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Cape York Peninsula is a dream destination, the ultimate road-trip, for people who love four-wheel-driving, fishing and camping. Visitor numbers increase every year, and most take good care of the place. But a small minority are causing problems for other visitors, the region and its people.

Story + Photos by Waratah Nicholls

The Gateway to the Cape, planned for a Lakeland site, is one step further to seeing it become a reality thanks to the full support of Cook Shire Council and a RADF funded sculpture workshop which was held on the weekend of 14-15 July 2018.

Cook Shire Council has submitted an Expression of Interest to ‘Building Our Regions’ to develop the Gateway to the Cape. The proposed development will consist of a BBQ area, a sculpture park, and a building containing information about Cape York Peninsula.

Words and photo Robyn May

‘Manage landscape and all species benefit’ was just one of the many positive comments made during the feedback session following the 2019 Cape York Indigenous Fire Workshop.

This year’s workshop was held in July at Mary Valley and coincided with the school holidays, so lots
of kids were able to attend and learn an array of traditional fire and land management techniques while spending time on Country. This is critical as these children are the land and sea managers of the future.

Words Robyn May | Photo Jessie Price-Decle

Cape York grazing families didn’t let a little thing like a Cat 1 cyclone deter them from heading to the 2019 Cape York Grazing Forum held in Laura recently

Cape York NRM ran the event in partnership with South Cape York Catchments, Rural Financial Counselling Services North Queensland, AgForce, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and was a great success. 

Graziers from across the Cape travelled to Laura for the two-day event and thankfully Cyclone Anne lost her way and was a no-show.

2019–2020 has been a big year for the Biodiversity and Fire Program. After a number of staff changes, the team now consists of Biodiversity and Fire Program Manager Kerri Woodcock who is based in Cairns, and Biodiversity Officer Dr Helen Penrose, and Community Engagement Officer Joey Dix who are both based in Cooktown.

Words and photo Jessie Price-Decle

Late season fires can destroy habitat, threaten property and livestock, and scorch groundcover leaving country vulnerable to erosion. Fighting fires is also a significant drain on people’s time and resources.

Cape York NRM have installed the last of three internet – enabled weather stations in Lakeland in order to provide the local producers with more reliable weather information to help them make important decisions around nutrient and water use.

Regional Extension Coordinator Oliver McConnachie, who is leading the initiative, said gathering weather information accurately at the local level and integrating it with Bureau of Meteorology data will lead to more reliable weather predictions.

Words Jessie Price-Decle and Juliana Foxlee | Photo Jessie Price-Decle

The three-year project saw graziers make changes to their land and grazing practices to improve land condition and water quality outcomes.

The project team, made up of Cape York NRM, South Cape York Catchments, and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries staff, worked across 20 properties over the life of the project.

South Cape York Catchments Grazing Project Officer Jessie Price-Decle said the project made a difference to water quality and land condition.

A generous donation of 50 turtle nest cages by two businesses, Hickey’s Metal Fabrication, and Specialised Brake and Clutch Service, to the Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Management Rangers (Pormpuraaw Rangers) will help the next generation of endangered olive ridley turtles survive.

Staff from the Penrith, NSW - based businesses donated time and materials to the effort which was organised by Specialised Brake and Clutch Service’s Kevin Gavin.

‘Everyone was very pleased to help,’ he said.

Words Juliana Foxlee | Photo James Donaldson

Cape York NRM is partnering with Northern Gulf Resource Management Group to facilitate opportunities for Australian Indigenous people to showcase and share their cultural fire knowledge, establish a network of Indigenous fire practitioners and protect the habitat of threatened species.

In May, Northern Gulf RMG coordinated an on- country fire workshop at Talaroo Station in the northern Gulf area. The three - day event was hosted by the Ewamian Aboriginal Corporation.

Words and photos Juliana Foxlee

Springvale Station Nature Refuge is located 40km south west of Cooktown. Once a cattle station, the culturally – important property is now a refuge for a diverse range of vulnerable flora and fauna.

The Palaszczuk government purchased Springvale Station in 2016 in a bid to reduce sediment flowing from the degraded paddocks into the Normanby River.

The Queensland government is now investing in a new project which will support water quality outcomes and *Bama livelihoods.

Normanby catchment ‘Peer to Peer Grazing Group’ activities may have stalled during the coronavirus travel restriction period, but its Focus Farm initiative is going strong.

The Focus Farm initiative aims to assist land managers to achieve their goals with the assistance of a peer support group of farmers, and specialist service providers.

Vince Harrigan is a Traditional Owner and Ranger from Normanby Station in southern Cape York. The 31,400 acre property was returned to his family in the 1990s. The Harrigan brothers are caring for country and Vince says he can see Country becoming healthy again. 

