The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council

Council was created under the Act to ensure the preservation and protection of Victoria’s rich  Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. With important decision-making responsibilities and as an independent expert body of Traditional Owners, the Council is the only statutory body of its kind in Australia.

As Traditional Owners themselves, Council brings to its decision making a profound understanding of the responsibilities and breadth of Traditional Ownership. It is the application of this unique knowledge of Council, with membership eligibility and Apical Ancestry, that enables robust decision-making processes.

Council’s vision is of a community that understands and respects Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and the cultural responsibilities of Traditional Owners. Council recognises Traditional Owners as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of their heritage.

Comprised of up to 11 Traditional Owners, Council is appointed by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (the Minister). Members of Council must reside in Victoria and have demonstrated traditional or familial links to an area in Victoria. They are also required to have relevant knowledge or experience in the management of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria.

Since the end of the reporting period, Council has welcomed new members Liz Allen, Dr Doris Paton, Dan Turnbull and welcomed back Mick Harding. Council would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, who has made the difficult decision to resign from Council, to better allow her the time and space for her important work as Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

As a Council, we speak with one voice, strengthened by the Elders and leaders that inform it.

Council members

Geraldine Atkinson

  • Current term 6 November 2019 – 6 November 2022

Jennifer Beer

  • Current term 14 August 2017 – 13 August 2020

Rodney Carter (Chairperson)

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Bonnie Chew

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Racquel Kerr

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Sissy Petit (Deputy Chairperson)   

  • Current term 6 November 2019 – 6 November 2022

Kenny Stewart

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Statutory Functions

Council plays an important role in the implementation of the Act. Its principal functions are:

Making decisions on RAP applications

Since its establishment in 2006, Council has appointed 12 RAPs. Currently, there are 11 RAPS which collectively cover 74% of Victoria. RAPs are organisations that hold decision-making responsibilities for protecting Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in a specified geographical area.

Monitoring RAPs

The Council is responsible for overseeing and supervising the operations of RAPs. With RAPs themselves, Council undertakes a collaborative approach to this function. It has established a Legislative Review and Regulatory Functions Committee with RAP members and a suite of processes and policies to support this work.

Protecting Ancestors’ resting places and returning Ancestors to Country

Council is the central coordinating body responsible for Ancestral Remains in Victoria. With the implementation of a new Ancestral Remains Policy and Repatriation Support Committee with RAPs, this fundamental work will strengthen the protection of Aboriginal burial places and deliver better support to Traditional Owners returning Ancestors to Country.

Secret (or Sacred) Objects in Victoria

Council is responsible for the care of Secret (or Sacred) Objects whilst they are returned to their Traditional Owners. Council’s custody of Objects is a profound responsibility to support Traditional Owners manage and retain their Cultural Heritage.

Managing the Victorian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Fund (Fund)

The Council is responsible for managing the Fund for initiatives to protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and to promote understanding and awareness of this unique heritage managed by Traditional Owners for all Victorians.

Measures to promote understanding and awareness

Council’s work includes promoting understanding and awareness of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria. The Council achieves this through establishing partnerships and consulting with key rightsholders and stakeholders, making submissions to reviews of legislation, investigations and inquiries that impact on Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and participating in external committees and reference groups.