Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples

Tribal groups, clans and languages 

Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples have been living in the rainforests of the Wet Tropics region for many thousands of years. Before European settlement, the Wet Tropics rainforests were one of the most populated areas of Australia, and the only area where Australian Aboriginal Peoples lived permanently in the rainforest.

Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples' environment provided everything: spirituality, identity, social order, shelter, food and medicine. They had an economic system in place that involved the bartering of resources amongst different tribal groups.

Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples have adapted to a range of climatic, environmental and social changes. 

The sharing of stories, the use of language, and the performance of songs and dances are still very important. These activities maintain Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples' unique evolving cultural identity and connection to country.

Today, there are at least 20 Rainforest Aboriginal tribal groups, 120 clans and 8 language groups - currently over 20,000 people - with ongoing traditional connections to land in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

Each group has customary obligations for management of their country under Aboriginal lore.

Wet Tropics Management Authority

Indigenous land interests in the Wet Tropics

Native title and other Rainforest Aboriginal land interests cover 87.5% of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. There are currently 19 registered native title bodies corporate (RNTBCs) operating in the Area in addition to a number of other native title applicant groups who are still working through their native title processes.

Overlapping Rainforest Aboriginal land interests in the Wet tropics World Heritage Area include:

  • 5.3% native title (exclusive)
  • 32.4% native title (non-exclusive)
  • 46.9% Indigenous land use agreements
  • 29.2% Indigenous protected areas (source: CSIRO, 2017).

Native title recognises, under common law, a set of rights and interests over land or waters where Aboriginal people practised traditional lore and customs prior to European settlement. This may include but is not limited to hunting, gathering and fishing.

Where native title is determined, it sets out procedural rights and/or compensation for future acts that may effect native title. A future acts regime provides guidance on the procedures that must be followed to ensure any future acts can be done validly through negotiation with the native title parties.

Indigenous land interests
Photographer: CSIRO

Prescribed bodies corporate and registered native title bodies corporate

Prescribed bodies corporate (PBCs) are corporations that have been formed to represent the Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples who have had determinations of native title on their traditional lands. PBCs become registered native title bodies corporate (RNTBCs) when they are registered with the National Native Title Tribunal. They are the first point of contact for native title matters.

Cultural heritage bodies

A number of PBCs and RNTBCs are also registered cultural heritage bodies under the Cultural Heritage Act 2003. They are the first point of contact for cultural heritage matters.  

Contacting Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples

You can get in touch with Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area by contacting the following organisations (current July 2017). Some organisations have their own websites with contact information, or you can search for their contact details via the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations.

Native title representative bodies           

There are two land councils that cover the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area:

  • North Queensland Land Council
  • Cape York Land Council

Land councils are recognised as native title representative bodies under the Native Title Act 1993 and play an important role in protecting and securing native title interests for Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples.

Aboriginal shire councils

There are two Aboriginal shire councils within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area that are now local governments under the Local Government Act 2009:

  • Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council
  • Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council.

Aboriginal shire councils are responsible for essential services, infrastructure and housing. They have a strong commitment to ensuring essential community services are available and accessible to all members of the community.

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