Caring for Country
Which Way Our Future
Rainforest Aboriginal people are very proud of their indigenous heritage.
They want the importance of their cultures recognised, respected and protected. In the Wet Tropics region Rainforest Aboriginal people continue to seek recognition as the traditional land owners of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area with distinct cultures and individual needs.
To ensure the ongoing survival of their cultures, Rainforest Aboriginal people in a range of scenarios have been negotiating for shared management of their traditional country with government agencies. They have been negotiating arrangements for their traditional lands and waters and have consistently lobbied to be involved in all aspects of land management, particularly in terms of decision making and on-ground activities.
Blending traditional and contemporary land management
Currently there are many activities going on around the Wet Tropics where Aboriginal people are leading and involved in, on-ground management of their traditional country. Typically Rainforest Aboriginal people want to be involved in activities such as planning, tourism, walking tracks and other infrastructure, fire management, research, water quality and wildlife protection. They seek training in ranger work and employment and business opportunities so that they can actively use their customary and contemporary land management knowledge to continue their traditions of managing their country.
One example is of the Djunbunji Land and Sea Program. Djunbunji is led by Mandingalbay Yidinji people who work as rangers and administrators to manage their traditional country, for which their rights and interests are legally recognised. Djunbunji staff and other Mandingalbay Yidinji people are leading collaboration with a range of government and NGO partners, to manage country using both traditional and contemporary knowledge systems within existing legislative and policy frameworks.
You can see more on the work of Djunbunji Land and Sea Program here.
The Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation are also collaborating with government agencies, local government planning authorities, NGOs, private landholders and other businesses to enable Eastern Kuku Yalanji people to start moving back to care for their traditional lands. Recently Eastern Kuku Yalanji people and the Wet Tropics Management Authority together developed a series of Community Development Plans which provide a framework for people to build homes and infrastructure ‘on country’ within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Such agreements and plans allow these Traditional Owners to again live on and make livelihoods from their traditional places, to access story places, undertake cultural activities and keep their heritage alive and thriving.
Protecting cultural heritage
Rainforest Aboriginal people are deeply connected to the lands and waters of the Wet Tropics region. The identification, ongoing protection and presentation of cultural values are paramount. Tangible and intangible heritage, such as story places, totemic species, artefacts, walking trails, stories, dances, language and spiritual beings are the core of Rainforest Aboriginal cultures. Their protection and preservation are integral to cultural survival.
Aboriginal cultural heritage of the Wet Tropics region belongs to Rainforest Aboriginal people. As such, they assert to control and manage its protection, presentation and conservation.
Over the last few years, across the Wet Tropics region there have been pockets of intensive cultural heritage collection and mapping being undertaken by Rainforest Aboriginal people and their organisations. Adopting appropriate technologies such as GPS, digital cameras and software packages, they are interviewing elders, recording seasonal changes, and walking the land to ensure they continue to have one of the most crucial tools for cultural survival - knowledge.
Rainforest Aboriginal people have been negotiating agreements with government agencies since the Wet Tropics was listed for World Heritage in 1988. They have consistently maintained they should have a significant and equitable role in decision making about the World Heritage Area.
In 1998 a group of Aboriginal people presented the report “Which Way Our Cultural Survival” which defined 163 recommendations for how they should be involved in the management of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
By 2005 Rainforest Aboriginal people, the State and Australian governments and the Wet Tropics Management Authority had negotiated how most of those 163 recommendations could be implemented with a strong focus on more meaningful involvement of Rainforest Aboriginal people in decision making and on-ground management of the World Heritage Area.
The first agreement of its kind, the Wet Tropics Regional Agreement was groundbreaking.
At the same time the Wet Tropics Regional Agreement was launched, Aboriginal people from the Wet Tropics region and the Terrain NRM organisation launched the Aboriginal Natural and Cultural Resource Management Plan - the Bama Plan. Another first in Australia, the Bama Plan set out the on-ground priorities that each Rainforest Aboriginal group were aspiring to meet. It highlights the natural and cultural resource management issues and aspirations that Rainforest Aboriginal people have and identifies a range of strategies to address through a traditional holistic approach.
Today there are many types of agreements being made between Rainforest Aboriginal people and Wet Tropics World Heritage management agencies and NGOs, such as the Wet Tropics Management Authority, QPWS and Terrain NRM. Many of these emanate from Native Title determinations or specific government sponsored programs.
Some examples include:
All over Australia, including the Wet Tropics region, it is imperative to Aboriginal people that they have a key role in managing their traditional country. Caring for country keeps Rainforest Aboriginal people and their cultures healthy and in this region it helps to keep the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area healthy.
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