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Indigenous community opens Olkola National Park to tourism
A Queensland Indigenous community who won a huge land title claim is partnering with a commercial tourism operator to bring visitors to the remote and seldom region.
Global adventure tourism operator Intrepid Travel are set to start taking small groups on to Olkola land in Cape York after forming a joint venture with the traditional owners.
In December 2014, the Olkola clan won a 30-year battle to gain use rights over more than 6,300 kilometres² of former cattle grazing land in Far North Queensland.
Facing issues relating to employment and livelihood arose, the clan decided not to mine the land, which is rich in uranium and other minerals.
Instead, the only exploration will be done by foot and four-wheel drive as the Olkola people get ready to welcome the first group of tourists when the dry season starts in June.
With Indigenous guides, groups of up to 12 visitors, paying $2,845, will explore and camp in the region – known for its biodiversity and the largest unbroken tropical savanna in the world.
Mike Ross, Chairman of the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation, told Guardian Australia “when we got the land back on 10 December, we got all this country. What are we going to do with it? What do you do with it when you’ve got it? That’s been on my mind all the time.”
Ross, and many group members who maintained their connection to the land, had been working with cattle since the group was dispossessed of its traditional way of life about a century ago.
However, as Ross added many locals dispersed “they got shifted out. People were scattered – Sydney, Palm Island, all the big missions. We are still looking for their descendants. It’s really hard finding the people and bringing them back.”
Those left working with the cattle earned subsistence wages but were able to keep their link to the land. Ross added that opening up their traditional lands to tourism was appealing “because me and the visitors, we’re learning together.”
Many people returning to the land are keen to work on the Intrepid tours – as cooks, guides and rangers.
Intrepid became involved after the Australian Conservation Foundation got in touch and said the Olkola people were interested in running a tourism business on their land rather than mining it.
Intrepid Travel co-founder, Geoff Manchester, stated “the ACF has been working with Olkola for a few years, helping them with their land title claim.
“We are interested in helping an Aboriginal community get into tourism, so we worked assisting them in creating a sustainable business.”
For the Olkola people, the tourism joint venture with Intrepid is, according to Ross a “big challenge.”
For Manchester, the project is “ground-breaking”, adding “we work with them from scratch, including what the product should be that we will be able to sell – so things that exist on their land that travellers will be interested in.”
Manchester said Intrepid was also helping the Olkola with “infrastructure, some properties and housing – doing improvements to housing and also training their own people to lead the groups ... we don’t want a middle man running it.”
Cultural factors will also be taken into account when bringing tourists on to the land.
Images (from top): Many Olkola people stayed on their traditional land in far north Queensland, working with cattle, since they were dispossessed of it about a century ago (courtesy Ben McNamara/Intrepid Travel) and the Olkola National Park from the air.
10th December 2015 - NEW MEMBERS APPOINTED TO PARKS VICTORIA BOARD
17th June 2015 - QUEENSLAND’S FIRST BATCH OF NATIONAL PARK DECLARATIONS SINCE 2012
29th January 2015 - NEW COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP TO DEVELOP SMALL GROUP TOURISM IN OLKOLA NATIONAL PARK
10th December 2014 - ACF WELCOMES LAND HANDOVER AND NEW OLKOLA NATIONAL PARK
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