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Aboriginal Heritage of the Takayna

The takayna/Tarkine region of Tasmania’s North West is precious for many reasons.  Not only an environmental treasure and a haven for threatened species it is sacred to its Aboriginal custodians and home to ancient and enduring indigenous cultural heritage sites.

Named after one of the original indigenous groups in the state, the Tarkiner people who lived in the Sandy Cape area, the landscape bears witness to thousands of years of human habitation. Stone tools, ancient hut sites, seal hides, rock carvings and massive shell middens are testament to the millenia of continuous occupation.

As Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre land management supervisor Jarrod Edwards says, “Aboriginal people have a long and very deep connection to country and takayna is an area of deep historical and contemporary importance to our community”.

Jarrod, taking the NRM team from the Cradle Coast Authority to preminghana (west coast). Photo: Catherine Gale-Stanton

“The entire extent of the takayna coastline is a National Heritage-listed landscape because it is unique to this area of the world. The reason being is that around 2000 years ago Aboriginal people along this coastline developed a very specialised and highly unique occupation pattern not witnessed anywhere else in Tasmania or Australia.

“They began constructing huts and villages and began living in these areas on a semi-permanent basis instead of being truly nomadic. The reason for this was resource use and diet which primarily consisted of seal pups and shellfish. It is unique because evidence of these values are still relatively intact within the takayna landscape despite the time that has passed since invasion which is very unique in its own regards.”

The Tarkine, West Coast Tasmania

The takayna/Tarkine is sacred to its Aboriginal custodians. Photo: Henry Brydon

So what should you be aware of when you are visiting the area?

“Aboriginal heritage is protected by law in Tasmania especially the Western Tasmanian Aboriginal Cultural Landscape (National Heritage listed) so visitors need to be mindful of how they interact with Aboriginal values such as not touching, disturbing, removing or interfering with Aboriginal heritage,” Jarrod says.

“If they are not sure it is Aboriginal heritage then it is always best to not touch it anyway. Take nothing but photographs and memories and leave nothing but footprints!”

Jarrod advises that if you want to visit Aboriginal heritage places while in takayna, especially Aboriginal lands, then it is respectful and courteous to contact the owners of that land. Contact details are available on the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation’s website or from any TAC office.  If venturing into National Parks or Conservation Areas within takayna discuss the heritage values with Parks staff before visiting and obtain appropriate permits.

The Tarkine, West Coast Tasmania

Take nothing but photographs and memories and leave nothing but footprints. Photo: Henry Brydon

Two places in the Western Tasmanian Aboriginal Cultural Landscape (the coastal region running roughly from Marrawah in the north to Duck Creek in the south) of particular cultural significance that are easily accessible are:

  • laraturunawn/Sundown Point – one of the five recorded Aboriginal petroglyph (rock carving) sites on the West Coast. Starting in the small settlement of Nelson Bay, 11km from Arthur River, head north then take the inland track at the fork in the road to view the ancient rock carvings at the mouth of the Sundown Creek. Easy walk, 1.5 hours return.
  • nungu/West Point – a protected area of 580 ha where there are five sets of depressions including a village of nine huts and three single huts, as well as the best example of a large, complex midden containing shells and animal bones, measuring 90m long, 40m wide and 2.7m deep. Just a 2.7km drive off the main road near the surfing hotspot of Marrawah.

But the Tarkine region is not just about ancient Aboriginal cultural significance – it continues to be utilised and cared for by the local Aboriginal community today. As Jarrod explains, some of the major work undertaken includes successfully returning unique examples of these values to Aboriginal ownership such as Kings Run, a former cattle property.

“Our community has been tirelessly advocating for the continual protection of the area and will continue to do so,” he said. “We have been actively involved in removing exotic species form our lands especially weeds and also actively involve ourselves in educational initiatives within the takayna area.”

The Tarkine, West Coast Tasmania

The takayna/Tarkine region is precious for many reasons. Photo: Nick Green

Aboriginal and dual names of places in Tasmania

There are 14 official Aboriginal or dual names in lutruwita (Tasmania).  These names are in palawa kani, the revived language of Tasmanian Aborigines. Thirteen of these names were assigned under the Aboriginal and Dual Naming Policy, which was adopted by the State government  in 2012 after many years of lobbying by Aborigines. Six names were gazetted in 2014 and another seven were gazetted in 2016.

The 11 dual names are:         

truwana/Cape Barren Island

yingina/Great Lake

taypalaka/Green Point

kunanyi/Mt Wellington

wukalina/Mt William

kanamaluka/River Tamar

pinmatik/Rocky Cape

laraturunawn/Sundown Point

titima/Trefoil Island

takayna/The Tarkine

nungu/West Point

Two Aboriginal names for unbounded localities appear as stand-alone names (without an English name attached):

larapuna (which is the Bay of Fires)

putalina (which is Oyster Cove)

The 14th name is Narawntapu National Park, which replaced the name Asbestos Range National Park in 2000.  This is the only name which appears with an initial capital letter, as it was assigned before the policy was developed.

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