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First Nations' values

First Nations' values – Traditional values of wetlands


Connections between catchments. Artwork by John Locke

Values of wetlands for Traditional Owners

Wetland ecosystems are of material and cultural importance to Indigenous people; many have profound cultural significance and values.
Almost all wetland plant and animal species have some form of traditional use, particularly vegetation, crustaceans, fish, reptiles, mammals and waterbirds (particularly their eggs), or cultural significance (e.g. totemic significance).

Historically, significant resources for traditional ownership clustered around areas of greatest biodiversity, such as along ecotones (transition areas between two or more ecological communities) which include wetlands.

  • Food, medicine and fibre resources

    Example: Nardoo Marsilea drummondii and common bulrushes Typha spp., goannas for oil

  • Tools and food and fibre processing

    Example: Forest red gum Eucalyptus tereticornis, coolibah E. coolibah and river red gum E.camaldulensis supplied material for manufacturing canoes, containers and weapons

  • Cultural activities, story places, seasonal indicators

    Example: Traditional lore records the formation of crater lakes Eacham, Barrine and Euramoo in the Atherton Tablelands 13 000 years BCE.

  • Historical significance

    Example: recorded campsite at Mutton Hole wetlands, southern Gulf.

What’s important for Traditional Owners

  • Cultural knowledge that is transferred from generation to generation
  • Connectedness of landscape that allows it to be managed holistically on an ecosystem or habitat level rather than from the focus of an individual species.

Valuing Traditional Owner contribution

Sharing knowledge with Traditional Owners can provide evidence on which to base management.

  • In 2008, the South-East Queensland Traditional Owners Alliance (SEQTOA) worked with Mununjali Traditional Owners on a Wetlands Cultural Values Mapping pilot project

Shared management can be a partnership between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

  • Reef Plan recognises that Aboriginal people want to continue their association with wetlands and involvement in the protection and healing of country and culture.

Aboriginal involvement in wetlands management

Aboriginal knowledge of wetlands management provides an important basis for natural resource management which has evolved over several hundred generations of people living on and managing custodial responsibility for country. See A roadmap for engagement with First Nations People, a guide to engaging with First Nations peoples' to integrate Traditional Knowledge, stories and connection to country with managing rivers.

Additional information

Scar tree, Photo by DESI

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Last updated: 30 August 2016

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2016) First Nations' values – Traditional values of wetlands, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation