Return of Shelburne Bay lands to Traditional Owners a huge win for Indigenous land justice and nature

MEDIA RELEASE for immediate release 15 December, 2016

[Photo credit: Kerry Trapnell]

The peak state body for conservation groups, the Queensland Conservation Council, has congratulated the Wuthathi Traditional Owners of the Shelburne Bay, Cape York Peninsula on the formal return of their lands and islands. 

At a ceremony today at Lockhart River in northwest Cape York, attended by Queensland Conservation Council head Dr Tim Seelig among a number of guests, Ministers, officials and Traditional Owners, the freehold title deeds of the Shelburne Bay area were handed to the Wuthathi Aboriginal Corporation on behalf of its Indigenous original custodians.

The handback of this land has also created a new 37,270 national park on the mainland: the ‘Wuthathi (Shelburne Bay) National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land)’, and two smaller new national parks comprising nearby island groups.

Shelburne Bay is an area of outstanding and largely undisturbed natural values and cultural heritage, but has been previously threatened by sand mining and logging. The area is best known for its huge white sand dunes and perched lakes that run right up to the coast line. It also contains ecologically diverse heathlands, rainforest and eucalypt woodlands.

The Queensland Conservation Council was involved in the campaign to prevent sand mining on Shelburne Bay in the early 2000s, and other conservation groups (ACF and The Wilderness Society) have been part of the process of securing substantial government funding to support Cape York land acquisition and tenure transfers such as Shelburne Bay.

“Today is a very special day for the Wuthathi Traditional Owners, and we congratulate them on the return of their traditional lands and islands”, said Queensland Conservation Council head Dr Tim Seelig.

“Return of Shelburne Bay lands to Traditional Owners is a huge win for Indigenous land justice and for nature.

“Shelburne Bay is a very special place for its Aboriginal custodians, and also for all Australians who value and respect Cape York’s unique natural values and Indigenous cultural heritage.

“The formal return of these lands achieves land justice outcomes and ensures ongoing environmental protection outcomes on its amazing landscapes as well.

“We thank the Wuthathi Traditional Owners for their agreement to create three new Aboriginal-owned national parks on their lands and islands as part of today’s land dealings process.

“We also thank the Wuthathi Traditional Owners for giving conservation representatives the privilege of being present at the formal handover ceremony. This was an immense privilege.

“We wish the Wuthathi people well in their future endeavours to manage their traditional country”.

The Cape York Tenure Resolution process, through which the return of the Shelburne Bay lands has been effected, has delivered some 3 million hectares of land returns to Traditional Owners, with a mix of unencumbered Aboriginal Freehold, Aboriginal-owned national park and nature refuge areas.

Conservation groups have supported the process over the years through campaigns for state and federal government funding, and by providing advice on natural values and national park priorities.

Dr Tim Seelig is a former Queensland Campaigns Manager of The Wilderness Society and was previously part of the Cape York Tenure Resolution process.

For further information or comment contact:
Queensland Conservation Council Coordinator Dr Tim Seelig on 0439 201 183

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