An eel-shaped Djab Wurrung stone arrangement believed to be over 1,500 years old has been partially destroyed over the weekend in western Victoria.
Registered with Aboriginal Victoria, the Kooyang Stone Arrangement is 176 metres long and currently sits on private land in Lake Bolac, about 230 kilometres from Melbourne.
Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (EMAC), the Registered Aboriginal Party for the area, alerted Aboriginal Victoria of the damage over the weekend.
Aboriginal Victoria is now investigating the damage, which involves the removal of an estimated 60 metres of the structure. They visited the Lake Bolac property on Tuesday.
While EMAC officers’ initial assessments found the entire tail portion of the eel had been removed, CEO Marcus Clarke said Traditional Owners have not yet been able to access the property to fully assess the damage.
“We’ve only been able to have a look from the side of the road so far,” he said.
“But there’s been an opportunity for Traditional Owners to inspect the site. Aboriginal Victoria is liaising with the farmer and … trying to narrow down the date that’s agreeable for people to get onto the land.”
It’s understood the Kooyang Stone Arrangement has been on a local family’s land for over a century.
In a public statement, EMAC said Traditional Owners are “traumatised” by the damage done to a “highly significant” landmark.
“The stone arrangement at Lake Bolac is steeped in cultural and historic importance and was a major gathering place prior to European colonisation,” they said.
“Different language groups and different nations came to this space to celebrate the life cycle of eels, which are of great cultural importance and the basis for an entire aquaculture industry.
“It is traumatic and heartbreaking to see such an important place that is considered vital to the identities, histories, practices and well-being of our people in the state that is in.”
Clarke said while EMAC doesn’t know who exactly arranged the stones in this way all those years ago, it’s an arrangement that is unique in Victoria.
“Typically, stone arrangements are [for] habitational, domestic purposes — where this one isn’t,” he said.
“When you look within Gunditjmara Country, there’s stone huts etcetera, that’s typically what you see. But this one … it’s purely ceremonial.
“It would’ve been a place of gathering in the peak of the eel season.”
The caretaker of the farmland told ABC News he knew there were culturally significant stones on the property but was unsure of the area they were in.
He allegedly removed and piled up 60 metres of the large basalt stones to make way for a boom spray.
Clarke chose not to comment on the caretaker’s assertions in the media, saying that EMAC is following the investigation process.
“The evidence needs to be gathered by Aboriginal Victoria,” Clarke said.
“It’s about the application of the law … to the full extent.”
The current penalty for damaging or disturbing registered cultural heritage sites under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic) can reach almost $300,000 for an individual and up to $1.6 million for a corporation, depending on whether the person or corporation knew it was a registered site.
Clarke believes no one has ever been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, however, and hopes the heightened awareness of cultural heritage destruction after Juukan Gorge in Western Australia last year helps to strengthen cultural heritage protections.
“When you look at over in WA and what’s occurred, the corporate vandalism, it’s … put all these issues right across Australia in the spotlight,” he said.
“The inquiry occurring at Commonwealth level … it may strengthen the legislation that we currently have, right across the different jurisdictions.”
By Hannah Cross