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Contesting the Future of Cape York Peninsula

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Entrenched contests about the future of Cape York Peninsula's lands, waters and people have for long received national prominence. In the federal arena, this has climaxed with the campaign to overturn the State's declarations on wild rivers. Initially pursued as a means of influencing decisions on the determination of the government in a finely balanced federal parliament, it has been retained as an early test of the survivability of the minority Labor government. The peninsula's prominence is founded on its iconic conservation status and the continuity of Aboriginal occupance of their country, reinforced by the formidable capabilities of Indigenous and conservationist leaders. Contests are characterised by their complexity, durability and intractability. Contests are bedevilled by shifting alliances and schisms within Indigenous and conservationist constituencies. Increasingly potent is the schism between modernist/reformist/regionalist visions of Indigenous futures, forcefully presented by Noel Pearson against more traditionalist/localist visions held by many community leaderships. Other participants, notably conservationists, State politicians and bureaucracies have needed to align their policies around these contested visions. Over the last two decades, policies of State Labor governments have maintained some continuity, being pro-active on conservation goals, selectively supportive of Aboriginal advancement, necessarily passive in the determination of land claims, reactive in the resolution of land tenures and property rights, and inconsistent and ineffectual in conflict resolution and in providing leadership in shaping sustainable, multifunctional futures, attuned to the peninsula's unique challenges and potentials.
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Keywords: Aboriginal land rights; Cape York Peninsula; Indigenous rights; The Wilderness Society; wild rivers; wilderness zone

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, University of Queensland,

Publication date: 2011-03-01

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