Australia’s Daintree Rainforest has been returned to its original Indigenous owners, the state of Queensland, Australia’s third most populous, said on Wednesday, as the government begins to cede control of the world’s oldest tropical forest.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, the Daintree National Park was handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people in a ceremony in the remote town of Bloomfield on Wednesday.
The 135-million-year-old tropical rainforest is famed for its rich biodiversity – from a giant clawed cassowary bird to plants that have existed since the age of the dinosaurs. But it has come under sustained pressure from climate change and industries such as logging.
Queensland state environment minister Meaghan Scanlon said the return of lands was a key step on the path toward reconciliation after an “uncomfortable and ugly” past.
“The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people’s culture is one of the world’s oldest living cultures and this agreement recognises their right to own and manage their country, to protect their culture, and to share it with visitors as they become leaders in the tourism industry,” Scanlon said in a statement.
Eastern Kuku Yalanji traditional owner Chrissy Grant said the move was a historic event that put the community “in control of our own destinies”.
In total, 160,000 hectares (about 395,000 acres) of land on the Cape York peninsula – the northeast tip of Australia – is being returned to the area’s traditional Aboriginal owners as part of reconciliation measures, Scanlon added.
British settlers arrived in Australia in 1788, colonising the continent and leaving Aboriginal groups marginalised.
The deal is the first time Queensland has transferred the ownership of a national park in the Wet Tropics region of the state’s northeast to an Indigenous group.
Australia’s Uluru and Kakadu parks in the country’s remote north are already owned by a local Indigenous population.
The national parks will initially be jointly managed with the Queensland state government, before being transferred into the sole care of the Indigenous group.
Grant said a foundation would be created to provide training and employment for local First Nations people in areas such as land management, tourism and research.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP & REUTERS)