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Shelburne Bay on Cape York Peninsula returned to the Wuthathi


Today at a ceremony in remote Lockhart River on Cape York Peninsula, Shelburne Bay was officially handed back to the traditional owners, the Wuthathi. At the ceremony, the Wuthathi agreed to establish a new Aboriginal National Park under Queensland law from over half the lands, including most of the iconic pure white dune fields and lakes, as well as surrounding rainforest and wildflower fields. The Wuthathi will own and jointly manage the National Park, and with funding from the Queensland Government, will employ rangers to manage the lands. By law, mining will be barred from the lands - Aboriginal National Park and aboriginal freehold.

This generosity of the Wuthathi will protect in a socially just way an area of high international conservation significance and one of the longest standing top priority national park proposals in Queensland. It will provide a basis for cultural and economic renewal for the Wuthathi. In the 1980's and 1990's, mining proposals were contested for the region jointly by the Wuthathi and environmental organisations including the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, the Australian Conservation Foundation, and the Wilderness Society, leading to the Hawke Government and subsequent Queensland Governments banning mining proposals. 

The Queensland Government under Premier Beattie put in place a collaborative process with the Cape York Land Council, Balkanu, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society and the Cairns and Far North Envrionment Centre, for the voluntary acquisition of properties of high conservation value and their hand back to traditional owners with declarations of the Aboriginal National Park by consent of the traditional owners. To date, 19 properties have been voluntarily purchased totalling about 2 million hectares. Additionally, 16 existing National Parks totalling 1.4 million hectares have been handed back to traditional owners and with their consent dedicated as Aboriginal National Parks under their ownership and joint management. Work is continuing on the hand back of additional properties.

Professor Don Henry from MSSI has worked jointly on the Shelburne Bay issue with the Wuthathi since the mid-1980's. He attended the ceremonies on the invitation of the Traditional Owners. He is undertaking a research project jointly with Gerhardt Pearson to document and analyse the tenure resolution process on Cape York.

Images by Kerry Trapnell