Rainforest people recognised as a national heritage icon

Conrad Yeatman's parents were forcibly removed from their homes when they were young children. He never met his grandmother and bears the emotional scars of being displaced from land with which he still feels intimately connected.

He's says enshrining the environmental value of land has hindered, not helped, Aboriginal people in their struggle for recognition and rights.

"A lot of people have been taken away from their country and parents."

"My dad, Michael Yeatman and my mother, Wilma Costello, we've gone through a lot with this World Heritage and I've waited 21 years and I still haven't got anything to do on our own land because of the conditions they put on us."

"What I'd like to see is take some listing of heritage off our land so that I can get my family back and grandchildren back onto land to teach them and to live happy with the neighbour.

"To be one, and unite, and work together."

"The feeling for the country, I know many of us feel the same way, that we just want to go back and live a peaceful life and get our children to work now, instead of being called what they call us. A good for nothing."

Last week in Cairns, almost 25 years after the original World Heritage listing of North Queensland's wet tropics area, the Federal Government officially recognised the significance of the rainforest's rich cultural heritage.

Traditional owners in far north Queensland say updating the National Heritage Register is a milestone achievement for rainforest Aboriginal people.

The ceremony at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park was an emotional but happy day for members of 20 clan groups reaching from Bloomfield to Townsville.

Alison Halliday is a rainforest Aborigine from the Goldsborough Valley, south of Cairns, and is a representative on the Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee.

She says the re-listing of cultural heritage values is one step toward traditional owners re-gaining a meaningful role in managing and protecting country.

"It's embedded within us and what we can bring to the table is our knowledge of the land."

"What we use in the line of medicinal purposes, of how we look after country, the knowledge of what plants we can use for what purposes and so on.

"It's early days as yet but we are really hoping that the Minister goes back to the likes of his crew.

"We need to be properly resourced in order to look after country and it doesn't mean looking after country for ourselves, it means looking after country for everybody."

Federal Environment and Heritage Minister Tony Burke, who had only returned from a week-long trip to Cape York Peninsula, said hearing the struggle of Aboriginal people hit home in a quite personal way.

"The greatest blockage that we're all dealing with is ignorance and everything that starts to get a higher level of understanding for the rest of Australia can only help but we've got to cross that threshold of acknowledging from day one how much we don't know."

He acknowledges what happens next is critical.

"So, up until now, the Wet Tropics has been able to be managed purely on environmental grounds. Today, as legal matters of national environmental significance, cultural values have to be part of how it is managed as well.

"And to follow through with proper consultation and get those management plans right effectively is what's required to make today genuinely meaningful."

"Since 1988, everyone's started to lift their game... but the truth is we still have a construct that sees environmental values and cultural values as thought they're somehow different and if there's one thing that has been made absolutely clear to me in every conversation I've had around campfires with indigenous communities has been that they are intrinsically linked and to try to pretend that we can properly protect the environment without taking account of cultural values really misses the point."

"It's take us a while to catch up but I think we're getting there."

Meanwhile, people like Conrad Yeatman who grew up in a place far away from his traditional land, the wait continues.

"Standing here now, I can feel that I am part of something now but what I'd like to do is to walk back on kuku taipan country and tell my kids and family that this is our's forever and we are going to work together."

AUDIO: Rainforest Aboriginal people
AUDIO Federal Environment and Heritage Minister Tony Burke has re-listed Wet Tropics rainforest

Responses to "Rainforest Aboriginal people have been officially recognised as a national heritage icon (Audio)"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Happy for my friends in Australia at this important move to include cultural values along with environmental values!

  2. Ukumbwa says:

    This is a powerful statement toward the validation of all indigenous peoples and the protection of their traditions, cultural values and Ancestral lands. Solidarity with and protection of indigeny is what will save humanity from the sure death we are headed to if we allow capitalist globalization and its inherent pathology of land and resource theft to go unabated and unchecked.

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