Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Wet Tropics of Queensland's Indigenous heritage given national recognition

Media release
9 November 2012

Indigenous heritage and culture in the Wet Tropics of Queensland has been given national recognition by the Gillard Labor Government today.

Heritage Minister Tony Burke said the Indigenous heritage values of the Wet Tropics would be included as part of the existing Wet Tropics of Queensland National Heritage Listing.

"Australia's ancient heritage doesn't only live in its environment. We have a deep cultural heritage spanning back centuries and millennia," Mr Burke said.

"This should have been recognised in the Wet Tropics when the heritage listing was first made but I'm glad to say that from today cultural heritage is fully and permanently recognised.

"The stories, traditions, songs and dances of the Aboriginal Indigenous People that occur in the Wet Tropics of Queensland are truly remarkable.

"They have lived amongst, and made continuous use of, the Wet Tropics of Queensland for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence suggests they have been living in the rainforest for at least 5,000 years.

"In doing this they have developed a distinctive cultural heritage determined by their dreamtime and creation stories and their traditional food gathering, processing and land management techniques.

"The stories and traditions passed down from their ancestors gave them the knowledge, advice and information they needed to survive in an at times inhospitable environment."

A tradition of the Kuku-Yalanji people describes how Kubirri, a Rainbow Serpent, showed their ancestors which food they could eat and how to process and prepare it. Another tradition describes how a skink called Junbirr taught two Kuku-Yalanji sisters how to make flour from the toxic cycad nut.

"This national heritage listing acknowledges the cultural traditions of the Indigenous People that underpin their knowledge of processing and eating toxic native plants to survive," Mr Burke said.

"It is estimated that they used at least 14 different native toxic plants and to do this developed a complex range of processing techniques and tools to ensure they were safe to eat.

"The way they used fire for land management is also exceptional, making it possible for them to live year-round in the Wet Tropical rainforest.

"Fire was used to keep their walking tracks clear of vegetation by placing hot coals at the base of lawyer vines and to kill or prune individual plants.

"The distinctiveness of the traditions and technical innovation and expertise needed to process and prepare toxic plants as food and their uses of fire is of outstanding heritage value to the nation and they are now protected for future generations under national environment law."

Any new development or project that is likely to have a significant impact on any of the Indigenous national heritage values now included in the National Heritage List will require federal environment approval.

The Wet Tropics was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988 and was added to the National Heritage List in 2007.

For more information go to www.heritage.gov.au.