What is Aboriginal Heritage?
Aboriginal cultural heritage is the tangible and intangible legacy of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people. It refers to those places, objects and traditions that have been passed down to us from past generations. It also includes intangible places where there may be no physical evidence of past cultural activities. These include places of spiritual or ceremonial significance or trade and travel routes.
2. What is the relevant legislation for Aboriginal heritage?
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975 (the Act) administered by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, is the primary legislation for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Tasmania.
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975, an Aboriginal heritage site is referred to as a 'relic', and defined as:
- a. any artefact, painting, carving, engraving, arrangement of stones, midden, or other object made or created by any of the original inhabitants of Australia or the descendants of any such inhabitants;
- b. any object, site, or place that bears signs of the activities of any such original inhabitants or their descendants; or
- c. the remains of the body of such an original inhabitant or of a descendant of such an inhabitant who died before the year 1876 that are not interred in -
- i. any land that is or has been held, set aside, reserved, or used for the purposes of a burial ground or cemetery pursuant to any Act, deed, or other instrument; or
- ii. a marked grave in any other land.
Part 7 of the Act provides for the declaration of protected sites by the Minister on the recommendation of the Director of National Parks and Wildlife.
Part 14 of the Act provides specific protection for Aboriginal relics by establishing offences of harm. Harm is defined to mean destroying, damaging, defacing, concealing or interfering with a relic, moving a relic from the land or selling a relic.
3. Why is it important that we protect and preserve Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage?
Tasmanian Aboriginal culture is one of the oldest living cultures on earth. Sites bearing signs of occupation and past traditions and practices have been scientifically dated to at least 35,000 years ago. Tasmanian Aboriginal people lived through ice ages and major geographical change such as the sea level rise which inundated the Bassian Plains, which now separates Tasmania from mainland Australia. Tasmanian Aboriginal people are the only group of humans to evolve in isolation for 10,000 years. Their culture and heritage is unlike any other.
Aboriginal heritage places, both tangible and intangible, provide a spiritual link for Aboriginal people to their tradition, culture and sense of belonging to Country.
4. How do I find out if there is Aboriginal heritage on my property?
If you are planning a development/works outside an existing footprint you should contact Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania (AHT) at the initial planning stage. AHT can advise you if there is any recorded Aboriginal heritage on your property, or any potential for Aboriginal heritage, by undertaking a desktop assessment conducted by AHT staff. A desktop assessment determines the need for any further Aboriginal heritage assessment. There is no fee for desktop assessments, and application forms can be found on our
Forms & Documents
5. What is an Aboriginal Heritage Assessment?
It is a detailed investigation, involving a physical survey of a study area undertaken by a heritage practitioner. An Aboriginal Heritage Assessment determines whether Aboriginal heritage sites are present within the study area and if that heritage will be impacted by the proposed works/development. The report produced as a result of the assessment will also provide recommendations to ensure proponents comply with the requirements of the
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975.
For quality assurance, all Aboriginal Heritage Assessments should follow the standards and guidelines set out in the
Guide to the Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Process, available on our
Forms and Documents page.
A list of archaeologists and Aboriginal Heritage Officers currently working in Tasmania can also be found on our
Forms & Documents page.
6. What is a Desktop Assessment?
It is an assessment of a study area undertaken by AHT staff to determine if a proposed development will impact known Aboriginal heritage sites or areas with high potential for Aboriginal heritage. A Desktop Assessment determines the need for any further Aboriginal heritage assessment.
7. What is the Aboriginal Heritage Register (AHR)?
The Aboriginal Heritage Register,(AHR) was launched in November 2014 to replace a number of internal systems, including the Tasmanian Aboriginal Site Index (TASI). The AHR records information about Aboriginal heritage sites and supports many of Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania's (AHT) business processes. Currently there are over 13,000 sites listed on the AHR.
Information held in the AHR ranges from hand written archaeological excavation notes from the 1970s, through to state-of-the-art digital imaging. Supportive documentation, which is intricately linked to the database, is in the form of 3000 unpublished Aboriginal heritage reports and thousands of slides and photographs, most of which have now been digitised.
Each site location is recorded in a Geographical Information System in order that meaningful data can be extracted by AHT staff. The AHR is not publicly available, however application can be made to AHT to access information pertaining to your property. The application form to access this information can be found on the Forms and Documents page.
8. What is an Aboriginal Heritage Register (AHR) search?
The AHR search is a request for access to the information contained within the AHR for a specific site/s or study area. An AHR search is generally undertaken by a heritage practitioner prior to an Aboriginal heritage assessment. However, proponents or planning consultants can also request an AHR search.
There is no fee for an AHR search and application forms can be found on our
Forms and Documents
9. How does Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania (AHT) work with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community?
AHT works together with the Aboriginal community to strengthen and promote partnerships to drive positive change in the protection and management of Aboriginal heritage.
AHT works closely with the Aboriginal Heritage Council and individual Aboriginal organisations.
Seeking opportunities and progressing partnerships is a priority of AHT in strengthening outcomes.
10. At what stage of my planning should I consider Aboriginal heritage?
As soon as possible. Preferably at the initial planning stage so that your development is not delayed. ContactAHT for further advice.
Who are Aboriginal Heritage Officers?
Aboriginal Heritage Officers are Aboriginal people, with specialist training and skills that have been endorsed by the Aboriginal community. They investigate areas of land for the presence or absence of Aboriginal heritage and provide advice on the protection and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage.
12. When is it necessary to apply for a permit under the
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975?
For activities that will impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage, the
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975 has an Aboriginal heritage permit process.
A person must apply to the Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage for a permit if they are proposing to:
- Destroy, damage, deface, conceal or interfere with a relic
- Make a copy or replica of a carving or engraving that is a relic
- Remove a relic from where it is found
- Sell or offer for sale a relic
- Remove a relic from Tasmania
- Excavate on Crown Land in search of a relic
The Director of National Parks and Wildlife, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment considers every Permit application made on the prescribed form and makes a recommendation to the Minister.
The Aboriginal Heritage Council also considers every Permit application and makes a recommendation to the Minister.
How do I apply for a permit under the
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975?
A permit application
is available from Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania. The survey report and all other relevant documentation must accompany the completed application and submitted to Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania. For further information, contact AHT.
Who makes decisions about permits under the
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975?
In the first instance, all recommendations and considerations are presented to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife as per the
Aboriginal Relics Act, who then makes a recommendation to the Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage. The Minister considers the protection of Aboriginal heritage along with economic, social and environmental considerations.
How will I find out if a permit under the
Aboriginal Relics Act 1975 has been granted for my development/project?
You will be contacted in writing by Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania as soon as a decision has been made by the Minister.
Can a decision to refuse a permit under the
Aboriginal Relics Act be appealed?
Decisions can only be appealed through the Supreme Court of Tasmania.
Where can I find someone to come to my school, club or workplace to talk about Aboriginal heritage?
The Aboriginal Sharers of Knowledge Program (ASK), designed specifically for schools, has Ambassadors available with a wide range of knowledge and expertise in Aboriginal culture and history which complements curriculum in Tasmanian schools. The program is only available to Government schools. To access this program please contact
Where can I get help to trace my family tree?
For those seeking information on eligibility requirements to access Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander specific programs and services delivered by the Tasmanian Government, refer to the
Aboriginal Eligibility Policy