Words by Tanya Snelling
Port Douglas and Daintree is more than just a destination widely admired for its outstanding natural beauty, rich Indigenous cultural connections, diverse and ancient ecosystems, and the Great Barrier Reef. It is a place green at heart, sharing a collective vision across industry, business, government and community, to ensure its continued legacy as Australia’s first ECO Certified Destination.
The Douglas Shire’s sustainability story began in 1983 with one of the largest environmental protests ever seen in Australia. While progress was seen with the establishment of dairying, timber and other agricultural industries in the 1960s around the communities of Port Douglas and Mossman, the northern bank of the Daintree River and beyond was largely an untouched frontier, that is, until the bulldozers arrived. Protestors tried to stop the machines in their tracks – literally – and in August 1984, the famous Daintree Blockade came to a head. Though their protests didn’t stop the road from being cleared, they did bring enormous attention to the Daintree first nationally and then internationally, ultimately leading to its salvation when in 1988 it was declared a sanctuary under the protection of World Heritage Area status.
Tara Bennett, chief executive officer of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, says while the Daintree Rainforest, Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and the adjoining Great Barrier Reef are today universally acknowledged as stunningly beautiful, scientifically significant and culturally important, with that comes responsibility.
“Today our eco-warriors look a little different. They are successful entrepreneurial tourism businesses, both large and small, cultural champions, primary producers, restaurateurs, educators, community leaders and public servants,” Tara said.
“Our shared vision to build a strong, culturally inclusive, sustainable community continues to gather momentum. Different sectors have a role to play and we are seeing examples of this from urban planning and design within local government to educators celebrating Yalanji culture and language in local schools.” Tara says you only have to look out the window to see no building in Port Douglas is higher than the tallest palm tree (three stories), interpretive signage throughout the region that recognises and pays homage to the traditional KuKu Yalanji language and, in a Queensland first, the Douglas Shire Council adopted a Coastal Resilience Strategy to better manage and understand environmental impacts on the coastline.
Also, in an historic occasion, country of huge cultural, environmental and global significance, encompassing the Daintree, Ngalba-bulal, Kalkajaka and the Hope Islands National Parks was formally handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People in September last year. “This was an important day for the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People, with the parks now jointly managed by traditional owners and the Queensland government, with the intention to eventually be wholly managed by the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Bama,” Tara explains. “This provides exciting new pathways and opportunities for mentoring, training, apprenticeships and employment on country.”