Sandstone overhangs were used by Aboriginal people for shelter and meeting places. Sandstone shelters often contain artwork and hand stencils on the walls sometimes so faint they are barely visible. Sandstone shelters are highly valued by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Climbing on Aboriginal shelters is disrespectful. Leaving rubbish and marking the sandstone defaces and devalues the heritage and significance of the sites. Walking carelessly through the shelter can destroy shell midden material. Rock climbing or defacing Aboriginal shelters is illegal and fines apply. Please help to protect these important sites.
The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 is the primary legislation that protects Aboriginal heritage in NSW. Aboriginal sites and places in national parks and Council parks have the same level of protection. Recent changes to the Act make it a prosecutable offence to harm or desecrate an Aboriginal object or place whether you know its significance or not. Significant increases in fines have been introduced of up to $22,000 for individuals.
The features that make a good climbing crag are also characteristics of a good Aboriginal shelter. A good shelter provides protection from the elements and is dry when it rains. A level earthen floor makes for a comfortable place to sleep. If the sandstone surfaces are hard and not crumbly then it will be more suitable for artwork and hand stencils. If your crag has these features then you are more than likely climbing on an Aboriginal site. Local crags that are Aboriginal sites include “Bonnet Bay Cave”, “Moonah Road” at Alfords Point, “The Villas” and “Prices Cave” both in Sutherland.
Aboriginal shelters near estuaries usually contain shells and charcoal deposited in thick compacted layers called a midden. Shell midden material is the result of accumulated meals of local shellfish such as oysters, cockles and mud whelks. In some shelters there may only be a few individual shells. Shells and other objects present in shelters provide information about traditional Aboriginal culture and are a direct link to the past.
Sutherland Shire Council is working with other land owners, the Aboriginal community, rock climbers and the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage to identify Aboriginal shelters that are under threat or risk of damage. Educational signage is being installed at some sites to highlight the significance of Aboriginal heritage and advise climbers that climbing is prohibited. Investigations will be made into the process and approval requirements for the removal of chalk and rehabilitation at some sites. We can all contribute to the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage by always respecting its presence in the landscape, and considering carefully how to minimise impact on the land and Aboriginal sites.
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