Shark Bay's History

Aboriginal People in Shark Bay Today

Heading fishing for whiting Aboriginal people have lived in Shark Bay for thousands of years and continue to play a vital role in the social, cultural and economic life of the region. Local people are heavily involved in the fishing industry, as well as tourism and conservation management. These activities have not only helped maintain traditional relationships with the land and sea, but have been beneficial for cross-cultural awareness between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

Native title claims in Shark Bay

The Shark Bay area is significant to Aboriginal people because of their long history of use and occupation, and because they have a cultural obligation to understand and care for the area. Aboriginal caring for country is about the protection of significant sites and, just as importantly, the interconnected nature of the sites, people and environment.

The unique ties some Aboriginal groups have to land are recognised by Australia’s Native Title law. Native title is a form of land title, and indigenous people can apply to the courts to have their native title determined. There are three active native title claims in Shark Bay – those of the Malgana, Nhanda and Gnulli Aboriginal peoples – but no determination has yet been made. 

Involvement in conservation management

Aboriginal peoples’ deep understanding of traditional country is acknowledged by the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife. The department believes that by working together with Aboriginal people to care for the land, there will be mutual benefits for the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.

In Shark Bay, Parks and Wildlife has collaborated with the Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation in several conservation management projects. Aboriginal involvement and input has resulted in numerous benefits not only for the environment but also the community, such as

  • fostering a greater understanding of Aboriginal culture;
  • providing employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people; and
  • enabling the hunting of dugong, turtle and kangaroo – a traditional cultural practice – in a sustainable manner.

Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation

An Aboriginal corporation typically represents the interests of a local indigenous community and makes decisions on their behalf. Shark Bay’s Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation (Inc.) represents descendents of the Yadgalah people, who form one group of Malgana people.

The Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation has worked with Parks and Wildlife on projects including

The Corporation also had representatives on the Community Advisory Committee revising the Shark Bay Terrestrial Reserves Management Plan. The Corporation’s other responsibilities range from managing local business ventures to coordinating NAIDOC Week activities. NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders’ Day Observance Committee) celebrations are held around Australia in the first full week in July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The tourism industry

Aboriginal cultural tour at Monkey Mia

Since tourists are drawn to Shark Bay’s natural features, environmental management is the foundation of the local tourism industry. Aboriginal peoples’ unique insight into their country means they are well-placed to raise awareness of and respect for the environment.

Shark Bay’s growing tourism and hospitality industries provide opportunities for Aboriginal business initiatives. One successful local Malgana enterprise combines cultural tourism with ecotourism on walking tours of the Monkey Mia area and kayak tours.

As more visitors are drawn to the wonders of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, it is envisaged that other Aboriginal business initiatives will develop and thrive.

You can discover more about Shark Bay’s cultural heritage at the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham.