Historic deal: Indigenous traditional owners win back Daintree rainforest

Indigenous traditional owners
Cooper Creek in the Daintree rainforest. The world heritage-listed national park is being handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, who will manage it in partnership with the Queensland government. Photograph: Kerry Trapnell/Queensland Conservation Council

Eastern Kuku Yalanji people will take formal ownership of the world heritage-listed Daintree tropical rainforest in northern Australia after the Indigenous traditional owners reached a historic deal with the Queensland government.

  • The Daintree national park is part of 160,108 hectares (395,467 acres) of land that will be handed back to the traditional owners at a ceremony on Wednesday at Bloomfield, north of Wujal Wujal.
  • The handback, which will be seen as the world’s oldest tropical rainforest joins Australian landmarks such as Uluru and Kakadu, where First Nations peoples are the custodians of Unesco world heritage-listed sites.
  • Under the agreement to be signed on Wednesday, the Daintree, Ngalba Bulal, Kalkajaka, and Hope Islands national parks will be handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji. They will also manage the areas in partnership with the Queensland government.
  • “It’s a big thing for Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, for us bama, which means people. 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,” said Chrissy Grant, a traditional owner and the incoming chair of the Wet Tropics Management Authority board.
  • Grant, who is also the chair of the Unesco International Indigenous People’s Forum for World Heritage, said the handback of the Daintree and surroundings would also help address a historical oversight, which meant rainforest Aboriginal people were not involved in the 1988 process for the world heritage listing of Queensland’s wet tropics.

At the time, the Daintree rainforest had come under increasing threat from logging and other development being pushed by the entrenched National party government in Queensland.