Changing the name acknowledges the cultural importance of the Budj Bim area, which is regarded as the world’s first engineering project, dating back at least 6600 years and preceding Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt. The engineering project was an extensive and elaborate system of channels and dam walls which were used predominately for catching eels.
The story of the Gunditjmara people is intimately related to the volcanic eruption of Mount Eccles around 30,000 years ago, when an ancestral creation-being revealed himself in the landscape to the Gunditjmara people. Budj Bim (meaning high head) is part of the ancestral creation-being's body; his forehead is the mountain and the stones are his teeth.
The first recorded European visit to the area was in 1841 by the 'Chief Protector of Aborigines', George Robinson. He described "an immense piece of ground trenched and banked, resembling the work of civilized man but which on inspection I found to be the work of the Aboriginal natives, purposefully constructed for catching eels."
This information seems to have been largely ignored, perhaps owing to it failing to fit the constructed narrative of the day that Aboriginal people were not 'civilised', as Robinson inferred. Acknowledging such feats of engineering would have conflicted with the 'wandering, nomadic savages' argument which helped to justify the dispossession of Aboriginal peoples from their lands.
The eel traps were largely ignored by science until the 1970s, some 130 years after Robinson first appeared, when archaeologist Dr Peter Coutts conducted a site survey of the area and identified the extensive man-made channels and dozens of basalt block dam walls.
The Budj Bim region is listed as a National Heritage Landscape. In January this year the Budj Bim region was put on Australia’s list for World Heritage nomination to recognise the unique cultural heritage of permanent houses, fishtraps, channels and weirs for growing and harvesting eels created by Gunditjmara people 6600 years ago. Australia currently has 19 World Heritage listings, if successful Budj Bim would be the first solely based on Indigenous cultural value and significance.
The name change also includes the peak of the mountain, which will now be known as the Budj Bim peak.
Consultations concerning the name change began in 2012, and was formally recommended by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and Parks Victoria in 2015. Announcing the name change was a part of the celebrations marking the ten year anniversary of Native Title for Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Gunditjmara people.
Senior Gunditjmara elder Denis Rose spoke to NITV, saying "the previous name Mt Eccles was incorrect anyway so there is little historical significance to the name anyway, and the majority of people consulted supported the name change - we are stoked to have the original name back."
The mountain was named Mount Eeles in 1836 by Major Thomas Mitchell after William Eeles of the 95th Regiment of Foot who fought with Mitchell in the Peninsular War. A draftsman's error meant that the name was rendered Eccles from 1845. Perhaps Eeles would have been a more fitting name given the use of the area, but the return to the original name is one that seems to have been met with refreshingly small amounts of opposition.
"We had a great day out at Budj Bim National Park and it was a great way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Native Title. We had 120 or so of people attend from a broad section of the community, and it was great to see the level of support we have had over the years for this."
It is believed that reverting to the original name for the area, and the possibility of World Heritage Listing will help achieve greater recognition for the area, attract more visitors and supporters, and help to combat the myths that Aboriginal people did not have the knowledge or capacity to undertake such complicated engineering projects.
"Restoring the Traditional name gives the area increased acknowledgement and recognition and hopefully erases some of the stereotypes about Aboriginal technology and capacity in agricultural development and aquaculture" said Rose.