Story at a glance

  • The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape holds waterways constructed by indigenous Australians
  • The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains a massive network of waterways created by the ancient Gunditjmara people thousands of years ago.
  • Now, researchers and experts have uncovered even more waterways on the site after fires burned away plants and forests.

The Australian bushfires have decimated millions of acres of land and billions of species. But the natural disaster has also revealed something new: ancient waterways engineered by aboriginal Australians.

The network of waterways is collectively part of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and is a protected UNESCO world heritage site. The series of canals is approximately 6,000 years old — older than the Egyptian pyramids. 

Originally made to catch eels and fish, the aquaculture system is primarily composed of a mixture of weirs, channels and dams made from volcanic rocks. It was built by the indigenous Gunditjmara people, native to the region now known as south of the Australian state Victoria. 

As part of an intertribal restoration project in 2002, the Gunditjmara community successfully gained the world heritage listing and further developed the waterways and other natural resources sustainably. 

Speaking to CNN, Mark Mellington, the district manager for Forest Fire Management Victoria, said that the fire near the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was caused by a lightning strike this past December, spreading around 3 miles near the heritage parks.

Though the land suffered some damage, Gunditjmara officials found new channels hidden behind existing vegetation that extended about 82 feet, making estimates of the aquaculture system larger than previously recorded. 

Gunditjmara representative Denis Rose said that “it was a surprise continually finding new ones that the fires revealed,” adding that other aboriginal structures were found along the way.

A long-awaited dose of rainfall helped add vital moisture to the region and prevent further bushfire damage. 

The new discovery, although another casualty in this year’s bushfire season, could help experts learn more about ancient Gunditjmara society.

Published on Jan 22, 2020