Inviting key commercial operators and the public to join them in celebration of their resilience and rich cultural histories, Djabugay Traditional Owners celebrated the 16th anniversary of their Native Title determination in a big way.

Din Din, or Barron Gorge National Park, is an environmental tourism icon and Traditional Owners are determined to ensure the public understand it is a cultural landscape first and foremost.

On December 17, Elders and Traditional Owners travelled from Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Rail to the Din Din lookout to celebrate, with trains of tourists stopping to partake.

“Din Din holds great cultural significance and despite being an international natural icon, it is a great unrealised opportunity,” said Chair of Djabugay Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, William Biri Duffin, as he opened the occasion.

“We want to ensure that visitors understand the deep connection Djabugay people have with this area, and that the lines of the Din Din Park boundary do not define the extent of Djabugay Country.

“We want to maximise our land assets in leveraging real opportunities”.

Commercial operator on Djabugay Country, Skyrail, celebrated the day through traditional language, storytelling and dancing at the Kuranda Skyrail platform. Visitors also received stickers that said ‘I walked on Djabugay Country’ to mark the occasion.

It was the closure of the Mona Mona Mission in 1962, followed closely by the 1967 Referendum that set the wheels of change in motion for Djabugay people.

Bama were free to speak their language, share culture and return to loved ones and places they’d been forcibly disconnected from for decades.

In 1988, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, including the Barron Gorge, was World Heritage listed and saw the end of logging in the region.

Djabugay Elders Andy and Rhonda Duffin, parents to William Duffin, were working and living in Kuranda at the time.

They were active not only in Djabugay business, but in Aboriginal affairs and the Kuranda community.

Djabugay Native Title Aboriginal Corporation Chair, William Biri Duffin. Photo suppllied.

Djabugay culture was also being re-invigorated through Tjapukai Dance Theatre (then located in Kuranda township), where Andy worked.

Thanks to Djabugay Elders and the work of Michael Quinn, there was a great reinvigoration of Djabugay language, which became part of the Kuranda school curriculum for a time.

In 1992, Andy and Rhonda Duffin incorpoworldrated Djabugay Tribal Aboriginal Corporation.

That same year, the landmark Mabo Case revoked ‘terra nullius’ and enacted the Native Title Act in 1993 (Cth) that would come into effect in January 1994.

Approvals for a cableway through sacred Djabugay Country, the beginnings of Skyrail, was causing concern in community.

On May 26, 1994 Andy Duffin, with blessings from his Elders at the time, lodged a Native Title claim as the Chair of Djabugay Native Title Aboriginal Corporation.

“We thought it would be our last-ditch effort to stop Skyrail going through the Barron Gorge National Park,” he said.

Native Title process was still in its infancy and Elders couldn’t imagine it would take 10 years, multiple lawyers, anthropologists and land councils to see it through.

Andy himself suffered burnout and was unable to see the claim through. Fellow claimants Barry Hunter Senior, Ivan Brim, Lloyd Levers, Gerald Hobbler, Melvyn Hunter, Patrick Hastie and Rhonda Brim continued the fight to see the claim through.

“Djabugay have embarked on a new journey for all Bama to follow, Djumburru Nyiwul, the one track, to provide a stronger and healthier future for all Djabugay people,” William Biri Duffin said to the audience at the celebration.

For the Djabugandji rainforest people, Djumburru Nyiwul is the one track put down by the Bulurru (Ancestors) for the people to follow to ensure the survival of themselves and Bulmba (Country).

“Today we are celebrating because we are proud owners, not through their eyes, but through our eyes,” said original claimant, Rhonda Brim, to the crowd.

“We are the owners of the whole of Djabugay Country and welcome you all … enjoy.”

Djabugay Elder Rhonda Brim with two young Djabugay women handing out celebration stickers. Photo by Jasmin Seale.

A stunning day at the park, people gathered to watch Djabugay Bama resound their strong connection to Din Din with traditional song and dance.

“I think our Djabugay friends would certainly say there’s a lot more work to do, not just here in the Barron Gorge but right around Australia,” said Skyrail General Manager Richard Berman-Hardman.

“We are keen to form new relationships with Djabugay and get more people employed by our company and out on Country”.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen congratulated Djabugay people on celebrating the “formal recognition of what always has been and always will be, Aboriginal land”.

By Carli Willis