Why The Daintree Rainforest Handover Is So Significant

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In a historic deal, the Daintree Rainforest has been passed back to its rightful traditional owners from the Queensland state government.

More than 160,000 hectares of land has been returned to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, in a move that the Queensland government has called a ‘path of reconciliation’.

As well as the Daintree Rainforest, three other national parks have also been handed back to their traditional owners.

The Daintree is a UNESCO World Heritage site in tropical north Queensland, and it’s one of Australia’s top tourist destinations.

It’s well known for its dense forests, mountain ranges, and stunning white beaches, and it’s one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

So What Does This Mean For The Daintree?

The new agreement means the Eastern Kulu Yalanji people will now manage the national park, along with the Queensland’s state government and Wildlife Service.

The government has promised that the parks will “eventually be solely and wholly managed” by the traditional owners.

This has been a long time coming for the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people, who are believed to have lived in the area for more than 50,000 years.

The Daintree Rainforest itself is estimated to be around 180 million years-old, and home to over 3,000 plant species, and hundreds of mammals, birds, and reptile species.

In 1988, Queensland’s wet tropics were listed on the World Heritage list after the federal government successfully lobbied against the growing threat of logging and development, which was being enforced by the Queensland government at the time.

But the traditional owners were completely left out of the process.

The heritage listing meant that the Daintree Rainforest was listed for environmental value, but not for Indigenous cultural reasons – much like Uluru and Kakadu National Park.

What’s The Response Been?

Queensland’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, among others has been trying to negotiate this new hand back deal for four years.

She described the agreement as a recognition of the traditional owners’ right to own and manage their Country, and she acknowledged “the uncomfortable and ugly shared past”.

She said that this change will hopefully help to protect the traditional owners’ culture, and to enable them to share it with visitors as they become leaders in the tourism industry.

According to the ABC, Yalanji traditional owner and Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation director Mary-Anne Port broke down when the state government finally announced they were returning the land.

“This is where we belong,” she said.

Traditional Owner and negotiator, Chrissy Grant told The Guardian that ‘bama’, which means people, have been living across the wet tropics forever.

And that that in itself was something that is pretty unique to the world heritage listing.

Many others, including Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe stand in solidarity with the news.

And there is hope that this handover model, will offer a pathway for other indigenous groups around Australia to negotiate ownership of their traditional lands.