Extra sections of an ancient aquaculture system built by Indigenous people in south-west Victoria thousands of years ago have been discovered after a fire swept through the area over the past few weeks.
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, which includes an elaborate series of stone-lined channels and pools set up by the Gunditjmara people to harvest eels, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List last year.
Some parts of the landscape, which also features evidence of stone dwellings, have been dated back 6,600 years — older than Egypt’s pyramids.
Traditional owners, who inspected the site after the fire was brought under control last week, spotted extra sites previously concealed under vegetation that they believe are part of that aquaculture system.
A fire sparked by a lightning strike at Lake Condah in late December, which was later subsumed by another fire that ignited nearby, was only brought under control last week after a mammoth firefighting effort.
It burnt through more than 7,000 hectares of land around Lake Condah and in the Budj Bim National Park, including some parts of the aquaculture system in an area known as the Muldoon trap complex.
unditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation project manager Denis Rose said when the fire first broke out he was not “too concerned” about how the fire would affect the system.
“Most of the cultural features out here on the lava flow are stone,” he said.
“There have certainly been many fires here in the thousands of years prior.
“Our major concern was the effect after the fire and we’ve still got some work to do there.
“We were concerned about the trees … particularly those taller trees that are growing in and around some of those fish trap systems and also our associated stone house sites, of [the trees] being weakened and damaged and potentially falling over and the roots upending some of these ancient stone structures.”
When Mr Rose and other traditional owners returned to the area after the fire, they were amazed by what they observed in the charred landscape.
“The fire actually uncovered another smaller system, including a channel about 25 metres in length that we hadn’t noticed before,” he said.
“It was only maybe 20 metres off the track that we walk in and it was hidden in the long grass and the bracken fern and other vegetation.
“We’ve noticed that in other parts of the lava flow as well, we’ve come across sites that just haven’t been recorded that have been very close by.
In the wake of the blaze, a cultural heritage survey will be undertaken with input from archaeologists familiar with the site and Indigenous rangers.
Aerial photography using specialised software will be undertaken to survey the landscape as well.
Mr Rose said although the find was positive it took place in the sobering context of the destructive fires that continue to burn in other parts of the country.