Planning for the Illawarra Shoalhaven acknowledges more than 20,000 years of continuous Aboriginal connection to the land in the region.The Illawarra Shoalhaven Regional Plan recognises that, as part of the world’s oldest living culture, traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owners and custodians of the Australian continent and adjacent islands share a unique bond to Country — a bond forged through thousands of years travelling across lands and waterways for ceremony, religion, trading and seasonal migration.
Nestled in between the coast and the Illawarra escarpment, the Illawarra Shoalhaven is of cultural and spiritual significance to the Dharawal and Dhurga speaking people.
Having both a reliance on and responsibility to the land, Aboriginal people in the Illawarra Shoalhaven have always made efficient use of the abundance of natural resources. The Five Islands, now off the coast of Port Kembla, were connected to the mainland where Aboriginal people harvested sea birds and eggs. To maintain their spiritual attachment to Sea Country, Aboriginal people set up camps along the coastline where they would fish and trade. They would camp and meet at prominent locations along the coastline, including Sandon Point and Bass Point.
An established community at Wreck Bay, just south of Jervis Bay, had a strong reliance on fishing, where men, women and children worked together in commercial fishing ventures using knowledge passed on by older community members. Further north at Hill 60, Aboriginal fisherman supplied local markets until the Australian Defence Force overtook the area during World War Two.
Aboriginal people would traverse further inland to utilise the mosaic of wetlands and lagoons that made up the floodplains of Lake Illawarra. Setting up camp in gunyahs (timber and bark huts) around water bodies such as Coomaditchy Lagoon and the Shoalhaven floodplains, Aboriginal people would gather crustacea, fish, tortoise and water birds, including black ducks and their eggs.
Habitats lining the Minnamurra River provided shelter for gathering, bathing and healing. The Shoalhaven and Kangaroo rivers were important travel routes for Aboriginal people, while on the banks of Bomaderry Creek Aboriginal campers shared their world with the glossy black cockatoo.
Local Aboriginal people would retreat further inland, making use of the shelter provided by the rock overhangs and caves dotted along the escarpment including the two sister mountains, Mount Keira and Mount Kembla, and the Cullunghutti and Coolangatta mountains along the Shoalhaven Plateau.
Aboriginal people maintain a strong belief that if we care for Country, it will care for us. This requires Country to be cared for throughout the process of design and development.
The NSW Government champions a Connecting with Country approach to give effect to statutory objectives that require Aboriginal culture and heritage to be sustainably managed in the built environment.
Using comprehensive and respectful approaches, planning for the Illawarra Shoalhaven can build capacity and pathways for knowledge sharing between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
Sea Wall, Port Kembla