About 30,000 years ago, southwest Australia’s Budj Bim volcano exploded in an act of molten creativity. Lava reshaped the landscape into a complex of basalt flows, an act that the Gunditjmara Aboriginal people understood to be the work of the Ancestral Being, Budj Bim. Over time, the lava cooled and the landscape became a vast, fertile wetland. Around 6,600 years ago, the Gunditjmara people began their own act of creation, re-heating the basalt to shape the wetlands into one of the world’s largest and oldest aquaculture systems, now known as the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape. After a long fight to reclaim their land and culture from the Australian government, Gunditjmara rangers are once again caring for the landscape, and offering visitors tours.
The Budj Bim aquaculture system is older than Egypt’s oldest pyramids. In 2019 it was recognized with a UNESCO World Heritage Designation for its stunning complexity and cultural significance. Consisting of 24,500 acres of elaborate channels and dams, the complex serves as a perfect habitat for kooyang, or short-finned eels, which Gunditjmara people would catch with hand-woven grass baskets. The steady food supply allowed the once-nomadic Gunditjmara to develop a settled society and construct the stone houses that still dot the landscape today.
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