng Gureng peoples from the south. These groupings are identifiable in a Map of Aboriginal Australia published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). This map indicates the general location of large groupings of Indigenous people across the continent, associated with clans, dialects or individual languages in a group.

This publication has not attempted to measure or value Indigenous cultural services at this stage but explains the different types of services that could be considered. The services are combined into four broad categories:

  1. cultural heritage: cultural practices, observances, customs and lore
  2. spiritual and religious: sacred sites, sites of particular significance, and places important for cultural tradition
  3. educational: stories, song lines, totems and languages
  4. knowledge: Indigenous structures, technology, tools and archaeology.

See the glossary for a full description of these terms.

Indigenous cultural services present in the GBR Region can be categorised according to relevant Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES). It should be noted that there is overlap of services between different classes.

1. Cultural heritage services

Custodial responsibilities, which tie Indigenous people to their country, ensure maintenance of spiritual, cultural, biological and other values of such sites, fall under the classes of 'aesthetic' and 'bequest'. Part of these custodial responsibilities include 'educational' and 'symbolic' services. These can be the passing on of skills and knowledge so that different resources are exploited at different times of the year, for example hunting and fishing depend on which species are fat at a given time. The Yuibera Traditional Owners near Mackay use the head of cycads as a vegetable when ripe, and recognise that the plant signifies the presence of water which has implications for fire regimes.

Cultural heritage services can also include totems of animals, plants or objects which are important to the cultural identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Sea animals are common totem animals for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the GBR Region. For example, the Wuthathi tribe from Shelbourne Bay has the diamond stingray as its totem. Such totems can be used in song, dance and music and on cultural implements. Another service under the cultural heritage is 'scientific', which recognises Indigenous traditional knowledge and practices.

2. Spiritual and religious services

Spiritual and religious services fall under the 'sacred and/or religious' class. This includes sacred sites which may be creation or resting places for ancestral spirits, places that contain healing water and medicinal plants, burial grounds, traditional tracks, or sites associated with special events. Many Indigenous communities are unable to separate reasons for protecting the spiritual connection between people and Earth from reasons for conserving biodiversity. The Yuibera Traditional Owners have burial grounds and a sacred place for Indigenous spirits at Cape Hillsborough National Park and mangrove areas that they still use for men's ceremonies in the early wet season.

3. Educational services

The stories, songs, dance, dress, art and language of Indigenous people connect them to a place and/or time, and these services can be classed as 'entertainment', 'educational' and 'aesthetic'. For example for the Dingaal/Dingiil people, Lizard Island (Jiigurru/Dyiigurra) is sacred because during the Dreamtime, a stingray formed the Lizard Island group, with Lizard Island being the body and the other islands forming the tail.

4. Knowledge services

Archaeology is an important knowledge service in the GBR Region, reflecting the continuous presence of homo sapiens over several thousand years. Archaeological services are in scope of the CICES classes, 'heritage, cultural' and 'sacred and/or religious'. They are also inclusive of a provisional section dealing with cultural settings that are dependent on abiotic structures (class = 'by type'). Archaeological sites may include:
  • occupation sites – stone tools, food remains, ochre, charcoal, cooking stones, shells
  • middens – deposits of food refuse
  • grinding grooves – evidence of tool making or food processing
  • rock art – Dreamtime stories, pictorial evidence of past rituals central to lives of Indigenous people
  • scar trees – result of bark being removed for food or to make canoes, water containers, shields, huts.

The archaeological record is the body of physical evidence about the past. This record can consist of both ancient and contemporary artifacts. Important evidence has been discovered throughout the GBR Region, documenting the traditional trade links between the coastal and hinterland peoples of Queensland. For example, implements such as tools reflect the geographic location of each group and interactions between groups. The Nyawaygi people have found ancient stone axes and grinding stones in recent years. These implements were once traded with neighbouring tribes from the mountains where the stones originated.

Rock art provides another insight into the chronicle heritage of Indigenous people. The Bindal people have documented the presence of rock art at Cape Ferguson, citing drawings of circles representing shields, initiation and bora rings. Oral histories are transferred through time from one generation to another, delivering traditional knowledge and understanding about tools or technology. For example, Worrungu Bay near Cape Upstart is a significant area for the Juru (or Yuru) people as the bay is a long-standing meeting area for women, who collect and cook shellfish nearby.