Born in the town of Coen in central Cape York, Olkola Traditional Owner and Elder, Mike Ross, has lived his whole life on the Cape. From his days mustering cattle in Far North Queensland to today as head of peak Aboriginal bodies that oversee the Cape’s management — Mike’s deep connection to country remains unbroken.
“The whole Olkola nation is special to people but each family got a special area and I got this special area where I like visiting. I like taking my family there, and my boys there. And maybe at a later stage I take my grandchildren and get them to get that feeling of what I’ve got now.”
— Mike Ross, OLKOLA ELDER
For decades Mike has worked long and hard supporting Traditional Owner groups campaigning to have their land returned to them. And for thirty years he has fought for his own country to be returned to its rightful owners.
On December 10th 2014, 633,630 hectares of ancestral homelands were handed back to the Olkola people.
This is a life-changing result for the Olkola. Now the largest non-government landholders in the region, they will play a huge role in determining the future of Australia’s Cape York and its people.
Under the handover, comes the creation of the Olkola National Park — an area covering 269,830 hectares of extensive wetlands, rare and unique tall open forests, rainforest remnants and savannah woodlands — to be jointly managed by the Olkola and the Queensland government.
The park will protect ancient bora-grounds, rock art and other cultural heritage of great significance to the Olkola people. It will support the critically endangered golden-shouldered parrot and other rare and threatened species and will safeguard the Kimba Plateau — the headwaters of five vital river catchments at the top of the Great Dividing Range.
“That’s what I been doing for so many years — just chasing the rainbow for my people and at the end of the day, we’re going to find the head of it. This is it. Hopefully we are part of building the Cape together. Again.”
Mike Ross and the Olkola are imagining a future that respects the traditions of their ancestors, where caring for country ensures it can continue to support generations to come.
Working closely with the Olkola people, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Intrepid Travel are helping catalyse their vision — one that will create better economic and employment futures for Cape York and its people.
Through combining traditional knowledge and customs with the latest science and technologies, the Olkola aim to create economic initiatives like carbon farming, sustainable pastoralism and eco-tourism that support the land rather than degrade it, generate income and create jobs for communities living on the Cape.
The Olkola…“feel strongly about protecting this area — protecting the natural and cultural values — using contemporary science and traditional knowledge.”
The Olkola handover is the latest in a number of historic handovers that have seen around 50 million hectares of land across Australia handed back to Traditional Owners in the last decade.
Returning land to Traditional Owners helps to correct the historical wrong of dispossession of country, and brings with it social and economic opportunities. This is an important first step toward securing long term economic and environmental sustainability on Cape York.
A number of groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Cape York Land Council, Balkanu and the Myer Foundation, are proud to support the Olkola in their journey towards a better future for the Cape and its communities.
“It’s a privilege to work with the Olkola people. I’m lucky to see, feel and experience land management on the Cape firsthand — made all the more remarkable with the generous sharing of knowledge and insight.”
— ANDREW PICONE, NORTHERN AUSTRALIA PROGRAM OFFICER, ACF
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