For four decades the Mirarr people of Kakadu National Park have been calling for the town of Jabiru to be returned to its traditional owners. Led by senior traditional owner Yvonne Margarulu, the handback finally took place in June this year. The Mirarr now have a freehold title over the town, the first of its kind in Australia (Sydney Morning Herald, 2021).
Yvonne Margarulu and Mirarr Traditional Owners holding the framed and signed Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust. Courtesy of Parks Australia, 2021.
The handover ceremony took place in Jabiru and was attended by the Minister of Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, Minister for Environment Sussan Ley, local politicians, the local community and of course leader Yvonne Margarulu (ABC, 2021). Margarula (2021) expressed her joy in her speech at the ceremony in her traditional language, Kundjeyhmi, which was translated (SBS, 2021):
"I want to thank everybody who has been working with us to assist us to have this land returned to us…This land was left to us by our ancestors and now it comes back to us again."
Minister Ken Wyatt described the handover as “a monumental moment in the history of land rights in this country" (SBS, 2021). The ceremony was an emotional and joyous moment for the Mirarr people, finally they are in control of decisions that affect their land.
Jabiru’s iconic crocodile hotel. Courtesy of Kakadu Tourism, 2021.
Jabiru is in a town inside the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. The town was built on crown land without the involvement of traditional owners to service the controversial Ranger uranium mine. Ranger operations began in 1980, and was run by Energy Resources Australia. When the mining lease expired the plan was to bulldoze Jabiru. Fortunately, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Territory Government stepped in and established a plan to transform it into a tourism hub for Kakadu. Ken Wyatt (2021) is his speech at the handover ceremony talked of the importance of these plans:
"The Mirarr people have a comprehensive master plan to transform the local economy away from mining into a world-class tourism destination, with service industries supporting economic growth in the region...Land security brings economic security. It also brings back the cultural security and strength that always prevailed."
The injection of tourism is detrimental for Kakadu, as it helps support and sustain their economy, and in turn the local community and precious environment. Kakadu is Australia’s largest land-based national park. The Mirarr and Bininj peoples have lived continuously in the area for over 60,000 years, and the region contains some of Australia’s oldest sites of human occupation. The traditional owners work together with Parks Australia to manage the land, using a mix of traditional land management and modern science. The park is world-renowned for its astonishingly beautiful biodiversity and ecological features, as well as the culture embedded into the vast landscape (Mirarr, 2021).
Twin Falls, Kakadu National Park. Courtesy of Northern Territory, 2021.
This historical handover has become part of the current ongoing success of land being returned back to its traditional owners across the nation. With handovers such as the Daintree Rainforest to the Kuku Yalanji people, and the renaming of colonial place name 'Fraser Island' back to its traditional place name K’gari, we hope that this history-making progress can continue to be made far into the future.