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Indigenous Heritage

A rich and diverse heritage

The Northern Territory contains a rich and diverse range of Aboriginal archaeological places, which are evidence of the occupation of the Northern Territory by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years.

Such places include artefact scatters, shell middens, earth mounds, quarries, stone arrangements, rock shelters, rock art, and places that provide evidence of early contact between Aboriginal people and Europeans.  

The Northern Territory coastline also contains evidence of visitation by Macassan people, who sailed from present-day Indonesia from the early 1700s until the early 1900s to gather ‘trepang’. Evidence of these visits includes the remains of stone fireplaces and smoke houses, tamarind trees planted by the Macassans, and fragments of earthenware and porcelain. There were cultural exchanges between Macassan people and Aboriginal people.

In the Northern Territory, all Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places and objects are automatically protected by the Heritage Act. This reflects the importance of such places to Aboriginal people and to the wider community, including for their scientific value.

Managing information

The Heritage Branch maintains a database of all known Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places in the Northern Territory, for the purpose of informing decision-making about the management of such places.

Information held in the database is treated as culturally sensitive, and the Heritage Branch will only give out information contained in the database to those who have a legitimate interest, and where this is in the interests of appropriate management of Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places.

In accordance with the Heritage Act, the Heritage Branch will require that a copy of any archaeological survey work carried out in the Northern Territory which results in the discovery of any Aboriginal or Macassan archaeological place be supplied to the Heritage Branch for inclusion of relevant information in the database.

Managing the Impact of Proposed Development

In any situation where development is proposed, and there is a likelihood of the presence of Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places, the Heritage Branch should be approached for advice.

The Heritage Branch will provide advice to proponents about what steps, if any, need to be taken in order to ensure compliance with the Act;  including information about the existence of known Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places, and where there are no known places, advice about the likelihood of such places existing.

In a situation where adequate information is not available to assess the impact of the proposed development, the Heritage Branch will require that an archaeological survey be undertaken by the proponent, in accordance with a Scope of Works provided by the Heritage Branch.

Archaeological Surveys and Research

Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places are important to Aboriginal people as part of their continuing culture and identity, and Aboriginal explanations about the meaning and significance of such places must be acknowledged. Aboriginal people have the right to be involved in decision-making concerning such places.

The Heritage Branch will require that Traditional Owners are:

  • notified of the intent to carry out archaeological survey work or research;
  • involved in fieldwork if possible;
  • consulted about progress, and informed of findings and recommendations in a manner that is easy for  them to understand; and
  • acknowledged for their contribution.

Archaeological consultants shall comply with the policies of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists (AACI), in particular the Policy on consulting with Aboriginal communities.

Disturbing Archaeological Places

The Heritage Branch will endeavour to limit the impact of proposed development on Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places.

In a situation where impact is unavoidable, and a proposal is put forward to disturb an Aboriginal or Macassan archaeological place (including for research purposes), the Heritage Branch will generally require the proponent to submit an application form, (word version) | (pdf version), describing what is proposed.

If considered appropriate, the Heritage Branch may on occasion utilise the discretion available in the Act to give permission for small-scale disturbance (such as the relocation of isolated stone artefacts) without the need for a formal application.

In all cases, the Heritage Branch will require the recording of places and objects prior to disturbance.

The Heritage Branch will negotiate the best possible outcome in the circumstances in terms of the fate of artefacts, with an emphasis on handing them over to Traditional Owners if that is possible.