Lake Condah and Budj Bim
In January 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the Western District of Victoria to announce that the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was being nominated by Australia for inclusion in the World Heritage Tentative List. It is the first Australian site to be nominated exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural and heritage values and is expected to become Australia’s twentieth UNESCO World Heritage site.10
The Budj Bim landscape is the lava field formed by the eruption of Mt Eccles, and it surrounds Lake Condah. It is the country of the Gunditjmara people who, over 6000 years ago, farmed and trapped eels. They dug a complex system of ponds, channels and weirs to hold and trap eels, and used woven baskets to catch the eels and divert them downstream when the ponds were full. This constant supply of food meant that the Gunditjmara gave up their nomadic life and built stone huts near their eel ponds and within sight of the now dormant volcano Mt Eccles. The Gunditjmarra believe that the creation spirit Budj Bim revealed himself in the landscape as a volcano. Thirty thousand years ago Budj Bim shared his blood and teeth with the people in the form of a lava flow which was witnessed by the Gunditjmara. This lava flow forms the areas that make up the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and the home and oral history of the Gunditjmara people.11
Pages on Lake Condah from Notebook #17.
Edmund Gill clearly understood something of the spiritual connection that the Aboriginal people had with the land, and their deep knowledge of it. He acknowledged that: “they were a part of the country and the country was a part of them.”12
Gill’s notebooks contain many diagrams, photographs and notes relating to the Lake Condah area; he clearly found the geology and archaeology of the region fascinating. In notebook 53 he comments: “In stony rises from Mt. Eccles semi-circular or U-shaped mounds of basaltic rocks. Walls of huts 1.3m high. Roofed with saplings of bark. Built in clusters of 10-20. Up to 1000 aboriginals lived on fish, eels etc. Clay pipes and bottle fragments show used to … time of Europeans. … Immense complex of fish traps consisting of lines of stones & canals made by ripping out basalt.”13
Gill studied and wrote about the geology of the Lake Condah region and its many features and this can be seen in his field notebooks and published work.14
It is the research and fieldwork of scientists like Edmund Gill and others that can contribute to processes such as heritage nominations and make an ongoing contribution to debates about the ways in which we use and appreciate the land.