Australia’s most iconic rainforest returned to Aboriginal people

By Jackson Graham

Monday October 4, 2021

QLD has given back ownership of the Daintree, Cedar Bay, Black Mountain and the Hope Islands to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji.
QLD has given back ownership of the Daintree, Cedar Bay, Black Mountain and the Hope Islands to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji.(Daintree; Alex Zubko/Adobe)

Ownership of world heritage-listed parts of Queensland’s wet tropics — including its most iconic rainforest — is back in the hands of Aboriginal people. 

The Queensland government has given back ownership of four national parks: the Daintree, Ngalba-bulal (Cedar Bay), Kalkajaka (Black Mountain) and the Hope Islands. 

In a first for the state, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji will have both ownership and joint management of a World Heritage Area. 

The Daintree Rainforest, world-heritage listed in 1988, is thought to be more than 100 million years old.

Eastern Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owners Negotiating Committee member Chrissy Grant said the agreement followed negotiations with the government over four years. 

Eventually, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Bama, will solely manage the sites, Grant said, and provide mentoring, training, apprenticeships, and work experience for the Aboriginal people.  

The Traditional Owners signed an agreement at a ceremony with Queensland environment minister Meaghan Scanlon and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships minister Craig Crawford. 

“The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people’s culture is one of the world’s oldest living cultures,” Scanlon said. 

“This agreement recognises their right to own and manage their country, to protect their culture and to share it with visitors as they become leaders in the tourism industry.”

Crawford said some of the benefits for Traditional Owners were the funds provided annually and in perpetuity for the joint management. 

“We will also provide funds to develop a tourism hub at Dubudji, first options for contracting on national parks, first rights to consider new tourism proposals, and endeavour to increase the skills and numbers of Jabalbina Indigenous rangers,” he said. 

It follows the Queensland government last month renaming Fraser Island, another world-heritage listed site. The island is now called K’gar, which is the Butchulla people’s name for it and means ‘paradise’.

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