Ngaliya Maguydan (Our Story) – Naree Budjong Djara (My Mother Earth) National Park – National Parks Association of Queensland

Ngaliya Maguydan (Our Story) – Naree Budjong Djara (My Mother Earth) National Park

Author: Cameron Costello - former CEO of the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, Deputy Chair of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, and member of the Queensland Koala Advisory Council.

Photography: Supplied

Nunagal, Goenbal and Ngugi People have always protected our Quandamookadjara (Quandamooka Country) and managed the health of the ecosystems to allow all species to flourish. QYAC and QPWS aim to provide best practice joint management of Naree Budjong Djara, to ensure lands and culture stay healthy for our children and for the benefit of all the people of Queensland. We pay our respects to the Elders past, present and emerging for their wisdom and knowledge of the land and sea on which we work, live and walk. (Naree Budjong Djara Management Plan)

July 4th 2021 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Federal Court’s Native Title Determination on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) for my people, the Quandamooka People. It will also mark 10 years of joint management by the Queensland Government and Quandamooka People of the Naree Budjong Djara (My Mother Earth) National Park.

In 2019, another Native Title Determination occurred over Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) and the Queensland Parliament recently passed legislation recognising ownership and expanding joint management of the renamed Gheebulum Coonungai (Moreton Island) National Park on that island also. Given these milestones, it is worthwhile to look at 10 years of joint management, analyse the outcomes and celebrate its achievements.

Aboriginal Ownership and Control of Islands

Naree Budjong Djara National Park was declared by the Queensland Government on 25 March 2011. Through a joint process of protected area expansion, the national park now covers approximately 50% of Minjerribah and it is expected that the total area of Minjerribah gazetted as a joint-managed protected area will reach approximately 80% of the island in the future.

Joint Management of the National Park has been a journey.

In 2011, Justice Dowsett of the Federal Court of Australia made an historic declaration awarding recognition of native title rights to the Quandamooka People over 54,000 hectares of land and sea Country in Quandamooka (Moreton Bay). Primarily over Minjerrbah (North Stradbroke Island), the determination included Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) with the Queensland Government and Redland City Council.

The Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC (QYAC) was appointed by the Federal Court as the registered native title body for the Quandamooka People. QYAC manages the native title rights and interests on behalf of the Quandamooka People.

In 10 years QYAC has grown from a small office of 5 people, to a national leader in native title, with around 100 employees and over 900 members. Through the hard work of its volunteer board, elected by each of the twelve families, supported by Elders and its strong membership, it continues to drive forward its agenda. A foundation principle is that Quandamooka Country is a cultural and wildlife sanctuary.

The result – Healthy Country, Healthy Culture, Healthier People.

Benefits of Joint Management

One clear benefit of joint management is ensuring that the custodians of the land and waters for millennia are empowered in decision making, their traditional knowledge is valued and they are active in the operations of the park. As the Naree Budjong Djara Management Plan states:

‘Joint management provides an equal role for Quandamooka People in park operational decision-making and the management planning process.’ 

Joint management has also seen a recalibration to incorporate Quandamooka Priorities in management of the park – cultural heritage, ecological surveys, traditional knowledge, and economic development opportunities.

Cultural Heritage Protection

Initially, it was a battle for the Quandamooka People to get a focus on cultural heritage protection in Naree Budjong Djara. However, the protection of cultural heritage through surveys and management plans has rightly become a routine foundation principle for management of the park.

Quandamooka Ranger Program

Quandamooka People have previously been employed as Rangers and have played important roles over many years including the Moreton Island oil spill incident. Building on the foundation of the earlier significant work of the Quandamooka Land and Sea Management Agency (QLASMA), joint management has enhanced employment of Quandamooka People in caring for Country. The current QYAC Ranger Program now has over 20 rangers empowered in the day-to-day planning, coordination and management of Country.

Fire Managemement

The Quandamooka People now lead fire management on Minjerribah. The national park has new firebreaks and is incorporating traditional knowledge into a burn regime with modern science. In addition, after being a key proponent in its development, the Queensland Government has contracted QYAC to deliver the Minjerrribah Township Fire Management Strategy.

The role of Joint Management in Reconciliation

Joint management has meant genuine conversations around truth telling. It has seen a sharing of knowledge and culture, development of interpretive signage, storytelling, language reclamation, and capacity building. Part of that has been confronting institutionalised racism, changes to long held processes and where necessary, the uncomfortable weeding out of processes and people not committed to joint management. There have been leaders on both sides that have worked together to make joint management a success. Both Quandamooka People and the Queensland Government should be congratulated for the hard work and commitment to making joint management a success now, 10 years on.

Tourism Operations

The role of the Quandamooka People in the management of its national parks has seen a shift in the type of tourism operations occurring in Naree Budjong Djara. This shift is to more appropriate eco cultural tourism practices on Quandamooka Country. This ensures that cultural and ecological values are protected for our future generations to enjoy.

Restricted Access Areas

Restricted Access Areas (RAAs) in Protected Areas are not a new concept. There are areas in National Parks that for cultural purposes have been restricted access or are not accessible. Both QYAC and QPWS know that this is a good thing. This transition has generally been well received and understood. Protecting an area that has sacred spiritual and ceremonial meaning and purpose is a priority for Quandamooka People.

Lessons Learnt: Better Education and Communication

Native Title is a disruptor. Given the concept (a legislative response to the Mabo decision) overturned the long held view of terra nullius we should not be surprised that it was going to cause angst for those who continue to uphold the settler colonial mindset which sadly supports the concept of terra nullius. Unfortunately this mindset is also still upheld by not only some land owners, but some industry and other stakeholders when Aboriginal peoples started asserting their ownership rights to manage their country how they believed it should be, and importantly, how they had prior to colonisation.

Better communication with existing stakeholders and tourism operators is necessary. Better education of the broader public on native title is vital and crucial to address the settler colonial mindset and terra nullius assumption particularly some 29 years since the famous ‘Mabo’ or Native Title decision handed down by the High Court.

In my view it is the primary role of Federal, State and Local governments to educate their citizens. It is unfair to expect Aboriginal organisations to take the lead on educating non-Aboriginal citizens. It is also crucial that all levels of government ensure that their workers and elected representatives are familiar with not only Native Title but the concept of terra nullius, particularly since it was recognised firstly in the High Court in 1992 and followed by the Quandamooka Native Title decision in the Federal Court of Australia in 2011.

The Queensland Government and Local Government also, whilst not undermining strict commercial in confidence negotiations, must do better to keep their citizens who are impacted by native title outcomes, informed of the progress of the process, facilitate relationships, and provide information on the truths about native title.

The Future

The 10 years of joint management on Minjerribah has been a wonderful success that has been built on joint commitment, problem solving, and very hard work. It is now getting into a rhythm of success breeding more success. In the future, joint management is the minimum benchmark that we should all aspire to in our national parks. Beyond that there are clearly areas in national parks that require sole management by Traditional Owners. This should occur too. Wherever possible, cultural heritage surveys and management plans should be undertaken on protected area estates.

If the lessons from Minjerribah show anything, it’s that empowerment of Traditional Owners in national park management, and the benefits to country, culture and people, will transform our protected estates in Queensland into sustainable treasures to be enjoyed by our future generations.

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