Cultural heritage is made up of many things including the way communities live, their history, traditions and values. The cultural heritage of the Shire of Nillumbik defines its character and identity, helping to tell the story of the area, its landscape and people through evidence left by generations of people, both Aboriginal and European.
The area known as the Shire of Nillumbik is the traditional land of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Woiwurrung speaking people.
As with all other areas of Victoria and Australia, the landscape holds the imprint of thousands of generations of Aboriginal people before and after European settlement and these places are a fundamental part of Victoria’s Aboriginal community life and cultural identity. In Nillumbik, archaeological sites remain as evidence of Aboriginal presence within the Shire including scarred trees and artefact scatters.
In the 1830s the first European settlers arrived to take up pastoral leases across much of the Shire.
Activities since that time have included timber cutting; gold mining; orcharding and farming; wine growing and the development of the infrastructure and catchments for Melbourne’s water supply, parts of which are in the Shire (Maroondah Aqueduct and Sugarloaf reservoir).
A particular feature of the Shire’s cultural heritage is its continuing attraction for artists and ‘alternative’ lifestyles.
Montsalvat artists’ colony (on the Victorian Heritage Register) is, perhaps, the best-known landmark of the area's artistic tradition; also Dunmoochin at Cottles Bridge, established in the 1950s.
The so-called “Eltham style” of mud-brick building, largely attributable to Alistair Knox, is another. An Environmental Living Zone at the Bend of Islands was established in the 1970s by Neil Douglas and is still operating with the people living there conserving land as bush and minimising their impacts on it.
Such artists' colonies, environmental living traditions and the diverse range of places which have been identified all help to make the Shire a distinctive place.
Past heritage studies have identified many places of historical significance. Over 350 are protected on the Victorian Heritage Register or by the local planning scheme; others need further research to determine if they are important and others are yet to be discovered.