On the 11th July 1987, Australians voted the ALP and Bob Hawke into federal government. Labor’s campaign promise, to stop logging within Queensland’s Wet Tropical rainforests via World Heritage nomination, was well supported and true to its word, inscription was ratified a mere sixteen months later.
World Heritage listing for the area’s Cultural Heritage was not sought in Australia’s nomination. The listing of the Wet Tropics was for natural heritage only. The tenor of the nomination rather celebrated the extraordinary natural values as if they had been found, like a hidden treasure, for the remarkable good fortune of humankind. Their urgent protection, through the highest order of protection available to Australia, was justified by their discovery.
But for the people whose lives and livelihoods were a part of the nominated landscape, there was also dishonour and disenfranchisement. Under the nobility of World Heritage, domestic maneuverings usurped economic benefits and amenity towards emerging interests with lesser familiarity.
The indigenous peoples of the Wet Tropics, in particular, were offered tokenistic recognition of traditional ownership, but were structurally excluded from management authority. The fact that the very values identified for World Heritage listing remained a living testament to indigenous land management practices, was not only overlooked by Australia, it was also severed from continuity.
After more than twenty years of effort to convince Australia to re-nominate the Wet Tropics for Cultural Heritage values, indigenous interests have recently won the support of federal environment minister, the Hon. Peter Garrett MP, for inclusion on the National Heritage List; whilst not quite World Heritage, it is a step in that very direction.
Taken from the Wet Tropics Management Authority website: story places (natural features such as mountains, rivers, waterfalls, swimming holes, trees) are parts of the Wet Tropics landscape that are important to Rainforest Aboriginal people as they symbolise features that were created during the ancestral creation period (sometimes called the “Dreaming” or the “Dreamtime”). These places have powerful meaning and properties. They may be considered dangerous to approach or take resources from, except in prescribed ways or by the right person. These places must be respected, not damaged and must be managed carefully by the expert guidance of the relevant Traditional Owners.