Lost in the Wash: Predicting the Impact of Losing Aboriginal Coastal Sites in Australia

By Susan McIntyre-Tamwoy and Alice Buhrich.

Published by The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Coastal sea level rise, increased storm wash, storm surges and extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones are predicted to impact on the Australian coastline in future years. The emphasis in research activity in Australia has been directed at issues such as coastal planning and impacts on reef ecosystems and tourism. There has been little focus on the potential loss of coastal cultural heritage sites and how this loss could affect community well-being and identity, particularly for Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in many parts of Australia retain strong cultural associations with their land, which contains important story places, archaeological sites and bush foods. In many cases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities are closely linked to such places. Their loss is likely to have an impact on culture and identity, which will compound other negative impacts of climate change on these communities. To date, scientific projections about the likely impacts of climate change have been directed to broad, geographical areas, or vulnerable areas of high density populations. There is a paucity of data on the projected impacts on specific remote regions, where many Australian Indigenous communities are located. In addition, Aboriginal participation in agencies that have responsibility for assessing and mitigating impacts from climate change is minimal. While scientists, government and industry form partnerships to tackle emerging climate change issues, Aboriginal perspectives are largely excluded. This paper considers the potential effects of climate change on Australian Aboriginal coastal sites and the impact that this could have on the cultural heritage resource and Indigenous community identity. Through specific case studies from tropical northern Australia, we propose a culturally relevant strategy to empower local communities to develop the capacity to mitigate these social impacts.

Keywords: Indigenous Identity, Cultural Heritage, Climate Change, Coastal Archaeology

The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.53-66. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.167MB).

Dr. Susan McIntyre-Tamwoy

Senior Research Fellow, School of Arts and Social Sciences, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Susan McIntyre-Tamwoy, is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, James Cook University. Her research focus on Indigenous use of marine and coastal environments in Northern Cape York Peninsula connects with her interests in climate change, its impacts on cultural heritage and human responses to these issues. With formal qualifications in archaeology, anthropology and heritage conservation, she has worked both as a consultant and in a senior capacity in the public sector. She is the immediate past President of Australia ICOMOS and a past President of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc.

Alice Buhrich

Research Officer, School of Arts and Social Sciences, James Cook University, Yungaburra, Queensland, Australia

Alice Buhrich is an archaeologist currently employed as a research officer working on projects relating to climate change impacts on archaeological sites. She has a career in consulting archaeology and has previously worked in archaeological heritage regulation for the State government. She is an active member of Australia ICOMOS who has extensive experience working with Australian Indigenous people in north Queensland on archaeological projects.

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