There are 20 Traditional Owner Tribal groupings with over 100 clans and family groupings within the Wet Tropics. Many Traditional Owners have strong and enduring connections to Country and are actively involved in managing their traditional land and sea country.
Working together with Traditional Owners brings enormous benefits to natural resource management, as well as recognising and respecting the significant contribution Traditional Owners make to the management of the cultural and natural resources of the region.
Traditional Owner Contact Map
To support strong and healthy partnerships with Traditional Owners in the Wet Tropics, relevant information and contact details are now available in an interactive map. Click on the Traditional Owner Contact Map icon to the right to open the map in a new window.
A contact list for Traditional Owner groups in the Wet Tropics has also been prepared and can be accessed by clicking on this link to Plan Partners. The filter options on the left can be used to find details for relevant Local Landscapes.
Traditional Owner Partnerships
Building partnerships with Traditional Owners requires a respectful approach, just like any partnership. Thousands of years of connection to Country have resulted in complex social structures, each with their own protocols for who can speak on behalf of Country.
The distribution of Traditional Owner groups across the Wet Tropics is shown on the map image to the left. Click on the map to open the interactive Traditional Owner Contact Map and find contact details for the appropriate group for various locations.
Traditional Owner’s Connection to Country
There are many areas within the Wet Tropics NRM region where formal recognition of Traditional Owner’s connection to Country exists.
There are 19 Native Title determinations within the region.
In addition, there are also a range of recognised Prescribed Bodies Corporate, Cultural Heritage Bodies, Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Land Use Agreements, covering a range of landscapes across the Wet Tropics.
For an explanation of these terms, please see the information below.
Native title was first recognised by the High Court of Australia in 1992 with the Mabo decision. This decision overturned the notion of ‘terra nullius’, finding against the idea that the Australian continent did not belong to anyone at the time of European arrival.
From this decision, Native Title is now a form of land title within Australian law that recognises the ongoing connection to land and water that some Indigenous people have maintained.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can apply to the courts to have their Native Title rights recognised under Australian law on areas of land where they have maintained a traditional connection.
The way Native Title is practised may vary from group to group, depending on what is claimed and what is negotiated between all of the people and organisations with an interest in that country.
Native Title can only be claimed on certain areas of land or water, for example on vacant or unallocated Crown land, but not on freehold land. It can co-exist with other forms of land title, such as pastoral leases, and exists alongside and subject to the rights of other people in the same area.
When a determination recognising Native Title is made, the Native Title Act 1993 requires that a corporation must be established to represent the Native Title holders and their interests.
These organisations are known as PBCs. They become RNTBCs when they are registered with the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT).
While RNTBC is technically the accurate name for these organisations, they are most commonly known as PBCs.
PBCs have a significant role to play in the management of land and water in Australia. With the increasing number of native title determinations, PBCs have emerged as a key element of the native title system, with 173 currently registered.
PBCs need to operate effectively in order for native title holders to discharge their land management obligations and take advantage of opportunities to derive economic and other benefits from native title.
An ILUA is a voluntary agreement between Traditional Owners and others (such as government, pastoralists and mining companies) about the use and management of land and waters. The terms of agreement of a registered ILUA are binding on all parties, much like a legal contract.
An ILUA allows people to make flexible management agreements to suit a range of circumstances, and normally exist within a Native Title area, but can also exist outside Native Title locations.
They can provide certainty to parties to carry out activities or developments on that land. They can specify agreement to proceed with a future development, compensation, access to an area, how native title rights coexist with the rights of other users, employment and training provisions or environmental preservation and rehabilitation.
In summary, an ILUA can provide the conditions which must be met for another party to use an area of land or specific resources within an area.
Indigenous Protected Areas are voluntarily dedicated by Indigenous groups on Indigenous owned or managed land or sea country. They are recognised by the Australian Government as an important part of the National Reserve System, protecting the nation’s biodiversity for the benefit of all Australians.
As well as protecting biodiversity and cultural heritage into the future, Indigenous Protected Areas provide employment, education and training opportunities for Indigenous people in remote areas.
There are currently over 70 dedicated Indigenous Protected Areas across 65 million hectares, accounting for more than 40% of the National Reserve System’s total area. Within the Wet Tropics region, there are 3 recognised IPAs.
Most IPAs promote a balance between conservation and other sustainable uses to deliver social, cultural and economic benefits for local Indigenous communities. They are often delivered in partnership with conservation and commercial organisations, and many include fee for service arrangements or other income generating activities.
A recognised Cultural Heritage Body is an organisation representing a group of Traditional Owners who can demonstrate a connection to an area and can be contacted regarding any cultural heritage matters for that area.
The function of a Cultural Heritage Body is to identify the appropriate Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander parties for an area. They serve as the first point of contact for cultural heritage matters and have a role in protecting cultural heritage.
There are no limits on the size of the land area that may be included within an application to become a Cultural Heritage Body, although there are no legal rights associated with access or use of that land.