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Laureate 2023

Tae Rak channel and holding pond | Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

The Gunditjmara community was awarded the 2023 edition of the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes in recognition of its outstanding efforts to safeguard and manage the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape (Australia).

Gunditjmara community
Budj Bim Cultural Landscape

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, located in the traditional Country of the Gunditjmara people in south-eastern Australia, is an outstanding representative example of human interaction with the environment and a testimony to the continuing cultural and social practices of the Gunditjmara community, as well as of its custodianship of the landscape for over six millennia.

© Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

This property was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2019 as Budj Bim Cultural Landscape for its exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions, knowledge, practices and ingenuity of the Gunditjmara and for their interaction with a patchwork of wetlands on the Budj Bim lava flows, whose productive potential they purposefully harnessed. The dynamic relationship between the Gunditjmara and their land has been passed down by elders from generation to generation through the Gunditjmara’s knowledge systems and cultural traditions, including the ongoing kooyang (eel) harvesting, associated storytelling, dance and basket weaving.


Contemporary custodians of the land represent the continuity of land-use by modifying and maintaining a vast system of hydrological engineering that redirects waterflows to trap, store and harvest kooyang that migrate seasonally through the system. Beyond the carefully managed physical elements such as channels, weirs, dams, ponds and sinkholes, this interaction between people, animals, plants and land features is supported and enhanced by the stories and cultural traditions of Gunditjmara, which are closely linked.

The preservation of this heritage sustains and enhances local livelihoods, as well as biological, cultural and agricultural diversity through traditional land and water management practices. The work of the Gunditjmara community illustrates an outstanding contribution to the objectives of the the UNESCO Prize by sustaining continued cultural and spiritual linkages with natural environment and connecting past, present and future generations.

The Ceremony

UNESCO celebrated the laureate at an official award ceremony on the sidelines of the 42nd session of UNESCO’s General Conference, in the presence of Lina Mendoni, Minister of Culture and Sport of Greece, and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.

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Since its inception, the Prize has recognized diverse cultural landscapes globally, emphasizing the achievements of stakeholders in the management and conservation of these sites, in particular the positive role of local communities.
Broader inclusion of people in the management of the landscape allows for the co-creation of ideas and knowledge about a landscape and its conservation, therefore enhancing ownership and responsibility for the landscape.
Cultural landscapes are essential components of our shared global heritage that are increasingly acknowledged as key sites for the conservation of biodiversity, the safeguarding of intangible heritage and as sources of livelihood.
In the case of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, the aquaculture system, the people and their intangible practices are all interdependent and intertwined, allowing for both sustainable conservation of the environment and the transmission of human values from generation to generation.