The Normanby River runs through the property into Princess Charlotte Bay – and Vince knows that work being undertaken on the property is having a positive impact the health of the reef. 

Sue Shephard moved to Cape York in 1970 to work at Musgrave Station for the Shephard family.  She met the youngest Shephard son, Tom, got married, and together they raised four children on Artemis Station.

Artemis is a 125 thousand hectare cattle property between Laura and Coen on Cape York Peninsula. Sue tells some amazing stories of raising kids and cattle, caring for country, and researching the endangered golden shouldered parrot.

Peter and Annette Marriott have done a lot in their time together on Cape York Peninsula.

The Marriotts run Ninda Creek, a 9,000 acre cattle property near Lakeland on southern Cape York.

Annette was born in Cooktown, and Peter moved to the Cape in the early 70s to manage Crocodile Station. 45 years later he hasn’t quite made the fortune he dreamed of back then, but Peter and Annette still love living and working on the Cape.

The traditional burning movement has many supporters and advocates all over Australia.

Talk to any of them and it won’t be long before you hear them mention “Victor”, The man who learned about fire from those two Cape York old fellas, the bloke who does the fire workshops.

Victor Steffensen is a central figure in the revival of Indigenous fire practice.

Stories from the people who live, breathe and work Cape York Peninsula, managing the land and our future.

First episode available Friday 10 February 2017.

Play below, click to subscribe.

Jessie Price is a young mum, an environmental scientist, and the Grazing Engagement Officer with South Cape York Catchments - a community-based natural resource management organisation based in Cooktown.

Jessie began her Cape York working life as a trainee with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, a spectacular introduction to the region she loves living in and working for.

Jessie is passionate about conservation on Cape York, and understands first-hand the challenges of having a career and raising a family in one of Australia's remote regions.

Billy Harrigan is the Cultural Officer with Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council and is a Traditional Owner from the area.

He has always lived in the south-east of Cape York and has worked hard throughout his life.  Now, he is a few years from retirement. He has seen a lot of change in community, technology, environmental management and government policy.

In this episode of My Cape York Life, Billy reflects on life in Wujal Wujal and Cape York, the importance of culture and tradition, on life under the Aboriginal Protectorate and the long road to getting Country back.

Desmond Tayley is a Cape York leader, who has the rare distinction of being one of Australia’s youngest and longest-serving mayors.

As the Mayor of Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council, he describes his community as the place “so nice you’ve got to say it twice”.

Wujal Wujal, on southern Cape York, is where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. It’s an Indigenous community located in lush country on the banks of the Bloomfield River.

Wujal Wujal is south of Cooktown, north of the Daintree, and home to about 500 people.

Contemporary Indigenous fire practice is based on ancient knowledge and culture. But contemporary science proves its effectiveness. Science and traditional knowledge are very different ways of knowing, and the two approaches are still learning to work together. Meet Dean Freeman, whose work puts him right at the intersection of traditional fire practice and contemporary fire and land management methods. Dean Freeman is a Wiradjuri man – he’s the Aboriginal Cultural Fire Officer with the A.C.T Parks and Conservation Service.

In Episode 1 of My Cape York Life, we talk with Shelley Lyon - a ranger at Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve - on the banks of the Wenlock River.

Shelley has spent over 40 years on Cape York working and living in some of Australia's most beautiful and remote places. In this episode we learn how Shelley and her family came to live on the Cape, and hear some funny and scary tales of her adventures over the years. 

This week Cape York NRM bring you two bonus episodes of My Cape York Life.

We are talking with Bob Frazer, who was the founding Chief Executive Officer of Cape York NRM, and spent eight years with the organisation, retiring in April 2018.

Bob has an impressive career, spending 13 years in NRM leadership positions in Cape York and North Queensland, and he is highly regarded across Australia for his work.

Waratah Nicholls arrived in Far North Queensland in the early 80's for a Bungle in the Jungle at Bloomfield and fell in love. Her piece of paradise is in Mungumby Valley - a stones throw from the famous Lions Den Hotel. 

Waratah is an artist, teacher and community worker. Through her work, her passion and her kindness, Waratah has left her mark in art galleries, communities and hearts across Cape York Peninsula. She's currently coordinating the 'Gateway to the Cape' - a concept to develop a visitor stop in Lakeland, promoting environmental awareness for travellers.

Dr Wendy Seabrook is an ecologist, an innovator and a strategic  thinker.  She has worked around the world and is originally from London. She's worked with the giant Aldabra tortoises in the Seychelles and cane toads in northern New South Wales and on the Atherton Tablelands. And, "like many people (she) just ended up in Cooktown".

Two Kuku Thaypan elders are at the heart of the story of the national revival of Indigenous fire practice. Dr George and Dr Musgrave had long been determined to take care of their country as their culture required, using the right fire at the right time, as their ancestors had done for tens of thousands of years. They overcame legal and bureaucratic obstacles, and inspired a new generation to learn and understand how fire could be a medicine for the earth.

