Rainforest Aboriginal People are the traditional custodians 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 people lived permanently in the rainforest. 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 World Heritage Area. Rainforest Aboriginal People have adapted to a range of climatic, environmental and social changes and continue to have obligations for the management of their country under traditional lore and customs.
Much has changed in terms of Rainforest Aboriginal land interests in the Wet Tropics since the Area was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988.
- Native title was introduced in 2003, recognising under common law a set of rights and interests over land or waters where Rainforest Aboriginal People practised traditional lore and customs prior to European settlement.
- Native title and other Rainforest Aboriginal land interests now cover at least 87.5% of the World Heritage Area.
- The Wet Tropics of Queensland Regional Agreement (the Regional Agreement) was signed in 2005 for the involvement of Rainforest Aboriginal People in the management of the World Heritage Area.
- The Australian Government announced the recognition of the Wet Tropics Indigenous values as part of the existing National Heritage Listing for the Wet Tropics of Queensland in 2012.
- Rainforest Aboriginal governance arrangements have shifted from a regional approach to a local and sub-regional approach in support of self- determination and leadership in land management. registered native title bodies corporate (RNTBCs), Cultural Heritage Bodies and a range of other
- Aboriginal corporations and business enterprises are now operating in the Area.
- A number of Rainforest Aboriginal groups are becoming land owners in the Wet Topics region. This has created pathways for Rainforests Aboriginal People to undertake master planning processes for community development, achieve return to country aspirations, develop economic opportunities and enter into joint management arrangements for national parks (currently in the Daintree area only) through tenure resolution processes.
In addition to strengthening the involvement of Rainforest Aboriginal People in the management of the World Heritage Area, the Authority will also support a range of Traditional Owner-led activities such as traditional knowledge maintenance and practices, presentation and management of cultural values, return to country through cooperative management agreements, and enhanced livelihoods and wellbeing through collaborative partnerships.This is enabled through the Strategic Plan, further strengthening of provisions in the Wet Tropics Management Plan 1998 and refreshing the Regional Agreement.