Traditional owners welcome greater engagement over World Heritage status for Flinders Ranges

Home Arts Traditional owners welcome greater engagement over World Heritage status for Flinders Ranges
Traditional owners welcome greater engagement over World Heritage status for Flinders Ranges

The team leading the bid for a World Heritage listing for South Australia’s Flinders Rangers has welcomed government support to increase engagement with the region’s traditional owners.  

The federal government will be providing $500,000 over the next four years to go towards empowering First Nations people to identify priorities for the protection of the heritage of the Flinders Ranges. 

The region was nominated for a tentative listing as a World Heritage site with UNESCO on behalf of the South Australian government and its traditional owners, the Adnyamathanha people, early last year.

Adnyamathanha elder Vince Coulthard said while the initial application predominantly focused on the site’s geological heritage, being scattered with fossils believed to be more than half-a-billion years old, he believed the stories of the region’s first inhabitants deserved global recognition.  

Traditional owner Vince Coulthard
Mr Coulthard says the Adnyamathanha people want global recognition for the region.(ABC News: Tony Hill)

“I said, if you’re going to look at the geological history of the Flinders and it’s going to be World Heritage recognition, then I’d like to see that the Aboriginal cultural interest is also considered here, otherwise we just won’t support it.

“It goes without saying that the Adnyamathanha people want this recognition.”

Occupying land before time

Mr Coulthard had been part of a group of traditional owners who meet with the state’s Department for Environment and Water on a regular basis to discuss the bid application. 

He said it was exciting for the Adnyamathanha people to be included in the process.

“Quite a number engraving sites for instance they’re the oldest artwork in the world and some of them date back to 40,000 years.

“Aboriginal people occupied this land along with the megafauna … that’s got to be of world interest.

“We say we were occupying the land before time again.”

An aerial view of Wilpena Pound covered in mist.
An aerial view of Wilpena Pound, one of the prominent features of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.(Supplied: Julie Fletcher Photography)

Mr Coulthard said the creation story of how the Flinders Ranges was formed by two akurru, the Adnyamathanha word for serpent, had been passed on for generations.

“If you get up on St Mary’s Peak and you look north you’ll see the trails of the two serpents that travelled down.

“As they came they pushed up the earth, forming the ranges, ABC and Heysen Range.

“They came down to circle and form the walls of Wilpena Pound, they’re the two arkurru that are laying there today.

“If you along the base to the western side of the range you will see a lot of the fossils in the Brachina Gorge area of some of the first living cells.”

The Brachina Gorge, in the Flinders Ranges. 
The Brachina Gorge in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.(Supplied: Pamela Inverarity)

Evolution preserved 

Acting director for the National Parks program Jason Irving said getting the informed consent from the Adnyamathanha community was a vital step in the application process. 

“We’re really looking forward to getting those details and working with the federal government and the Adnyamathanha community to use that funding to bring that partnership closer together and have the Adnyamathanha people really close in the bid.”

Mr Irving has been managing the bid team for the past few years, and said while achieving World Heritage status generally took up to 20 years in other places, the team was hoping to secure it in less than 10. 

“We think there’s a really strong argument for how the Flinders Ranges shows better than anywhere else on earth the evolution of animal life.”

Dickinsonia fossil in the Flinders Ranges 
Mr Irving says the Flinders Ranges showcases the evolution of animal life. (Supplied: Jason Irving)

“In the Ediacaran period you can see the beginning of mobility and sexual reproduction and then in the early Cambrian period after that is where you see the beginning of animals that we all really descend from.

“While those things you see in other parts of the world there’s no where you see them better than in the Flinders Ranges such a complete story that’s so well preserved.”

Mr Iving said local communities had been really embracing of the bid, and could see the benefit of putting the Flinders Ranges on the map even further.

“It’s not about getting millions of people to come and visit … 

“What we do want is for the place to be well managed, well cared for and for people coming to appreciate what makes it so special.

“Fingers crossed we could be on the World Heritage list for the Flinders in 2026 or 2027, that’s definitely our optimistic scenario for that.”

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