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Aboriginal Totems and Sustainability

Totems are an important part of Aboriginal culture and ensure the protection of plants or animals by different groups of Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Totems

Aboriginal society is governed by roles and responsibilities - lore passed on through the generations from the time of the Dreaming. Totems carry special lore (rules) which affect the relationship Aboriginal people have with their environment, their totem and each other.

Burramatta means Place where eels lie downdrawing of eel

The Burramatta People (Burramattagal) of the Darug nation traditionally lived around Parramatta. The Eel is the totem of the Burramattagal Language group. The Burramattagal observe that when Parramatta Green Wattle is in blossom in their area, the adult and young eels are returning from the saltwater of the ocean to estuarine waters after their migration to spawning grounds in warmer waters. 

Watch this video to learn more about eel migration.

The Burramattagal are responsible for caring for the eel and its environment to sustain the life cycle of eels and ensuring its future. The Burramattagal wove eel traps to catch the eel as they swam up-stream.

Festival of the Eel

The eel life cycle created an annual calendar event. Each year Freshwater and Saltwater Peoples gathered here for meetings and ceremony and, as part of the Burramattagal’s cultural economy (trade), a carer of the eel would be designated for the festival to share that natural resource with others at these gatherings, eel being considered a delicacy by other Peoples. These gatherings are celebrated today as the annual Parramatta Eel festival and in respect of the importance of eel to the Parramatta area, eel is the mascot for the locally based National Rugby League team.

Activities - Aboriginal Totems and Sustainability


1. Choose an animal

People have a special connection to their totem. What is your favourite animal or flower? Write a list of its characteristics that make it special to you and why it is special.

2. Create your Totem 

Go outside and choose an animal or plant that you see. This is now your totem! Draw a symbol that represents your totem and write a poem about it. Collect natural materials from the garden, park or school grounds. Recreate your totem as a piece of art.

3. Watch a video

Watch the video about the long-finned eels at Centennial Parklands. What do they eat? Why do the eels decide to leave the Centennial Parklands ponds? How do they move from the ponds to the ocean? Which part of the life cycle did Burramattagal allow eel to be caught for food? How does this protect the eel? 

4. Write a story

Write a creative story from the perspective of an eel embarking on its amazing journey. You may like to use the drawings as inspiration, or even include them in your story!

drawing of eels

5. Get creative

Design a poster to advertise the Parramatta Eel Festival. Design a mascot and include the key points.

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