The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, indigenous traditional owners, reclaim the Daintree National Park, a rainforest in northern Australia that goes back 185 million years.

On September 29, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people took formal ownership of the Daintree National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“Widely acknowledged by scientists as the oldest tropical rainforest in the world (evolving and thriving for perhaps as many as 185 million years), the Daintree Lowland Rainforest is of exceptionally high biodiversity and conservation value,” writes the not-for-profit environmental organisation Rainforest Rescue.

“Under the agreement, the Daintree, Ngalba Bulal, Kalkajaka and Hope Islands national parks will be handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji,” the Guardian reports. “ They will also manage the areas in partnership with the Queensland government.”

“The area of more than 160,000 hectares will now be co-managed by the Queensland government and the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people,” CNN notes, “with a hope of eventually transitioning into being run solely by indigenous owners.”

Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon tweeted about the occasion, calling it a continuation of “our path to reconciliation.”

“It is the first time Queensland has transferred the ownership of a national park in the Wet Tropics region of the state's northeast to an Indigenous group,” VICE reports.

Wet Tropics of Queensland, aerial of coastline, Cooktown.
Wet Tropics of Queensland, aerial of coastline, Cooktown. (Peter Lik / Courtesy of Tourism Queensland)

“It’s a big thing for Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, for us bama, which means people,” Chrissy Grant, a traditional owner and the incoming chair of the Wet Tropics Management Authority board, tells the Guardian.

“Bama across the wet tropics have consistently lived within the rainforest. That in itself is something that is pretty unique to the world heritage listing.

“It’s an opportunity to work our way up ... we will be looking at long-term gains out of this, but we need to work our way up to get our people trained up confident.”

Grant is also the chair of the Unesco International Indigenous People’s Forum for World Heritage, and she says the handback of the Daintree and surrounds would also help address a historical oversight – rainforest Aboriginal people were not involved in the 1988 process for the world heritage listing of Queensland’s wet tropics, according to the Guardian.

Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia.
Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia. (Steven Nowakowski / Courtesy of Tourism Queensland)

The UNESCO World Heritage listing speaks of “exceptional natural beauty, with superlative scenic features highlighted by extensive sweeping forest vistas, wild rivers, waterfalls, rugged gorges and coastal scenery. This is particularly apparent between the Daintree River and Cedar Bay, where exceptional coastal scenery combines tropical rainforest and white sandy beaches with fringing offshore coral reefs.” But it doesn’t take into account the Indigenous people who live there.

“In 1988 there was no consultation with Aboriginal people and no recognition of the values of the ... oldest rainforest in the world, being continuously occupied by Aboriginal people,” Grant tells the Guardian.

“Wherever you go there are communities within the tropical rainforest.

“People were probably not upset about it back at that time, but certainly after that time people realised they were completely ignored, even what was world heritage, not a lot of awareness out there. They did it in a rush to try to stop forest logging, but in that process they completely ignored Aboriginal people.”

Wet Tropics of Queensland, Green Tree Frog, Australia.
Wet Tropics of Queensland, Green Tree Frog, Australia. (Saif Ismailij / Courtesy of Tourism Queensland)

“The Daintree Rainforest is home to an amazing variety of plants and animals,” Rainforest Rescue explains, with many endemic to the region. “It includes 142 rare, threatened and endangered species of plants and 44 rare, threatened or endangered species of animals.”

According to the Rainforest Rescue, “These include the Endangered Blue Tassel Fern (huperzia dalhousieana), the Rare Russell River Lime (Microcitrus inodora) and Cooper’s Creek Walnut. Endangered animal species include the Musky-rat Kangaroo, Spotted-tail Quoll and the Southern Cassowary.”

The Rainforest Rescue also notes that “The Daintree is also home to: 30 percent of Australia’s marsupial species, 20 percent of Australia’s reptile species, 29 percent of Australia’s frog species 58 percent of Australia’s Bat & Butterfly species.”

According to the Guardian, Grant says the national parks would eventually be managed solely by traditional owners.

“Our goal is to establish a foundation to provide ... pathways and opportunities for mentoring, training, apprenticeships, work experience and employment for our Eastern Kuku Yalanji bama to fill positions from a wide range of skilled trades, land and sea management, hospitality, tourism, and research so that we are in control of our own destinies.”

The handback negotiations had taken four years and Grant says she hopes the model would offer a pathway for other Indigenous groups in other parts of the wet tropics to negotiate ownership of their traditional lands, the Guardian reports.

Headline image: Wikimedia Commons/Dinkum

Thumbnail image: Wikimedia Commons/dronepicr

Source: TRTWorld and agencies