Eastern Kuku Yalanji win back control of the Daintree

Will the Queensland government honor this week’s agreement with the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people in its historic agreement handing back control of the Daintree? Only time will tell. We post here a report from the ABC Far North office.

__oOo__

The world’s oldest living rainforest has been returned to its custodians in a historic handback ceremony in Far North Queensland.

Key points:

  • Native title had already been established over the land, but the traditional custodians wanted more involvement
  • They will jointly manage the country with the Queensland government and say it will lead to cultural learning and employment opportunities
  • About 20 per cent of the 160,213ha handed back comes in addition to the land already under native title

The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people have taken formal ownership of 160,213 hectares of country stretching from Mossman to Cooktown, including the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park.

“This is where we belong on country, on bubu — on land,” Yalanji traditional owner and Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation director Mary-Anne Port said.

“All our ancestors called us back to home.

“I broke down — to get it all back in a battle that we’ve lost so many, young and old, that fought for country and now it’s all back.”

Drone shot of Daintree region showing rainforest, rivers, mountains and sea.
The Daintree is back in the hands of its traditional custodians.(Supplied: Martin Stringer)

Long fight

A map showing a huge section of Far North Queensland that has been handed back to the traditional custodians.
More than 160,000ha across four national parks was handed back.(Supplied: Queensland government)

This is country of huge cultural, environmental and global significance, encompassing the Daintree, Ngalba-bulal, Kalkajaka and the Hope Islands National Parks.

The Daintree Rainforest, estimated to be 180 million years old, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988.

Native title had already been established over much of the land, but the traditional custodians wanted more than recognition.

They wanted a say in the management of their land and their cultural heritage.

“We’d like to see all our young people step up now and [be] doing work on country, learning about cultural sites, where they come from,” Jalunji and Nyungkul elder Maree Shipton said.

“We’re glad that we got all our national park back.”

Ms Shipton said she went to every Traditional Owner Negotiating Committee (TONC) meeting in the lead-up to the celebration.

An older Indigenous woman in bright clothes sitting outside.
From the day the campaign started to the handback itself, Maree Shipton didn’t miss a single clan meeting.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

TONC and five elders groups were formed to negotiate with the government on behalf of the three clan groups — Yalanji, Jalunji and Nyungkul.

Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation chair and Kuku Yalanji woman Lynette Johnson said she was looking forward to the jobs and upskilling opportunities for young people the historic change would provide.

“They don’t have to be rangers — we can have them working anywhere,” she said.

Indigenous people wearing bright clothes perform a smoking ceremony.
The day opened with a smoking ceremony.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

Joint management

Under the Indigenous Management Agreement, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People will jointly manage the four national parks with the Queensland government.

“Today is not the end — it’s the beginning of the next step of the process,” Kuku Nyungkul traditional owner Desmond Tayley said.

“This was the second part of the native title claim [of 2007].”

Desmond Tayley, Kuku Nyungkul traditional owner
Desmond Tayley says this is only the beginning.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

Mr Tayley said the managers would work in partnership with governments and stakeholders to make sure they received the full benefit of what they signed and ensure that promised jobs and funding would come through.

State Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the agreement was a “really important milestone in Queensland’s history” that “really rights the wrongs of the past”.

A group of Indigenous people perform a triumphant dance.
Emotions were high when the dancing commenced after the handover documents were signed.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

“There’s a number of agreements put in place … to make sure that we’ll continue to work in good faith with traditional owners to make sure we are working in genuine partnership,” she said.

“We know there’s more work to do and today is just a step forward in that path to reconciliation.”

A dripping, intensely green tropical rainforest.
The traditional custodians fought long and hard for the right to manage their country.(Supplied: Mike Trenerry)

Mr Tayley said the restoration was a crucial part of the healing process.

“It’s important that we get that back on country and we make sure that our spirit is kept very strong,” he said.

By Carli Willis, Dwayne Wyles, and Holly Richardson
ABC Far North

What do you think about this article?