2.1 - Gumbaynggirr Heritage

Gumbaynggirr are the traditional owners of the land between Red Rock to Nambucca Heads and inland to Grafton, Guyra and Nimboyda.

Archaeological evidence from this region suggests that the Gumbaynggirr people (or other local Indigenous nations) have been within this area for at least 6000 years.

This is demonstrated in the middens (gatherings of shells, fish bones, animal bones and coal in deposits) that are found 5km north of Woolgoolga on the sand dunes.

Recently, archaeologists have determined that these sources are of this age. Other ample evidence of indigenous occupation (although it may be hard to prove Gumbaynggirr occupation) is abound in this area for at least 20 000 years.

Photo: au.timeout.com

Photo: expedition360.com

Photo: survival.org.au

Photo: Norm Michener

Woolgoolga Lake bush tucker walk

Photo: Kevin Starkey and Greg Stevens joined forces to conduct the Woolgoolga Lake and Beach Walk in 2010

In 2010 it was possible to discover the abundant fish and bird life of the Woolgoolga Lake with Coffs Ambassador Greg Stevens and learn about the local bush tucker from Aboriginal Coffs Ambassador Kevin Starkey.

The two men will joined forces to conduct a medium-grade one kilometre walk along the Woolgoolga Lake foreshore and across to the beach.

Those on the walk were able to see local flora and fauna, including the lakeside flying fox colony, birds of prey and Aboriginal food and medicine plants.

Coffs By Nature offers free events including Bush Tucker Walks, Flora and Fauna Tours and Gumbaynggirr Language Classes. Or ring the Coffs Harbour Visitor Information Centre on 02 6648 4990.

Aboriginal Land Rights


No-one knows when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) people first arrived in Australia. Evidence suggests it happened some 70 000 years ago, and perhaps much longer.

Land was and is central to Indigenous societies, cultures and religions. This land and its environment was managed, nurtured, protected and respected by Aboriginal people in a cyclical process of birth, death and renewal that is central to much of Aboriginal philosophy. For Aboriginal Australians the land is the core of all spirituality, identity and purpose. This relationship is central to all issues that are important to Aboriginal people today. Aboriginal people are part of this land and always will be. 

The land rights story is the history of Australia, and in a sense, has been tied to the Reconciliation movement itself. When the British first colonised Australia they did not enter into a treaty with the local people, as they had done in other countries such as Canada and New Zealand. They claimed that Indigenous people did not have sovereignty that could be recognised, and that the land was owned by no-one. It was on this basis they took control of Australia from Indigenous Australians and formed government. 

The foundation of all property rights in Australia is built on this shaky basis - this lie about the first Australian people and their land. Indigenous people have a long history of fighting for recognition and to reclaim the land that was taken from them. The fight continues today.

Invasion and Colonisation

When the First Fleet arrived in January 1788, Britain took formal possession of Australia. They encountered an unfamiliar land occupied by people they didn’t understand. The British took control of Australia without consent and without negotiating with the Indigenous people.

The British declared that the continent was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one. Of course, this was not true. Indigenous people had a complex system for ownership and management of land belonging to different clans and nations.

By declaring the land to be ‘terra nullius’ the British were able to claim that they had ‘discovered’ the land. Under international law ‘terra nullius’ land could be taken over by anyone who would put it to productive use. The only other way for one nation to take rightful control over another nation is through agreement or through war.

While no official war was declared the arrival and settlement of the British in Australia was not peaceful. There were many conflicts as Indigenous people resisted being pushed off their lands. For more detail about the history of early Indigenous resistance see the History Issue page.


Once the land had been declared ‘terra nullius’ the British felt no need to negotiate with the local Indigenous people. In 1834 John Batman claimed to have made an agreement with the Aboriginal people for 200,000 hectares in the Port Philip District in exchange for money and various items. The Government disallowed the treaty however, on the grounds that the land was owned by the Crown, and Batman was only an individual so was not able to make a deal involving the Queen’s land.

Resettlement and dispossession

Once the pastoral (farming) industry developed, white settlement expanded fast. Large tracts of Crown land were leased to farmers to use. Some of these leases given to farmers by the British did not exclude Aboriginal rights, and some groups of Aboriginal people continued to live off the land. Aboriginal people were often prepared to share their country if the land was respected and they were allowed to share in some of the wealth that was produced. This led to cooperative relationships or mutual coexistence in some areas.

However, as more settlers arrived in Australia Aboriginal people were shunted further away from their traditional land onto unwanted land, or reserves. Sometimes the forced movements were peaceful, but often there were open conflicts. Much of Aboriginal resistance has been written out of Australian history, but has become better known in recent times.

Aboriginal Heritage (Government departments and programs)

NSW State Level

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) is a separate office within the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Grants are available

Project purpose: to provide funding for projects that conserve, promote and increase understanding of Aboriginal heritage in NSW.

Federal Level

The Office for the Arts (OFTA) is the Australian Government’s arts and culture policy and funding body.

The Office for the Arts invites applications for funding under the following categories:


WilderQuest is a program incorporating an online environment and in-nature experiences, developed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to encourage children and their families to spend time in nature. WilderQuest aims to inspire children to learn more about nature and Aboriginal and Indigenous Australian culture while having fun.

Panel 2.1 - Gumbaynggirr Heritage