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Australia Push to close Kakadu's Gunlom Falls site as Parks Australia court action is delayed

03:11  31 march  2021
03:11  31 march  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Parks Australia will be prosecuted over allegedly illegal works on a sacred site near Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park . Key points: Parks Australia is accused of constructing an illegal walking track at Gunlom Falls . If guilty, Parks Australia could be fined more than 0,000. Earlier this year Kakadu ' s board of management pushed forward a unanimous motion of no-confidence in then-director of Parks Australia , James Findlay, over the organisation's handling of the incident.

Kakadu — billed as a jewel in Australia ' s tourism crown — is falling into disrepair, and traditional owners say the federal body that runs the park is to blame. Things are so bad some traditional owners are threatening to close down parts of Kakadu . Mick Markham, one of the senior traditional owners for another key destination, Gunlom Falls , says he is also prepared to close down that site . "We've had a gutful. The only way we can show some strength is to close something at the peak of the tourist season," he said.

a large waterfall over a body of water: The Gunlom Falls site is one of Kakadu's most popular tourist swimming spots during the dry season. (ABC Open Contributor Heath Whiley) © Provided by ABC NEWS The Gunlom Falls site is one of Kakadu's most popular tourist swimming spots during the dry season. (ABC Open Contributor Heath Whiley)

A powerful land council has been urged to call a special meeting to discuss the closure of one of Kakadu's most well-known tourist sites amid a court battle over a sacred site.

Parks Australia is facing charges for carrying out work on a sacred site near the Gunlom Falls infinity pool, but court proceedings were on Monday delayed again in court.

Mick Markham, a Bolmo elder who chairs the Gunlom Land Trust, has now written to the Northern Land Council asking them to call a meeting to propose the closure of the entire Gunlom region.

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The traditional owners of Kakadu National Park have threatened to shut it down amid anger at federal authorities for letting the site fall into neglect. The Unesco World Heritage site , which is jointly managed by Kakadu ' s traditional owners and the federal agency Parks Australia , has long been a bucket list destination but recent years have seen a sharp decline in international visitors in particular. A popular rockpool at Maguk has not been reopened since a tourist drowned there in 2019, while the natural infinity pools at the iconic Gunlom Falls were closed to the public last year.

The Gunlom walking track to the lookout and pools above the falls is closed at the request of the Traditional Owners until further notice. Please do not attempt to access these areas. Please check the access report for the access status of the Gunlom plunge pool, day use area and campground. Thank you for your understanding. This picturesque waterfall is one of the finest in Kakadu , and one of the most popular. Its cascading waters and pristine plunge pool are a highlight of Kakadu and are spectacular for photography.

"My proposal is that until we are satisfied with the results of this court case we will close all access from the Gunlom turn-off on the Kakadu Highway," he wrote in an email seen by the ABC.

The Director of Parks Australia has not formally entered a plea since charges were laid in September 2020.

The matter was yesterday adjourned despite protests from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), who is bringing the prosecution and wanted a trial date to be set.

The area, which is currently closed due to wet season conditions, is one of Kakadu's most popular tourist swimming spots during the dry season.

Elder wants traditions to be protected

The closure proposal follows ongoing conflict between Parks Australia and the park's traditional owners, many of whom have expressed concern about the way the park is run.

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During her Kakadu visit, Ms Ley went with traditional owners to Gunlom Falls to inspect the area of concern herself. Earlier this year, Dr Findlay confirmed to a Senate estimates committee that work had led to a complaint and "concerns" that it may have "impacted on a sacred site ". According to departmental insiders, the changes to Parks Australia management are an attempt to rebuild the relationship with Kakadu ' s traditional owners. On Tuesday, the Environment Minister released a statement paying tribute to Dr Findlay's work. "I thank [Dr Findlay] for his dedication to Parks

The Gunlom Falls , formerly Waterfall Creek Falls , is a cascading waterfall on the Waterfall Creek located in the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, Australia . The falls are also known as UDP Falls and are perhaps most famous for making an appearance in the movie Crocodile Dundee.

Last year, two senior Parks Australia officials resigned after traditional owners said they had lost faith in their ability to repair the embattled relationship.

Mr Markham said he remained concerned that tourism was taking precedent over the site's environmental and cultural values, and said Indigenous people needed to have control over their country and cultural heritage.

"It's a beautiful country, beautiful park, and we want tourists to enjoy it, but we've gotta have some control over where they go and what they can see," he said.

AAPA will allege in court that Parks Australia constructed a walking track close to a key feature of the sacred site in the Gunlom area that is restricted according to Aboriginal tradition.

Mr Markham said the way Parks Australia handled the issue was at odds with what Kakadu elders were trying to do by protecting their traditions.

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A man who has been missing in Kakadu National Park for four days has been identified as 31-year-old French national Yann Buriet. Key points: The man was last seen when he spoke to rangers at the Gunlom Falls car park in Kakadu on Saturday. NT Police released images of Mr Buriet and his white Mitsubishi van — bearing Tasmanian registration plates E88 QV — which remains located in the Gunlom Falls car park area. NT Police said further ground and air searches were expected to continue.

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"The main thing that I am looking at as an elder, it's our culture, it's been there for thousands of years," Mr Markham said.

"It's our churches, it's our cemeteries, and we've gotta look after it, in principle, that's our land and our spirituality, in the Aboriginal way.

"How can we protect it when parks are wanting to overrun us with tourist development without the proper procedure?"

Court battle drags on

In court on Monday, Parks Australia lawyer Todd Herskope requested a further adjournment of the Gunlom case in order to deal with an unexplained "constitutional issue" that would need raising with Attorneys-General at both a territory and federal level.

AAPA expressed disappointment at the further delay.

"I was really, really disappointed by what Parks has done," AAPA Chairperson Bobby Nunggumarjbarr said.

"Parks should not go down that line to drag on and on and on for longer with this court."

In a statement, a Parks Australia spokesperson said where constitutional issues arise in a prosecution, the Director of National Parks is required by law to notify the court and issue a notice to the Commonwealth and State and Territory Attorneys-General.

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Mr Nunggumarjbarr also said that Parks Australia hadn't made any attempts to fix the path where the alleged offences occurred, despite AAPA issuing them a new certificate which would allow them to do so.

He said that was making traditional owners angry.

"They should go back and fix it, and redo it again…so that people might be able to use it," he said.

Parks Australia said the new certificate would allow the relocation of a section of the walking track but the agency's statement did not set a timeframe for the work.

"The walking track will remain closed until this rectification work has been completed and the track follows a new alignment that is acceptable to Traditional Owners," the statement reads.

Parks Australia also said the Director of National Parks would issue a binding direction to all Parks Australia staff working on matters relating to Kakadu National Park that requires them to consider the impacts of any works conducted in the park, to consult with AAPA where there may be an impact on any sacred site, and to obtain Authority Certificates to carry out relevant works.

The statement said the Director of National Parks "affirms its ongoing commitment to the management and protection of Kakadu National Park in partnership with Traditional Owners".

A spokesperson for NT Attorney-General Selina Uibo confirmed she had not been contacted about the case.

The matter will return to court in April.

Both the NLC and Parks Australia have been contacted for comment.

Sacred sites watchdog AAPA rejects Parks Australia's bid to drop Gunlom Falls court case .
Parks Australia fails in its bid to avert a court case related to Kakadu, with the sacred sites watchdog vowing to continue its prosecution as Indigenous custodians express dismay.Parks Australia, which jointly manages the park with traditional owners, is currently facing charges related to the allegedly unauthorised construction of a walking track near the popular Gunlom Falls infinity pool.

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