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The history and significance of the hand back of the Daintree National Park to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People

The Daintree National Park, consisting of 160,213 hectares of rainforest, has been handed back to the Traditional Owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people.

This means First Nations people now own the land deed to National Park areas and will be jointly managing it with the Queensland government. I’ve taken a moment to detail the context of this land to the local Aboriginal community as well as First Nations communities across all of Australia.

History in the region:

  • 120-180 million years ago - start of the Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest and most biodiverse rainforest
  • 65,000 years to to today - Aboriginal people of the Wet Tropics in the Daintree Rainforest reside
  • 1978 - 1,100 large sections of the Daintree divided and sold to private owners, including a large Cairns property developer
  • 1983 - A controversial plan to construct a permanent road from Cairns to Cooktown is pushed through the local council
  • 1988 - Daintree Rainforest World Heritage listed
    - Private lots still available for sale under restricted development
    - World Heritage listing excludes acknowledgement of the Aboriginal communities that live in the rainforest area
  • 1992 - The first conservation property buy backs begin, including Rainforest Rescue
  • 2004 - Properties largely undeveloped and unprotected, QLD gov initiatives a buy back of some of the land
  • 2021/today
    - Land deed and control of Daintree National Rainforest handed back to Eastern Kuku Yalanji people

    - Approximately 150 private properties remain available for purchase
    - At least 20 Rainforest Aboriginal tribal groups, 120 clans and eight languages remain living in the Wetlands Areas

Why this hand back is important:

1. Owning the land forever preserves heritage.

Jalabina x Daintree
Image credit @jimmy_halfcut

The Commonwealth’s history with native Aboriginal people is marked by abuse and distrust. 


Land ownership is such a big deal because it gives the area a sovereignty and control that previously did not exist. Ownership guarantees the right to carry on their traditions and live, as well as protect the land and cultural sites for generations.

2. Opportunity for jobs and education

Daintree land image
Image credit @Rainforest_Rescue

The land will be jointly managed by the Aboriginal people and the QLD gov. The QLD gov will also be providing funds to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people for the management.

These funds act as stimulus to create jobs and education in the region for First Nations people. Maintaining the land employs and educates people across: rainforest, land and sea management, hospitality, tourism, and research.

This agreement now matches the structure of other Australian national park icons Uluru and Kakadu.

3. Improving land preservation and conservation efforts in the listed forest and surrounding areas.

Rainforest rescue x Jalabina photo
Image credit @Rainforest_Rescue

There are still 150+ remaining privately owned properties left in the Daintree that require external conservation efforts.

These properties cause an inconsistency in the Daintree ecosystem. Imagine, a Cassowary might lay eggs, mate, feed and raise chicks over a large area of rainforest, so if someone disrupts that area with say a house or farm, it puts that animals natural rhythms in danger.

The new ownership means that the process of restoring properties post buy-back is more straightforward. Land managers will be able to provide native seed for trees and plants and better guide restoration efforts.

In closing, this article is to help guide the broader public as to the significance of First Nations land ownership, and not intended to speak for any First Nations Peoples directly impacted by the Commonwealth or the actions taken in the last 50 years in the Daintree Rainforest.

 

Information Credit
Rainforest Rescue: https://www.rainforestrescue.org.au/ownership-of-daintree-transferred-to-traditional-owners/
ABC: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-30/daintree-handed-back-to-traditional-owners/100498982
Wet Tropics Management Authority; https://www.wettropics.gov.au/our-cultural-landscape