History created with handover
SIXTY-THREE thousand hectares of land between Mossman and Cooktown was handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people on Saturday.
But the long struggle for traditional owners to regain control of their traditional lands which began with a native title claim in 1994 looks set to continue.
Under the agreement formalised with Saturday’s historic handover at the Mossman Bowls Club of 65,000ha, only 16,500ha will be available for the development of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Bama’s (people’s) social, cultural and economic aspirations, with the rest to be declared a nature refuge.
Jabalbina chairperson Francis Walker, whose tenure with the board also finished on Saturday, said the handover was a “twoedged sword”.
“It’s good for Bama to get the bubu (land) back but if we don’t have the resources and capacity to develop that bubu for our economic and social wellbeing, there will be little sustainable benefit,” she said.
“Once we get the bubu back how are we going to meet all the responsibilities associated with land ownership and also assist Bama to achieve their aspirations, with our limited resources?”
Member for Cook Jason O’brien, who attended the ceremony, said the agreements “provide an unparalleled opportunity for the Yalanji people to build a prosperous future for the next generation”.
Ms Walker said some developmental work had already been done in small areas by many dedicated people.
“But the big challenges of establishing adequately facilitated living areas and sustainable business enterprises can only be met with the committed support and assistance of State and Commonwealth Governments,” she said.
“Society wants to preserve the environmental values of our bubu but that need to preserve what hasn’t already been disturbed by colonisation takes away our right to determine for ourselves.
“As Bama, how we can best use the resources on our bubu for the benefit of our current and future generations?
“This is a milestone day, but it is a milestone at the start of a very long road.”
Jabalbina general manager Paul Barrett said that while Yalanji Bama waited a long time for the handback of their land - putting in place “on the ground” arrangements that would see their plans come to fruition, “was yet to be tackled”.
“It sounds great to get all of this land back and it is, but without the money to do anything with the land what can be done? It will just sit there,” he said.