There is a recognised gap between Indigenous Australians and the wider Australian community across many areas of economic and social activity, including cultural heritage. Indigenous communities still need to fight for access to their heritage places, and permission to pursue traditional practices and prevent incremental damage.
Indigenous heritage faces two main pressures, both of which result from European settlement. One is a direct pressure on the Aboriginal community: disruption to Aboriginal knowledge and culture. The other is a pressure on Aboriginal heritage areas and country: the disturbance or destruction of sites due to urban or industrial development, including resource extraction.
Indigenous heritage has not been comprehensively surveyed and assessed across any Australian jurisdiction. The assessments that have occurred tend to be development driven and localised, or occasionally part of academic or community research projects. Knowledge of the nature and extent of Indigenous heritage resources is therefore incomplete, and decisions made on the basis of this incomplete, picture place pressure on an unknown but finite resource. Pressures related to knowledge also arise where the intangible values of Indigenous heritage places are directly degraded because the knowledge relating to associated belief and traditional practices has been lost. Loss of traditional knowledge poses a major and continuing threat to Australia's Indigenous cultural heritage (Box 9.12).