5.1 Traditional Management Practices

The Maaiangal Clan of the Worimi Nation have occupied the Stockton Bight area since the beginning of the Dreaming. Western scientific thought believes they have been around for thousands of years. Most Aboriginals had a nomadic lifestyle, moving around their territory following the seasonal supply of food sources,however the Aboriginals of the Worimi Nation around Port Stephens tended to be sedentary (stayed in one area)

Periodic visits to the Stockton Bight coastal area coincided with the seasonal availability of seafood. There are numerous ways in which the Maaiangal Clan of the Worimi Nation managed this unique ecosystem. The following is how Carol Bissett-Ridgeway (an Aboriginal elder from the Maaiangal clan) said that her people managed the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes:


Each member of the Maaiangal Clan was assigned a Totem. A totem is often an animal assumed as a taken or emblem for a person or family. For many indigenous people they are ancestors in an animal form

What being assigned a totem meant was that particular person was responsible for that animal, plant etc on that land. If you were assigned a wallaby, for example, you were not allowed to eat it or harm it any way. This management strategy assisted in ensuring that species were not over hunted or harvested.

Setting Size Limits

The Maaiangal clan set size limits on fish, crabs, and shellfish. The members of the clan made sure that by catching and collecting larger organism there would be enough smaller species to maintain the numbers.

Seasonal hunting and harvesting

The Maaiangal clan only hunted and collected certain species at particular times of year. This ensured that species could recover and maintain their numbers.


Middens are archaeological sites that show where different clans of the Worimi nation had major feasts and camped. The significance of these sites was to show the boundaries for each clan. This ensured that the area did not become overpopulated.

Studies on the Stockton bight have recognised 186 sites of Aboriginal heritage, many of which are middens. The way to determine if a site is a midden is that it has to have TWO criteria: a) It is near fresh water supply b) it is near shelter (trees)

An archaeological study by Dean-Jones (1990) identified Stockton Bight as containing around 70 sites of Aboriginal heritage, and the Newcastle Bight Committee identified a further 116 sites on the dual barrier system, many of which are middens.

Cool Burning

Aboriginal management practices in the area involved the use of fire through fire stick farming. To ensure the fires did not get out of control they only did the burn when there was mildew on the ground and when the weather was cool. This ensured that the whole ecosystem did not burn down.

If the forested areas adjacent to the dunes were burned, fires may have spread to the sand dunes. This would have destroyed the vegetation and led to the development of the mobile sand dune systems. While some of these migrating sand dune systems are due to natural causes, such as severe storms, it seems possible that the fire management strategies of the Worimi people may have also contributed to the development of the active mobile dune systems.

Assessment of traditional management strategies

While it is possible that fire management strategies may have been partially responsible for dune destabilisation, generally Aboriginal management centred on stewardship and conservation of resources for the future. There was an obligation to look after one's country because of the deep spiritual links with the land. Traditional management strategies focused on using marine and terrestrial resources in a sustainable way. The relatively low population levels and nomadic lifestyle did not place stress on the ecosystem. The rich resources in the area were exploited through a detailed knowledge of the ecosystem, its habitats, animal migration patterns and seasons.