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Traditional Owners

Traditional Owners

The information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people contained in this site is based on material sourced from the websites and publications listed on the links and references page.

Who are the Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the two Indigenous groups of Australia. There are more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner groups that have long continuing relationships with the Great Barrier Reef region and its natural resources. The groups that express connections to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are situated along the Queensland coast from the eastern Torres Strait Islands in the north to near Bundaberg in the south.

Story Place photo

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history

Aboriginal people are the first Australians and are widely recognised as the oldest civilisation in the world. Archaeological evidence of their presence across the continent dates back many thousands of years before the European colonisation of Australia, which occurred in 1788. As hunter-gatherers, Aboriginal people relied on plants, animals and the environment for their survival and so have a well developed knowledge about the natural world.

Torres Strait Islander people are sea-faring people who are related to the Melanesians of the south-west Pacific. Their homelands lie in the Torres Strait, which is located between the tip of Cape York Peninsula in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea to the north. It is here, north-east of Murray Island (Mer) in the Torres Strait, that the Great Barrier Reef begins. Traditional life on the islands involved hunting, fishing, gardening and trading. Food from the sea is still a valuable part of the economy, culture and diet of Torres Strait Islander people whose seafood consumption per person is amongst the highest in the world. In the past, Torres Strait Islander people traditionally sailed south along the Great Barrier Reef and Cape York Peninsula coastline and made contact with Aboriginal groups to exchange tools, culture and goods. More recently, Torres Strait Islander people have moved south to settle in towns near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Connections with the Great Barrier Reef 

There are both similarities and differences between the ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups use the sea in their customary practices. Each group has their own distinctive culture and identity, and often within groups there are many more clans and kinship groups whose discrete characteristics further distinguish one from the other. Ancestors, languages and ceremonies can provide a link between coastal clan groups and their particular areas of land and sea country. Today trade networks, beliefs, music, art, laws and creation stories maintain a living culture. Published information about the connections that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have with the Great Barrier Reef can be found in Story Place.

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Groups with connections to the Great Barrier Reef

The following list identifies the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups on the Great Barrier Reef.  These regions are an indication only of the broad area where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people assert rights and interests.

NameRegion
Darnley Island groupsEastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region
Murray Island groupsEastern Torres Strait Islands and Northern Great Barrier Reef region
GudangNewcastle Bay region
YadhaiganaCaptain Billy Landing region
WuthathiCape Grenville region
Kuuku Ya'uPortland Road region
KanthanumpunClaude River region
Night Islands groupNight Island region
UmpilaCape Sidmouth region
Lama LamaPrincess Charlotte Bay region
Ngulan peopleStarke River region
Thiltharr clanHopevale region
Kuku YalanjiBloomfield/Daintree region
Yirrijandji peoplePalm Cove region
Gimuy Yidinji
Cairns/Trinity Inlet region
Gurabana GunggandjiKings Beach region
Guru Gulu Gunggandji
Yarrabah region
Mandingalbai Yidinji
Cooper Point region
Lower Coastal Yidinji
Russell River region
Mamu peopleInnisfail region
Djiru
Mission Beach region
GulnayTully region
GirramayCardwell region
BandjinHinchinbrook region
Warrgamay
Lucinda region
NywaigiForest Beach region
ManbarraPalm Island region
WulgurukabaMagnetic Island/Townsville region
JuruAyr region
GiaCape Upstart region
NgaroWhitsunday region
Wiri peopleMackay region
Yuibera peopleMackay region
Birri peoplesMackay region
Barada Barna Kabalbara Yetimarla peopleSarina region
Koinjimal people
Broadsound region (as at March 2008 the Native Title land claim had been withdrawn and the Group is no longer a viable entity)
Dharumbal 
Shoalwater Bay region
Woppaburra
Yeppoon region
Taribelang BundaBundaberg region
Bailai
Gladstone region
Gurang GurangTown of 1770 region
                                              

Related Links

  • Learn more about the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's (GBRMPA) research into the connections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with the Great Barrier Reef