Aboriginal people have lived in the area known as New South Wales for at
least 45,000 years. Many sites around the state show the remains of
Aboriginal occupation, or are significant to Aboriginal communities
places are known as Aboriginal sites. They are important to Aboriginal
people for social, spiritual, historical, and commemorative reasons.
Many Aboriginal people have deep spiritual and emotional ties to
are over 35,000 known Aboriginal sites in NSW. They range from large
shell middens on the coast, to small surface scatters of stone artefacts
on the inland semi-arid plains.
Aboriginal sites are found all over the landscape, including:
towns and cities
along river banks and tracks
Different environments and cultural practices produce different types of
sites. European development has destroyed many sites, and those that
remain need to be protected.
Aboriginal sites can tell archaeologists a lot about the history of
Aboriginal people in NSW.
are places that show where Aboriginal people have lived. They contain
fireplaces, and occasionally food remains such as shells, bones and
are three main types of occupation sites:
midden is a 'rubbish dump', made up of the remains of edible shellfish.
It may also contain fish and animal bones, stone tools, and charcoal
from campfires. These remains show how Aboriginal people used their
environment. You'll find middens on the coast, and along the edges of
rivers and lakes in both coastal and inland zones.
Rock shelters with archaeological deposits
outcrops of rock such as sandstone or granite, overhangs may form
cave-type shelters. Aboriginal people stayed in these shelters. Over the
years, material would build up, including ashes from fires, sediments,
food, discarded tools and material from the cave roof. Archaeologists
can excavate these deposits in order to study the patterns of Aboriginal
life in the past. When undisturbed, these sites have high scientific
Open camp sites
sites are mostly surface scatters of stone, sometimes near fireplaces.
Recent studies have shown them to have significant scientific and
cultural value. If you come across an open camp site, please do not move
any artefacts from the spot where they lie.
An artefact is anything which has been made or modified by people. The
term 'stone artefact' includes both a finished product – usually a stone
tool – and the debris which was left behind when it was made.
artefacts are the most common form of archaeological evidence found in
Australia. In areas where the landscape has not been drastically altered
by European settlement, these artefacts can be found lying on the
surface, often in quite large numbers. They can also be uncovered by
erosion, road works, or ploughing.
How were stone tools made?
main methods were used to make stone tools: percussion flaking and
To make stone tools by percussion flaking, the Aboriginal toolmaker
first had to select an appropriate raw material. They preferred
fine-grained silica-based rocks, such as quartz, quartzite, silcrete,
and chert. These can all be flaked relatively easily.
First, a suitable piece of rock, known as the core, was selected. It was
struck by a second piece, the hammerstone. Smaller thin pieces of stone,
called flakes, were chipped off. This process had one of two aims - to
chip off a usable flake, or to shape the core itself into a tool.
flaking process produces a large amount of stone material, including
unused flakes, used flakes, hammerstones, used cores, and finished
tools. You can recognise this material by the characteristic marks on
the stone produced by the blow of the hammerstone. For example, the new
surface of a flake includes a round 'bump' while the core has a hollow
on its surface where the flake once was.
Archaeological evidence of stone grinding is not as common as that of
flaking. Toolmakers preferred hard, volcanic stones which can hold an
edge. Examples of these rocks include dolerite or basalt. The selected
piece of stone was usually shaped by flaking before it was ground.
Grinding was used to put the finishing touches on the shape of a tool,
and sharpen its cutting edge.
Ground implements were shaped on suitable surfaces such as sandstone
outcrops. In the Sydney district there are hundreds of grinding grooves.
Most commonly, these were used to sharpen axes or hatchets. Narrower
grooves were made by the sharpening of smaller implements, such as
chisels. You'll usually find grinding grooves on flat sandstone surfaces
Dishes for milling grain or ochre were also common. These were often
shaped by pecking, and had ground surfaces caused by wear.
What were stone tools used for?
only implements which early settlers described in detail when they
settled at Port Jackson were edge-ground axes. These were mounted on
wooden handles and seemed to be used as all-purpose tools for
stone tools were also used in woodworking. Some were set into handles
and used as chisels, saws, or knives. Others may have been used as spear
points, food preparation utensils, or tools to make nets, baskets, and
are sites where initiation ceremonies, marriage alliance ceremonies,
tribal meetings, and other important social functions were held. They
are places of great significance to Aboriginal people.
Carved trees are becoming rarer in NSW as trees decay and fall over or
are burnt. Aboriginal people used carved trees to mark burial and
ceremonial sites. Usually a section of the bark of the tree was removed
and a carving made on the exposed wood. These trees are still
significant to particular Aboriginal groups.
are trees from which a section of the bark and wood has been removed to
make canoes, shields, containers (coolamons), and other utensils and
weapons. Other trees have toeholds cut in them, for hunting possums or
arrangements range from simple mounds to complex ceremony sites. Some of
these may have a practical use, as hunting hides or fish traps. Others
may have a ceremonial role, for initiation or other religious purposes.
