Environmentalists applaud premier's conservation land return

Conservation groups today welcomed the handback of nearly 182,000 hectares of land in Cape York Peninsula to its Traditional Owners and the creation of the Aboriginal-owned Kulla (McIlwraith Range) National Park.

The new joint managed National Park will cover almost 160,000 hectares of this Aboriginal land and includes unique tropical-rainforest wilderness.
The hand back of title was delivered at a ceremony at Coen by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh marking the importance of this event. Traditional Owners and conservation groups also attended the ceremony.

This hand back and new National Park comes out of a unique partnership between the Cape York Land Council, Balkanu, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), The Wilderness Society and the Queensland Government, working together to return lands to Traditional Owners and protect areas of outstanding environmental and cultural significance.

Alec Marr, Executive Director of The Wilderness Society said “The Kaanju, Ayapathu, Lama Lama and Umpila peoples have persevered over many years to see their land returned and properly managed.

Today represents a huge gain for the future of conservation on Cape York Peninsula and for land justice in Queensland”.

The McIlwraith Range area is the largest area of tropical-rainforest wilderness left in Australia. It has the greatest diversity of Australia’s orchid species and over half of its butterfly species. It is also home to endangered species such as the Cassowary and other species found nowhere else in the world like the Cape York Nursery Frog and McIIwraith Leaf-tailed Gecko.

“Protection of this magnificent tropical rainforest is a great step forward” said Don Henry, Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation. “We commend the Traditional Owners for their vision, determination and generosity in leasing back their land as a National Park”.

Steve Ryan of the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre said “CAFNEC welcomes tenure outcomes for Cape York which can provide mutual support for protection of the region’s unique environmental values as well as the traditions and contemporary aspirations of Traditional Owners.”

A joint management agreement for the area will ensure that this special region will be managed to the highest standards of nature conservation and in a way that is consistent with the Aboriginal traditions and customs of the area.

This is the second major land return since the Cape York Heritage Act, 2007 passed last year with the support of environmental and Indigenous organisations. This breakthrough opened the way to resolving the future tenure and management of nearly 2 million hectares of land acquired by the Queensland Government for the dual purpose of conservation and Aboriginal land return.