Queensland government to challenge Aboriginal group's exclusive use claim of Great Keppel Island land

queensland government to challenge aboriginal group's exclusive use claim of great keppel island land

Great Keppel Island is located on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. (ABC Capricornia: Russel Talbot)

An Aboriginal corporation has lodged a native title claim for exclusive use of land on Great Keppel Island-Woppa on the southern Great Barrier Reef.

The Woppaburra people are hoping to claim nine square kilometres of land on Great Keppel Island, off the central Queensland coast near Rockhampton and known traditionally as Woppa, including an air strip and the abandoned "party paradise" Mercure resort.

The Queensland government will challenge the claim.

"Since the closing of the resort site in 2007 the then-new owners failed to remove debris, render the site safe, commence any ventures to rehabilitate the island, or restore any confidence in a viable future," the Woppaburra Saltwater Aboriginal Corporation (WSAC) said this morning.

"The island environment and infrastructure have deteriorated to the point where visitations have reduced and local businesses have suffered.

"We have an obligation to work towards improving this situation."

In 2021 the traditional owners were formally recognised as the native title holders over several islands in the area, including parts of Great Keppel.

They are now seeking exclusive rights to parts of the island, including the airstrip and an abandoned, derelict resort.

Premier Steven Miles it was not unusual for the state government to oppose exclusive use.

"This happens quite commonly. There is a native title process that these claims go through, and the state as an interested party, as a significant land holder, is a respondent and we respond on behalf of the state," he said.

"We seek to make sure that the aspirations of First Nations people can be realised while also ensuring Queenslanders can continue to have access to the places they love."

Sustainable development

WSAC added if the exclusive use claim was successful it could take decades for any change in tenure to be recognised.

To date it said no restrictions had been put on any Woppaburra land acquired through native title.

It said the Woppaburra people would access the land to help clean-up and rehabilitate contaminated areas, do groundwater testing, and conduct fire and pest management activities.

Mr Saunders said the Woppaburra people wanted sustainable development which would safeguard the island's beauty while making it an attractive tourist destination.

"We are protective of our sacred areas and will maintain our cultural responsibilities, but the Woppaburra people are not about restriction, anti-development, and locking up lands," chairperson Fred Saunders said.

Mr Miles said he was confident the government would continue to work with Woppaburra people to ensure their goals are realised, while insuring locals and visitors can continue to access the land.

More detail needed

The region's peak tourism body Capricorn Enterprise said it had received very little detail about the native title request.

"We've been trying to obtain more specific information in writing from the state government about the process," chief executive Mary Carroll said.

She said at this stage it will change nothing for the current businesses who operate from the island.

"We've got operators that work so incredibly hard and we all are of the view that it's business as usual at the moment, but we just need some more information," she said.

Resources Minister Scott Stewart said parts of the island had already been ruled to have native title extinguished in a previous ruling.

"This will form part of the government's response moving forward," he said.

"As a respondent to the claim, the government will be asked to provide its views and will challenge the claim regarding the extinguished areas."

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