In Episode 2 of My Cape York Life we continue the journey of Shelley Lyon and her family through Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland.  We travel to Cooktown, Lakefield National Park, the Great Barrier Reef and Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, learning about life in remote Cape York. We go beachcombing and exploring, and hear what's its like coming face-to-face with a crocodile. 

Enjoy, subscribe, and please invite your friends to listen in.

Bob Frazer was the founding Chief Executive Officer of Cape York NRM, who spent eight years with the organisation until he retired in April 2018.

Bob has an impressive career, spending 13 years in NRM leadership positions in Cape York and North Queensland, and he is highly regarded across Australia for his work.

In this bonus eposide of My Cape York Life, Bob shares his story about working on Cape York, the challenges of setting up a regional natural resource management body, and his reflections on natural resource management into the future.

Marie Shipton lives in Wujal Wujal and is a Traditional Owner from the area. The interview is recorded on Country at the mouth of the beautiful Bloomfield River, in the company of a patrolling crocodile. 

Marie talks about growing up on the river, before being moved to Wujal Wujal by the Lutheran Church, and shares stories about her family, culture and life in the place where the rainforest meets the reef. 

These days Marie works to preserve and share the stories and culture of her Country, as a Cultural Officer at Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Council.

Lewis Roberts is a highly regarded self-taught naturalist and botanical illustrator. He has an Order of Australia, and last year quietly received the Queensland Natural History award. Scientists from all over the world visit Lewis and his brother Charlie at Shiptons Flat – a property which has been in their family for well over one hundred years. Lewis has had several species named after him, yet is incredibly modest. His kind and gentle nature, and in depth knowledge of his environment, shines through in this interview - on the banks of Parrot Creek at Shiptons Flat.

Indigenous fire practice is based on the deep cultural understanding that the right fire at the right time maintains or restores environmental balance. It’s very old knowledge, increasingly supported by contemporary science. As the revival of cultural burning spreads, scientists and land managers are increasingly interested, even though science and traditional knowledge are very different ways of knowing. It’s crucial scientists and academics learn to work appropriately and respectfully with Indigenous people.

Mikayla Down and Wilfred Peter are Traditional Owners from Lama Lama Country, which hugs the northern coast of Princess Charlotte Bay on Cape York Peninsula.

Mikayla and Wilfred work as rangers with Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation's Lama Lama Rangers caring for and managing traditional land and sea country from Silver Plains in the north to Marina Plains in the south. 

Listen as Mikayla and Wilfred discuss life as a ranger, growing up in Cape York, and the responsibilities they hold as young Traditional Owners caring for their Country.

Alan Wilson has spent almost 40 years on Cape York, and has seen and done a lot. He is a Cook Shire Councillor, and he’s run cattle stations, the Laura pub and the town’s roadhouse.

He has led many campaigns to improve life on the Cape. He pushed for the new bridge over the Laura River south of town, and continues to campaign for one at north Laura – where wet season floods isolate the town and can be a real danger to people. 

Alan has spent years campaign for a container deposit scheme for Queensland - which has finally been taken on by the Queensland Government.

We begin the second series of My Cape York Life on Artemis Station, a cattle property in the heart of Cape York.  Artemis is a 125 thousand hectare property midway between Coen and Laura. The property has been in the Shephard family for about 100 years and is run by Tom and Sue Shephard. In episode one, we are talking with Tom.

For tens of thousands of years, Australia’s Indigenous people managed environments with fire, using fire sticks to light carefully timed burns in the right places. That traditional practice now gives its name to the organisation helping to revive it – The Firesticks Alliance.

Louise Stone has lived a colourful life.  She grew up on dairy farm on the Atherton Tablelands and has travelled Australia's east coast in horse and buggy. Louise can play almost any musical instrument she picks up, sings like a songbird and she once went on tour with Ester King from the Platters. She has a fascinating career working in Aboriginal communities in Queensland and Northern Territory, training Rangers in Conservation and Land Management. Until late last year, Louise was the Ranger Coordinator with Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers.

The revival of traditional Indigenous fire practice began in the 1990s, on Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland. The early European settlers had discouraged it, and despite efforts to stamp it out, the practice never completely went away.

Cape York Natural Resource Management (Cape York NRM), Cook Shire Council (CSC), Weipa Town Authority, Wujal Wujal, Hopevale, Lockhart, Mapoon, Napranum, Aurukun, Pormpuraaw and Kowanyama Aboriginal Shire Councils and the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council (NPARC) have collaboratively developed this Regional Biosecurity Plan (the Plan) for Cape York Peninsula. The development of the Plan has been the culmination of extensive consultation with Cape York Peninsula communities, Traditional Owners and all levels of government.