Aboriginal culture and history

Booderee is a Koori owned place. It holds the evidence of the traditional owners' ancestry and with the wind, the water and all life reflected in the past, it is the home and spirit of the Wreck Bay people. Koori people are born of the land and have lived off the land forever.

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Aboriginal people existed in this region long before the sea rose to its current level and the present Bherwerre Peninsula was created. The oldest archaeological evidence of Aboriginal occupation in the region includes a site at Burrill Lake, about 30 kilometres south of Jervis Bay, dating to more than 20,000 years ago. At that time, the coastline would have been about 20 kilometres east of the present coast, and evidence of coastal Aboriginal communities would have been submerged as sea levels rose to the present level.

More than 100 prehistoric Aboriginal sites have been recorded on the Bherwerre Peninsula, some probably dating back to the stabilisation of the sea level about 6,000 years ago. The majority are shell middens, but there are also rock shelters, burial sites, ceremonial grounds, stone-flaking sites and axe-sharpening grooves. The distribution of these recorded sites emphasises the importance of the eastern end of Wreck Bay. The high density of midden sites here mirrors the preferred fishing zones of the present Community. Ceremonial bunan or bora grounds are known only from the immediate hinterland of this section of Wreck Bay, and nearly all known axe grinding groove sites are in the catchments of Mary and Summercloud Bays.

Booderee is an area which forms part of a network of sites, places and landscapes (both on land and in the water) that have helped provide generations with the knowledge and understanding of how to properly manage and live with these lands and waters.

Aboriginal people established camps where food and water were abundant, hunting and gathering were bountiful. The main sources of bush foods were yams, berries and native animals such as kangaroos, possums and echidnas.

Seafood has always been a major part of their diet. Oysters, muttonfish (abalone), pipis and mussels were easily found, especially at low tide. Resources were so abundant that huge piles of shells (middens) accumulated. Fish catches also proved plentiful, as the Aboriginal people's only competition for these tasty morsels were the predators of the ocean. Net-fishing has played and still plays a major role in the lives of the people of Wreck Bay. The main fish caught are whiting, bream, salmon and tailor.

Arrival of European settlers

Early historical records describe meetings between explorers and Kooris in the area. In the 1830s the impact of settlement led to a significant reduction in the Koori population as groups were marginalised and their lands expropriated. Aboriginal reserves were established during the late 1800s and, with time, the sizes of the reservations were reduced or the reserves revoked as the demand for coastal lands grew.

For more go to European history.

Establishment of the Wreck Bay Community

Despite the continuing pressure of settlement in the area, contemporary Aboriginal people started a small settlement at Summercloud Bay around the early 1900s. They favoured this area because of strong traditional and cultural ties, its closeness to both the bush and the sea for collection of food and other sources, and its distance from non-Aboriginal settlements. Initially, living shelters known as humpies were erected, made from timber and bark from local eucalypts. Other materials that drifted onto beaches with the incoming tides were also used. The decision to create this permanent settlement has enabled Koori cultural practices to survive.

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Koori people of Wreck Bay have always strongly pursued and been committed to the recognition of ownership of their traditional home in the Jervis Bay area. This commitment and pursuit for recognition has not wavered and has persevered through a number of changes to Government administration and management of the area.

The Wreck Bay School was built in 1924. The school was under the control of the "Mission Manager" and his wife until a full time school teacher was appointed in the early 1950's. The school eventually closed in 1964 and children attended integrated classes at the Jervis Bay Primary School.

From the early 1950's, the Aboriginal Welfare Board stationed a Manager in what was then known as the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Reserve. His status was virtually that of a police officer, controlling visitors entering and leaving the reserve, issuing rations to residents and administering the day to day affairs of the community.

Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community has evolved into a community that is striving towards self-determination. It provides community based employment in areas such as childcare, maintenance, land management, community health and administration.

Conserving culture

It is important to the Wreck Bay Community that their children maintain the knowledge of their ancestors. Youngsters learn about the uses of native vegetation for food and medicine, as well as how to collect seafood from the rock platforms. This knowledge will be passed down from one generation to another.

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Aboriginal cultural interpretive services are available to provide a local cultural and history perspective for school groups and the wider community regarding the Aboriginal heritage of the Jervis Bay/Wreck Bay region.

The long term goal of the community is to establish an economic base to ensure that the future provides an opportunity for the community's children to adapt to society in general whilst maintaining a link with the past. The community has a desire to be involved in the protection of the natural environment and cultural heritage values of the park and its surrounding areas.

The return of Booderee to Koori traditional owners

The first step in achieving their goals came with the granting by the Australian Government of 403 hectares of land under freehold title to the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council.

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In 1995 Jervis Bay National Park and the Jervis Bay Botanic Gardens were conferred on the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, provided these areas were leased back to the Director of National Parks to be managed as a national park and botanic gardens. The lease agreement provides for the park and Gardens to be jointly managed between the Director and the Council, in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, through a Management Plan prepared by the Director and the Booderee National Park Board of Management.

In 1997 the Council chose Booderee National Park and Booderee Botanic Gardens as the new name for the park and Gardens. 'Booderee' is an Aboriginal word from the Dhurga language meaning 'bay of plenty' or 'plenty of fish'.

The future

Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council seeks to be a respected equal and valued part of a culturally diverse Australian society. By controlling and managing its own lands and waters, the community aims to become self sufficient and able to freely determine its future and lifestyle. The community desires to do this by protecting its interests and values while preserving for future generations, its unique identity, heritage and culture