A significant aspect of living in the Daintree Rainforest comes from knowledge of past inhabitants and their impacts on the land. The power given to governments to make decisions that seriously affect human capacity to live in harmony with the natural environment is important to this discussion.
Today, we tell visitors about a young Italian family who leased land in the Cooper Valley around 1940 for the purpose of clearing away rainforest and developing the land for farming. This was our economy. Australia was a nation of farmers. We rode on the backs of sheep to become prosperous by selling wool and we cut down thousand-year-old hardwood trees for cabinet timber. Australia’s wealth relied on primary industry and our rainforests were diminished to create farmland. Government continues to offer financial incentives to primary producers to encourage greater extraction of rainforest product and increased productivity through farming, and concurrently financially disadvantages conservation by failing to give equal recognition and incentives to practices that protect and conserve Australia’s rainforests.
Misfortune hit the young Italian family when their newborn baby attracted the unexpected attentions of an Amethystine Python. Isolated from the structures of civilization, such as made roads, bridges and telephones, the desperate father drowned in Hutchinson Creek as he tried to seek help for his little baby and wife. Imagine the despair felt by the young mother, losing her baby and husband; isolated by the torrential floods of a tropical ‘wet’. Yet this situation would not have been unexpected to the traditional rainforest people, Kuku Yalanji, who had inhabited the area for tens of thousands of years. Indeed, through the lore that transmits the knowledge to future generations, the python would have been anticipated, killed on arrival, cooked on the ceremonial fire and eaten as a celebration of supremacy of the apex species – humankind. Ceremonial re-enactment would transmit the the invaluable knowledge to future generations.
There are skills, knowledge and responsibilities transmitted from generation to generation through religion, culture, laws and practices of Aboriginal people. European settlement, following Lt. James Cook’s navigation to the east coast of Australia and England’s declaration of Terra Nullius for possession of Australia, did not assume any of the original inhabitants’ beliefs and customs. Yet this culture was born of the land and its people and successfully practiced over tens of thousands of years, to become the longest surviving human culture on earth.
World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics formally inscribes our privately-owned ‘off-reserve’ land into the jurisdiction of dedicated protective legislation. As the occupying family, we have become World Heritage inhabitants, obligating us to conserve, protect, present, rehabilitate and transmit to future generations the World Heritage values, within the meaning of the World Heritage Convention. Fulfilling these obligations over the past quarter-century, we are progressively bonding with our environment.