By Andrew Picone
Northern Australia Program Officer, Australian Conservation Foundation
We all have places we love and I love the Cape. This huge north-jutting peninsula, once a land bridge to New Guinea, has many unique and wonderful attributes that make it a place like no other.
My own journey with the region began in books and poring over maps. The Iron Range, palm cockatoos, green tree pythons and cuscus were iconic drawcards that led me to the region over ten years ago. Now, fortunate enough to work on the Cape and travel to remote and spectacular places, meet wonderful people, and learn about old and new ways of looking after country, my love for the Cape continues to grow.
One of my all-time bushwalking highlights in this country was spending five days in the McIlwraith Range with a couple of PhD students studying birds, vegetation and climate. As we headed off into the rainforests, eclectus and red-checked parrots honked and squawked about us. Gullies were steep and dense with fan-palms, ferns and large old trees while the ridgelines were dominated by towering hoop-pines festooned with ferns, orchids and ant-plants – strange bulbous plants with ant colonies inside them.
Sleeping under rocky outcrops and in caverns under enormous granite boulders, we temporarily lodged with seriously large Australian tarantulas and funnel-web spiders. Scaling one of the large boulders for a view at 700 meters, a high point of the McIlwraith, we cast our eyes out across a landscape of rugged forest, gentle valleys and the distant coast. To the sound of the wind in nearby hoop-pines, we watched the clouds roll in off the Coral Sea, tumbling over ridgelines and immerse the forest in mist.
While appreciating the biological significance of the country, it pays to be mindful that the Cape is also a living cultural landscape. The McIlwraith Range for instance is the traditional homelands of the Kaanju, Umpila, Lama Lama and Ayapathu Traditional Owner groups. In 2008, these groups gave consent to the creation of the KULLA (an acronym of the above Traditional Owner groups) National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land).
Today, consent is also being sought from a variety of Traditional Owner groups across Cape York Peninsula for a World Heritage nomination of appropriate areas.
In an effort to capture the outstanding natural and cultural themes of the region, the Commonwealth Government is compiling a nomination of key areas spanning the rainforest clad eastern ranges, pristine rivers, expansive savannah and coastal wetlands.
As a region of international significance for both its natural and cultural values, we need strong legislation that protects values, sites and large areas from inappropriate development. We don’t have to look very far to see that approvals for developments are increasing as more and more mines, ports and resorts are given the go-ahead.
We also need the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to be strengthened, not weakened, to protect the places we love.