The Port Phillip and Western Port region is the country of the Wurundjeri, Boonerwrung, Wathaurong and Taungerong language groups.
These groups are part of the Kulin Nation and have strong cultural connections with this land. Aboriginal culture holds an inherent ethic of land stewardship incorporating a belief system that places Traditional Owners as both custodians of and belonging to the land.
The Indigenous communities of the region are its Traditional Owners – the Kulin people and the people of other Indigenous nations who were displaced from their own country to this region’s missions in the 19th Century or who arrived more recently for economic and family reasons.
Although relatively small in population and in the area of land they own and manage, Indigenous people bring a unique perspective and an unprecedented history of land stewardship to our approach to catchment management.
There are legal as well as ethical imperatives attached to protecting the heritage of the region’s Indigenous people and the Indigenous communities of the region are best placed to advise on land and waterway management practices to retain these values.
More than 4,000 sites and places of cultural heritage significance in the region are registered with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria. These sites, and others that are not yet registered, are valuable to the community as a record of the region’s heritage.
Whether registered or not, all sites, objects, places and folklore of aboriginal cultural significance are afforded legal protection under relevant Victorian and/or Commonwealth legislation. For example, the provisions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act  need to be taken into account in much of the decision making and action that can affect land, water and biodiversity by all land managers, organisations and tiers of government. In addition, eight properties in the region, covering around 200 hectares, are owned and managed by Indigenous communities.
The Strategy for Aboriginal Managed Land in Victoria outlines issues involved in managing such properties and makes recommendations on catchment management policies and programs as they relate to Indigenous people. The development of this strategy is an example of the opportunities for collaborative and effective relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to achieve mutually beneficial catchment management.
Indigenous representatives play an important role in many of the Port Phillip and Westernport CMAs environmental projects. These people bring knowledge and history of the land to the project and provide important perspective about the value of the natural environment.