Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni presented the prestigious 2023 UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes to Australia’s Gunditjmara community, also known as Dhauwurd Wurrung, last Friday.

Residing in southwestern Victoria within the Budj Bim heritage areas, the Gunditjmara people were recognised for their exceptional efforts in preserving and managing cultural landscapes.

Established in 1995, the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize is a biennial award that celebrates remarkable initiatives in safeguarding and enhancing global cultural landscapes. Named in honor of the renowned Greek culture minister and actress Melina Mercouri, the prize comes with a prestigious award of 30,000 US dollars.

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, a significant part of the Gunditjmara territory spanning approximately 7,000km2, including their aquaculture systems, earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019. The judging committee lauded the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape as an “outstanding example of human interaction with the environment” with a history stretching over 6,000 years. The intricate networks of aquaculture systems and traditional land and water management practices showcase the engineering skills passed down through generations.

During the award ceremony at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Minister Mendoni highlighted the importance of adopting integrated sustainable management plans.

“The Award honours the distinguished and internationally acclaimed cultural and political figure, Melina Mercouri, who fiercely fought for the protection, restoration and integrity of cultural heritage and cultural landscapes,” Minister Mendoni said.

“And it does so by bringing to the forefront of international attention brilliant examples of effective management of cultural landscapes around the world, but also by honouring people who excel in providing ideas and inspiration that can serving as examples.”

She stressed the necessity of a holistic and integrated approach to ensure the integrity and authenticity of cultural and natural landscapes. Mendoni also referenced a collaborative initiative between the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Greek government to address the impact of climate change on cultural and natural heritage—a step aligned with Greece’s national strategy for protecting cultural heritage from the effects of climate change.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all participants and to the countries that responded enthusiastically to the call for nominations for the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Protection and Management of Cultural Landscapes. Most importantly, I would like to express my congratulations to the recipient of the 2023 Award, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in Australia, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019. Let this award be the foundation stone for more successes in the future.

Thank you for your attention,” Lina Mendoni added.