Beyond the evidence of the site’s original pristine condition, Kuku Yalanji traditional owners have made it abundantly clear that this place is highly-significant to them and conserving that significance requires prohibition of culturally inappropriate activities. Within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, forest product must not be destroyed, but in 2005, the site was also officially registered as an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Site under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003, which is binding upon all persons, including the State, with maximum penalties for contravention of duty of care obligations currently at $117,800 for an individual and $1,178,000 for a corporation. The registration report recommended protection of natural and cultural values and specifically that the area not become a recreational reserve, with the level and frequency of visitor access re-directed to other places more suitable for recreational activities. On 21 August 2006, the Local Government adopted its Cultural Heritage and Valuable Sites Policy, which included this particular sacred site. The policy’s objectives are to ensure that cultural heritage and valuable sites of the Shire are identified, recorded and recognised as important elements and features of the historical and environmental fabric of the Shire and protected and retained in perpetuity as community assets. On 9 November 2012, the Australian Government announced the inclusion of National Indigenous Heritage values, as part of the existing National Heritage Listing for the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Once a Heritage Place is listed, special requirements come into force under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, to ensure that the values of the place will be protected and conserved for future generations.
Regrettably, the sanctity of this site’s Indigenous cultural heritage remains neither universally respected, nor sufficiently enforced. Amongst the cumulative impacts of a multitude of misplaced enthusiasms, pig-hunters have been seen washing their bloodied hounds and muddied trucks in the sacred waters and the once pristine attributes, which gave evidence of sanctity, were progressively desecrated under the weight and insensitivity of unauthorised and unmanaged public intrusion.
As the custodial landholder with the major duty of care, in terms of land area within the precinct, we have done everything possible to comply with the law and also to abide by our promise to Kuku Yalanji elders, however, unauthorised intrusions and their cumulative impacts have been relentless. Without any apparent regard to either the sanctity of the site or our rights and responsibilities as the majority landholder, a giant Yellow Penda, holding the banks of convergent watercourses into structural integrity for half-a-millennia, was killed. Axe-wounds were illegally struck into the tree-trunk to establish footholds for trespassers to climb into the overhanging crown and raucously plunge into the pristine waters below. The fungal infection that penetrated these arboreal wounds and the thousands of illicit ascents, ultimately led to the collapse of this five-hundred-year-old giant, centuries short of its potential longevity, causing catastrophic slumping of the northern embankment. The official response to this World Heritage vandalism, disappointingly dismissed the tree’s collapse as natural.
Seeking management cooperation over the years, invariably led to government land officials obdurately belabouring the public’s common-law right to enjoy the recreational attributes of Crown watercourses, despite legislated Heritage constraints and in direct contradiction to the expressed instructions of both the traditional Indigenous owners and also the majority landholder within the precinct. In less than three-decades, since Australia committed to site protection under the formality of World Heritage, the integrity of what Kuku Yalanji custodians reverently protected over seventy-millennia, was unrecoverably degraded. That international responsibilities in such an important locality were dishonoured, over such a short expanse of time, should be of great concern to all Australians and humankind as a whole.