We do not know the purpose of many stone arrangements, but some are
still important and significant to Aboriginal groups.
What are Aboriginal objects and places?
Aboriginal objects are physical evidence of the use of an area by
Aboriginal people. They can also be referred to as 'Aboriginal sites',
'relics' or 'cultural material'.
Aboriginal objects include:
physical objects, such as stone tools, Aboriginal-built fences and
stockyards, scarred trees and the remains of fringe camps
material deposited on the land, such as middens
ancestral remains of Aboriginal people.
Handicrafts made by Aboriginal people for sale are not
'Aboriginal objects' under the
The NPW Act can also protect areas of land that have no Aboriginal
objects – no physical evidence of Aboriginal occupation or use. These
areas can be declared 'Aboriginal places'.
Minister for the Environment can declare an area to be an 'Aboriginal
place' if the minister believes that the place is or was of special
significance to Aboriginal culture. An area can have spiritual, natural
resource usage, historical, social, educational or other types of
How are Aboriginal objects and places protected?
NPW Act protects all Aboriginal objects and Aboriginal places in NSW. It
is an offence to do any of the following things without the permission
of the Department of Environment and Conservation (penalties can apply):
disturb or move an Aboriginal object
excavate land for the purpose of discovering an Aboriginal object
knowingly destroy, damage or deface an Aboriginal object or
knowingly cause or permit the destruction, damage or defacement of,
an Aboriginal object or Aboriginal place.
How can you find out if there are Aboriginal objects or places on
Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) keeps a register of all
Aboriginal objects and Aboriginal places in NSW. The register is called
the Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System (AHIMS). It was
previously known as the Aboriginal Site Register.
can search AHIMS to discover if an Aboriginal object has been recorded,
or an Aboriginal place declared, on a parcel of land.
Please note that surveys for Aboriginal objects have not been done in
many parts of NSW. Aboriginal objects may exist on a parcel of land even
though they have not been recorded in AHIMS.
you discover something that you think should be registered as an
Aboriginal object, you should
contact the AHIMS
What should you do if you plan to do something that may
disturb or excavate an Aboriginal object?
you are going to disturb or excavate land to discover an Aboriginal
object, or disturb or move an Aboriginal object, you will need to apply
for a permit under section 87 of the
considering whether to issue a section 87 permit, DEC will take into
views of the Aboriginal community about the proposed activity - see
guidelines for community consultation
objectives and justification for the proposed activity
appropriateness of the methodology to achieve the objectives of the
The cost of making a Section 87 permit application is as follows:
Permits relating to owner-occupied dwelling: $25
other permits: $100
What should you do if you are doing something that may
destroy or damage an Aboriginal object or Aboriginal place?
you plan to do something that is likely to destroy, damage or deface an
Aboriginal object or Aboriginal place, you will need to apply for
consent under section 90 of the
considering whether to issue a section 90 consent, DEC will take into
significance of the Aboriginal object(s) or Aboriginal place(s) to
effect of the proposed impact and the mitigation measures proposed
justification of the proposed impacts
outcomes of the Aboriginal community consultation regarding the
proposed impact and conservation outcomes - see
guidelines for community consultation.
The cost of making a section 90 consent application is as follows:
to a owner-occupied dwelling costing up to $100,000: $60
Other work costing up to $100,000: $100
between $100,000 - $250,000: $150
between $250,000 - $500,000: $250
between $500,000 - $1 million: $400
between $1 million - $2 million: $750
between $2 million - $5 million: $1000
over $5 million: $2000.
Can Aboriginal objects be transferred to Aboriginal
Aboriginal communities wish to have care of Aboriginal objects which
have been excavated, disturbed or moved by development activities,
erosion or other processes.
NPW Act allows the transfer of Aboriginal objects to an Aboriginal
person or Aboriginal organisation for safekeeping. The person or
organisation must enter into a care agreement with DEC.
care agreement is a document that sets out the obligations of DEC and
the Aborigional person or Aboriginal organisation for the safekeeping of
the transferred Aboriginal object(s). The Aboriginal person or
organisation does not become the owner of the Aboriginal objects.
can apply for a care agreement using the application form below. There
is no cost to do this.
Aboriginal cultural heritage: standards and guidelines
standards and guidelines in this kit help promote predictability,
transparency, and best practice in Aboriginal heritage management. While
written for heritage practitioners, it is hoped this kit will also prove
useful to development proponents who wish to know the standard of work
that consultants are expected to produce.
Information obtained through