Updated: April 12, 2011
Mungkan Kaanju - Conservation and Land Justice
In November last year, the Wilderness Society endorsed a land reform proposal that will right the wrongs of the distant past, and deliver an important land justice and conservation outcome on Cape York.
In May 2011, the tenure and management reform of Mungkan Kaanju National Park is expected to be complete. The result will be the handback of traditional lands of the Wik Mungkan people as Aboriginal freehold; conversion of Mungkan Kaanju into an Aboriginal owned and jointly-managed National Park, and the creation of a new Nature Refuge.
Mungkan Kaanju National Park's history is weighed down with pain and injustice for its Traditional Owners. At the centre of this is a property named ‘Archer Bend' on Wik homelands.
In 1974, the late John Koowarta, a Wik Traditional Owner, sought to purchase the Archer Bend pastoral lease for the benefit of his people. The purchase was almost finalised when the then Bjelke-Petersen Government refused the legal transfer of ownership.
From 1976 – 1982, Koowarta fought a battle through the courts for his rights. He was successful in the High Court, on the grounds of racial discrimination, and in the Queensland Supreme Court, winning his bid for ownership of the land.
However, in a spiteful decision, the Bjelke-Petersen Government dashed Mr Koowarta's hopes when it again refused to transfer the title of the land, instead converting the property into a National Park (now part of Mungkan Kaanju National Park).
For contemporary environmentalists, the blatant misuse of power by Bjelke-Petersen was an affront to equality and fairness, and poisoned the waters for conservation on Cape York. This event has cascaded down the years and has rightly led environment groups, together with Indigenous groups, to a fundamentally different approach to conservation in the region.
Cape York is now the scene of Australia's most signifi cant contemporary land rights and conservation campaigns. Over the last 15 years, the Queensland and Federal Governments, supported to beby Indigenous and environmental groups, have purchased around 2 million hectares of land on Cape York for the dual purpose of conservation and return of homelands to Traditional Owners. In addition, the Queensland Government is transferring existing National Parks on Cape York, including Mungkan Kaanju, to the new tenure of National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land) under the Nature Conservation Act.
A landmark decision last November by the Queensland Parliament to adjust the boundaries of Mungkan Kaanju secures the future tenure and management of this extraordinary natural and cultural landscape and will hopefully help to heal the wounds of the Wik Mungkan people.
Archer Bend (an area of 75,000ha – i.e. 17% of the national park) will be handed back to its Traditional Owners the Wik Mungkan people. In a generous spirit, the Traditional Owners will declare a Nature Refuge over high conservation value areas of Archer Bend. They will also co-manage the new National Park.
The Wilderness Society is honoured to be part of this great conservation and land justice outcome.
CAPE YORK TENURE REFORM AND HERITAGE PROTECTION
In 2007, the Queensland Government, Indigenous organisations, and conservation groups including TWS, supported the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007. The Act creates a new class of protected area - National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land) and paves the way for the return of all current national parks on Cape York to their Indigenous Traditional Owners.
The Heritage Act agreement created a framework for sustainable economic development, the declaration of areas of International Conservation Signiﬁcance, and amended the Wild Rivers Act to protect Native Title rights.
For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society Inc