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  Koolmoon Creek, Upper Tully (Photo: Kerry Trapnell)  
  Koolmoon Creek, Upper Tully (Photo: Kerry Trapnell)  

In 1992 I was a ranger-in-charge and Charlie Morganson was my second-in-command. We were asked to clear a track to the top of Kennedy Falls where David Attenborough would honour Norwegian explorer, Carl Lumholtz, by officially declaring Lumholtz National Park. Having David come to the area to name our country was a significant thing for all the tribes, but we were offended by the choice of name. In 1889 Lumholtz wrote the book ‘Among Cannibals’ about his experiences living with the Aboriginal people from the Herbert River District and searching for the kangaroo that could climb trees. He often referred to our ancestors as the lowest form of humans on the face of the earth and made other derogatory comments which offended us deeply. Naming our country after such a man was entirely inappropriate. However, Lumholtz National Park was gazetted on 26 June 1992.

Following the naming ceremony, 300 Traditional Owners from the region came together in Cardwell to yarn about re-naming the national park using a traditional language name. A group of key senior elders met at Five Mile Creek to come up with an appropriate name. Upon their return, Banjin elder, Russell Butler Senior, wrote the word ‘Girringun’ on the white board. They wished to name the national park after Girringun, an ancestral creator who helped to determine the traditional lore of the Warangnu, Jirrbal, Warrgamay and Girramay peoples. A working group was elected to progress the name change and so began my story.

I was outside with the other young fellas and was told to return to the room as I was nominated on the working group. This surprised me, as I thought it should be the elders on the group, and I got an even bigger shock when I was nominated as the chairperson. We launched a political campaign to re-name the park in 1995. When the State Minister for the Environment, Molly Robson, came to Mission Beach to open the new C4 building, Davie (Buckaroo) Lawrence, an elder from Girramay tribe, personally handed a letter to the Minister detailing our wish to re-name the area and why it was important. We also felt any good work Lumholtz did for conservation was already recognised by having the tree-kangaroo named after him.

Girringun Aboriginal CorporationThe working group continued to push the issue for years and, in the process, the group was formalised and incorporated as the Girringun Elders and Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation. The corporation grew and took on a larger role. It became one of the first community-run Indigenous land and sea management centres in north Queensland and still operates successfully. The government was reluctant to give a national park the same name as an established community organisation and asked the working group to consider another name. Some in the local community said they could not pronounce Girringun and something more appropriate should be chosen. However, Girringun was the name our elders had chosen and we would not dishonour them by changing it. We stuck to our guns and, after eleven and a half years, the area was re-named Girringun National Park on 12 December 2003.

The elders had wanted a re-naming ceremony where David Attenborough had originally declared the park. However, only one original senior elder was still alive and, unfortunately, the elder was unable to reach the original site at the top of Kennedy Falls. So, instead, we held the ceremony in the rainforest nearby. The ceremony was the most fulfilling part of the story for me as I was able to help fulfil the wishes of my elders on our country.
Looking back, I didn’t understand at the time why the elders nominated me to be on the working group that day. However, I am grateful that they saw something I didn’t, because I have since been elected as the first chairman of the Girringun Elders and Reference Group and now, fifteen years later, I am still actively involved as Executive Officer of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, the modern day version of the original reference group.

Over the past 20 years I have seen the World Heritage listing raise the wider community’s appreciation of our country to that which it deserves. The listing seemed to formalise what we, as Traditional Owners, already felt toward the land and we are now working hard to have our land formally recognised for its cultural values.


Phil Rist

Phil is a Nywaigi Traditional Owner who for over 20 years has raised the awareness of traditional knowledge in the southern Wet Tropics. He is one of the founding members of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and works to help Traditional Owners coordinate management of their land and sea country. As the Chief Executive Officer of the Girringun Corporation, his patience, articulation and teaching style has helped government agencies understand Aboriginal cultural issues. Phil was instrumental in the signing of the Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement and setting up the Cardwell Indigenous Ranger Unit. He received a Cassowary Award for Ranforest Aboriginal Culture in 2006.

Kerry Trapnell

Kerry is a documentary photographer who has worked in northern Australia for many years. His major body of work has a strong focus on the Cape York Peninsula region where he has photographed the landscapes and documented the lives of local people. Kerry has extensively photographed the landscapes of the Wet Tropics and recently documented the final year of growing tobacco in north Queensland. He is currently photographing for a book on the Mitchell River.

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