Biggest park in Cape York handed back

By Natalie Muller 23 June 2011
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
The biggest national park on the Cape York Peninsula has been handed back to its traditional owners.

THE INDIGENOUS TRADITIONAL OWNERS of Lakefield National Park, about 300km north of Cairns, have been given control of their lands after 20 years of negotiations with the Queensland government.

The Lakefield National Park was renamed Rinyirru at an official handover ceremony on Wednesday.

Now, the traditional owners, represented by a land trust, will co-manage the park with the Queensland government. Local native title families welcomed the decision.

“It means we can work together to protect our sacred and cultural sites and that our young people can go on country and learn how to manage their land,” says Lamalama traditional owner Lizzie Lakefield. “I feel very happy but also sad because it has taken almost 20 years and my elders have passed away.”

The park will be co-managed by eight local groups: the Lamalama people, the Kuku Thaypan people, the Bagaarrmugu clan, the Mbarimakarranma clan, the Muunydyiwarra clan, the Magarrmagarrwarra clan, the Balnggarrwarra clan and the Gunduurwarra clan.

Working together

The national park is a popular tourist destination on Cape York, renowned for its spectacular waterfalls, coastal estuaries and winding rivers. It is also home to many threatened native species such as the golden shouldered parrot, red goshawk, lakeland downs mouse and spectacled hare-wallaby, as well as the critically endangered speartooth shark.

Lizzie says the decision will help local clans to be involved in protecting traditional sacred sites.

“It’s been looked after real good but I think traditional owners should come in and do even better.”

Under the new joint-management deal, they will manage the land alongside state government rangers. The Queensland government will commit $190,000 to the Land Trust for park works and services contracts, as well as $10,000 annually for training local indigenous park rangers.

Native title families attended a handover
ceremony on Wednesday,
giving them ownership of the Lakefield National Park

A long time coming

Lakefield was declared a national park by Queensland’s Bjelke-Petersen government in 1979 and local elders were enraged the decision was taken without their consultation.

In 1992 they lodged a claim for the 544,000-hectare national park with Queensland’s land court, which recommended a handover in 1996. Since then local indigenous groups have been locked in negotiations with the state government and environmentalists.

Lakefield is the third national park in Cape York to be returned to its traditional owners. In March, 2011, Starke Station on Cape York Peninsular was handed over to traditional owners. Eventually all of Queensland’s national parks will also be under shared management.  

Leah Talbot of the Australian Conservation Foundation attended the ceremony, and says the handover is an outstanding outcome for conservation and for Aboriginal Australians.

“This is a new way forward for traditional owners. This recognises their very strong, in-depth knowledge about the land and that a lot of the cultural sites and traditional stories are part of the landscape,” she says.

Rinyirru, the park’s new name, recognises an important traditional story place, Jeanette Hill, in the north-eastern corner of the park.