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Aboriginal freehold land and jointly managed parks on Cape York Peninsula

Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program

The Cape York Peninsula Resolution Program returns ownership and management of identified lands on Cape York Peninsula to local Aboriginal Traditional Owners, while ensuring the protection of Cape York Peninsula’s iconic natural areas and significant natural and cultural values.

Through this program, the state is changing the tenure of identified Cape York properties to Aboriginal freehold land, allowing Traditional Owners to return to live on country and pursue employment and business opportunities in land management, grazing and private tourism ventures. Those areas of the land which have outstanding environmental values are being dedicated as jointly managed national parks. With support from Traditional Owners, the state is also converting existing national parks, to jointly managed national parks (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land) – CYPAL, with Aboriginal freehold as the underlying tenure.

To date, tenure resolution has been completed for 22 State land dealings and 18 existing parks, resulting in:

  • Establishment of 25 Aboriginal land holding entities (holding over 3.7 million hectares of land)
  • The transfer of over 1.5 million hectares of Aboriginal freehold land (without a national park (CYPAL))
  • The conversion of 18 existing national parks to jointly managed national park (CYPAL) – nearly 1.4 million hectares
  • The creation of 10 new national parks (CYPAL) – over 799,000 hectares
  • The creation of 19 nature refuges on Aboriginal freehold – over 300,000 hectares

On Cape York Peninsula there remains 15 national parks which are yet to be converted to national park (CYPAL). This area is over 410,000 hectares and includes the iconic Daintree National Park which is scheduled to be converted to jointly managed national park (CYPAL), following negotiations with Eastern Kuku Yalanji People. The most recent dealings occurred in December 2016 and May 2017:

  • In December 2016, over 118,131 hectares of land including the spectacular Shelburne Bay silica sand dune fields were transferred to the Wuthathi Aboriginal Corporation and resulted in the creation of Wuthathi (Shelburne Bay) National Park (CYPAL), Wuthathi (Sir Charles Hardy Group) National Park (CYPAL), Wuthathi (Saunders Islands) National Park (CYPAL) and a substantial area of Aboriginal freehold land; and
  • In May 2017, 160,730 hectares of land adjacent to the Shelburne Bay dune fields were transferred to the Bromley Aboriginal Corporation, which resulted in the creation of two new jointly managed national parks (CYPAL), two new nature refuges and a considerable area of Aboriginal freehold land.

Other key achievements of the Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program include:

  • Working cooperatively with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Northern Region to support joint management of national parks and associated Aboriginal ranger employment and land management projects such as fencing, cattle management, cultural and natural values protection.  
  • Working with Aboriginal landowners to establish third party grazing and gravel extraction arrangements
  • Supporting the delivery of State and Commonwealth Indigenous land management funding projects to provide Aboriginal employment in fire and pest management
  • Supporting Aboriginal landowners of Archer Bend, Batavia, Mary Valley and Olkola lands to plan for sustainable livelihoods and economic development opportunities.
  • Supporting the establishment of Indigenous owned tourism enterprises on Aboriginal freehold land transferred through this program including; sponsoring a group of Traditional Owners to become accredited tour guides through the nationally acclaimed Savannah Guide School; supporting the development of an online camp site booking system; and facilitating the development of a tourism business scoping plan.
  • Supporting land holding entities established under this program (Aboriginal land trusts and corporations) to:
    • become independent highly functioning land managers
    • meet governance and land management obligations
    • create networks and pursue economic development opportunities.

A new move… Joint management of Cape York Peninsula national parks

On 2 November 2007 a new move towards joint management of national parks on Cape York Peninsula took effect through the proclamation of the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 (the Act).

Under the Act, amendments to the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA) allow for the creation of a new class of protected area called "national park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal land)" (national park [CYPAL]). This new class allows for existing and proposed national parks to become Aboriginal land and also be dedicated and managed as a national park (CYPAL). More importantly it allows for joint management of national park land by Traditional Owners (represented by a land trust) and the department.

Traditional Owners will be the owners of the land through the grant of an Aboriginal freehold title, provided the area will always be managed as a national park (CYPAL) under the NCA.

What lands can become national park (CYPAL)?

Existing national parks, Aboriginal land and unallocated State land in the Cape York Peninsula region can all become national park (CYPAL). The Cape York Peninsula Region covers mainland and offshore areas including islands. Some areas are excluded as they are being dealt with under a separate process; these include Daintree, Cedar Bay and Black Mountain national parks.

How will a national park (CYPAL) be jointly managed?

Joint management arrangements for a national park (CYPAL) will be established through the development of an Indigenous Management Agreement (IMA) and a park management statement or management plan.

The IMA will provide the framework for the ongoing relationship between the department and the land trust for the management of the national park (CYPAL). The IMA sets the responsibilities of the State and the land trust in managing the national park (CYPAL). The department and relevant land trusts will also work together to develop management statements or management plans for each national park (CYPAL). The management statement or management plan under the NCA will be more specific in outlining resource and visitor management requirements.

To what extent will Traditional Owners be involved in management?

Park management responsibilities will be negotiated between the department and the Traditional Owners (represented by a land trust) but will vary from park to park.

As joint managers of the land, Traditional Owners will be involved in all levels of park management. Traditional Owners and the department will work together to develop resource and visitor management policies, and operational procedures for the day-to-day management of the parks including pest animal and pest plant control, fire management, permits, presentation and facilities.

As joint managers of the land, Traditional Owners may also economically benefit from contract work, commercial tourism and Indigenous ranger employment.

Will committees be established to oversee the management of national parks (CYPAL)?

Regional and sub-regional committees comprised of representatives of Indigenous people, including representatives from the land trusts, will be established to continue the co-operative relationship between the department and Traditional Owners.

Sub-regional committee membership will be drawn from Indigenous people that have an interest in the area for which the committee is established and will allow Traditional Owners to speak on national park management issues. Sub-regional committees may represent an individual national park or groups of national parks in the Cape York Region.

A Regional Protected Area Management Committee (RPAMC) will be established with representation from sub-regional committees or Indigenous regional organisations in the Cape York Peninsula Region, as well as the department.

The role of the RPAMC will be to advise the Federal Minister for Environment about matters relating to the protected area estate in Cape York Peninsula including:

  • park management plans
  • employment opportunities to increase Indigenous representation in the national park workforce
  • provision of resources for management of the protected areas.

More information

Last updated
25 November 2019