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Daintree Handback

Date: 29 January 2021
Sub Category:Joint Management Agreement | Land Transfer Agreement

Cape York

State/Country:Queensland, Australia
Subject Matter: | Cultural Heritage | Economic Development | Environmental Heritage | Land Management | Land Settlement
Summary Information:

On 29 September 2021, the Queensland Government handed back 160,213 hectares of land to the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation on behalf of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people. The Queensland Government handback delivered the deeds of grant for the land under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 and Land Act 1994 (YARN 2021).

About twenty percent of the land was in addition to that covered by Eastern Kuku Yalanji native title (Willis, Wyles and Richardson, 2021).

The handback includes the conversion of the Daintree, Ngalba Bulal, Black Mountain and Hope Islands national parks to Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land (CYPAL), under the Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program (Department of Environment and Science, 2021). A small area of Aboriginal freehold land was also transferred resulting in the creation of the Eastern Yalanjiwarra nature refuge (Department of Environment and Science, 2021).

The conversion of the national parks to CPYAL resulted in the creation of the:

  • Daintree National Park (CPYAL)
  • Ngalba-Bulal National Park (CPYAL)
  • Kalajaka National Park (CPYAL)
  • Hope Islands National Park (CPYAL).

Significance of the Handback

The handback marks the first time a UNESCO World Heritage Area will be jointly managed and owned by Traditional Owners and a state government (State of Queensland, 2021). 

The Eastern Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owners' management of the land will create opportunities for the community by facilitating the sharing of traditional knowledges and land management practices as well as providing valuable employment and community engagement (Willis, Wyles and Richardson, 2021; State of Queensland, 2021). 

Lynette Johnson, chairperson of the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, hopes that young people will return to Country with the ambition to see homes and a 'cultural hub' built soon (Richardson and Willis, 2021).

While the agreement offers cultural and employment opportunities, Queensland Environment Minister Meghan Scanlon also acknowledged the handback of these lands as an 'important milestone in Queensland's history' (State of Queensland, 2021).

Detailed Information:


The handback follows previous recognition of the Eastern Kuku Yulani Peoples' native title over much of the land in Walker on behalf of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji v State of Queensland [2007] FCA 1907 (9 December 2007).

Following their native title recognition, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People sought more involvement, specifically in relation to autonomy over land management and control of their cultural heritage (Willis, Wyles and Richardson, 2021).

In 2017, the Traditional Owner Group Negotiation Committee (TONC) and five Elders groups were formed to negotiate with the Queensland State Government on behalf of the Yalanji, Jalunji and Nyungkul clans (YARN, 2021).

Chairperson of the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, Lynette Johnson, noted that the TONC went into negotiations with the understanding of what the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People wanted and needed. Johnson also congratulated the TONC on their efforts, whilst noting the handback was only possible due to the hard work of Elders during the native title recognition process (YARN, 2021). 

World Heritage status

The Daintree is within the UNESCO 1988 listed World Heritage site, the 'Wet Tropics of Queensland', which stretches along the northeast coast of Australia for 450km (UNESCO, accessed 16 Feb 2022).

UNESCO recognises the Wet Tropics of Queensland as being of 'outstanding universal value'. Biodiversity and evidence of evolutionary processes are criteria that make this area worthy of World Heritage status.

The UNESCO website notes: '[e]ncompassing some 894,420 hectares of mostly tropical rainforest, this stunningly beautiful area is extremely important for its rich and unique biodiversity. It also presents an unparalleled record of the ecological and evolutionary processes that shaped the flora and fauna of Australia, containing the relics of the great Gondwanan forest that covered Australia and part of Antarctica 50 to 100 million years ago' (UNESCO, accessed 16 Feb  2022).

The Federal and Queensland governments have since enacted various statutory protection mechanisms. These include the:

  • Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993 (Qld)
  • Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Conservation Act 1994 (Cth)
  • Wet Tropics Management Plan 1998
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) 

The path to World Heritage status

The UNESCO declaration followed multiple campaigns by conservationist groups across Australia.

The early-mid 1980s saw numerous conservationist groups campaigning against continued logging and clearing in the Queensland Wet Tropics, with the idea of a larger protected area encompassing all the state's wet tropics emerging in 1981 (Burg). 

The 'Daintree Blockade' saw protestors physically oppose the construction of a road through the Cape Tribulation National Park in 1983 (Nielsen, 1997). While the road was ultimately constructed, this spurred conservationists to campaign for all Queensland rainforests to be listed as protected World Heritage sites (Nielson, 1997), and created heightened interest in the conservation of the Daintree Rainforest both locally and nationally (Burg).

While Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen's government continued to push back against efforts to have the area listed as World Heritage, conservationists received the support of the Federal Government. In 1987, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that his government would nominate the Queensland Wet Tropics for heritage listing (Burg). 

With the Hawke Government's support, the rainforests of Queensland were successfully listed on 9 December 1988, despite continued opposition from the Queensland Government (Nielson, 1997), which had formed an alliance with Federal Opposition Leader John Howard among others (Burg). 

The Bjelke-Peterson State Government sent a delegate to a World Heritage meeting in Brazil in an attempt to stop the listing, and later litigated against the Hawke  Government twice (Nielsen, 1997). However, since 1989, the Queensland State Government has supported the declaration of World Heritage (Nielsen, 1997).

Local Indigenous communities reported being largely unheard and unacknowledged in the journey to heritage listing (Mounter and Staley, 2018). Alison Halliday, of the Malanbarra clan of the Yidinji tribe, recalled the community's concern that the listing 'had no regard for Aboriginal people and the cultural values we have attached to the ... area' (Mounter and Staley, 2018). Local Aboriginal groups came together to burn a copy of the World Heritage agreement in protest (Mounter and Staley, 2018).

Related Entries

  • Walker on behalf of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People v State of Queensland [2007] FCA 1907 (9 December 2007)
  • Wet Tropics Management Plan 1998 (Qld)
  • Organisation
  • Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC
  • Wet Tropics Management Authority
  • State of Queensland
  • Legislation
  • Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993 (Qld)
  • Land Act 1994 (Qld)
  • Aboriginal Land Act 1991 (Qld)
  • Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Conservation Act 1994 (Cth)
  • People
  • Eastern Kuku Yalanji People

  • References

    General Reference
    UNESCO Wet Tropics of Queensland
    Department of Environment and Science (2021) Aboriginal freehold land and jointly managed parks on Cape York Peninsula
    Media Release
    State of Queensland (29/09/2021) 160,000 hectares returned on path to reconciliation
    News Item
    BBC News (29 September 2021) Daintree: World Heritage rainforest handed back to Aboriginal owners
    Carli Willis, Dwayne Wyles and Holly Richardson (30/09/2021) Historic moment as Daintree National Park returned to Eastern Kuku Yalanji people
    Holly Richardson and Carli Willis (2021) What does the Daintree handback mean for the tourism and traditional owners?
    Lloyd Nielsen (1997) 'Daintree - Jewel of the Tropical North Queensland' from Destination Daintree
    YARN (2021) Daintree Rainforest handed back to its Traditional Owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people
    Brendan Mounter and Phil Staley (26/12/2018) The battle for the Wet Tropics - how Queensland's Daintree rainforest was saved
    Mary Burg The Role of Government Conservation Organisations in the lead up to the 1988 World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics Rainforests of north eastern Queensland.

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