Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heritage listing adds to Kakadu protection

Heritage listing adds to Kakadu protection

Simon Santow reported this story on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 08:21:00

TONY EASTLEY: For more than 30 years, a relatively small parcel of land inside Kakadu National Park had been earmarked as a rich uranium mine.

But a persistent, shy local Aboriginal landowner and a committed band of environmentalists had other ideas.

Overnight in Paris they received the news they'd been hoping for - Koongarra is to be World Heritage-listed.

UNESCO's decision was vigorously opposed by French resources giant Areva but received bipartisan political support in Australia.

Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: Traditional landowner Jeffrey Lee travelled to Paris to help convince UNESCO to heritage list Koongarra.

JEFFREY LEE: I came here to France to talk about Koongarra because I was fighting for Koongarra now for very long time and during my younger days, in my teenage years, I had a long struggle on the way and it was very hard to me in those days. But as I was getting older and more mature, I started realising where all this really mean to me.

SIMON SANTOW: Jeffrey Lee still hunts, fishes and lives off the land.

He was worried that Koongarra was in the sights of the resource giants, even though it sits alongside Kakadu National Park.

The French uranium miner, Areva wooed Jeffrey Lee.

JEFFREY LEE: They did offer me a lot, a lot of money but all that came down to that to me is my land so privilege to me and my responsibility is on that land and I don't own the land. The land owns me.

DON HENRY: The company is one of France's biggest uranium mining companies. They have been pressing very vigorously to get the green to mine in this area so the threat was real, it was always imminent. That is now gone and that is something to celebrate.

SIMON SANTOW: Don Henry the executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation has been helping the bid to save Koongarra from mining.

DON HENRY: Oh, look it is absolutely fantastic news. There is a 30 year battle to have this area saved. It is one of the jewels in the crown of Kakadu and I think the great thing here is the traditional owner, Jeffrey Lee has put it forward for protection. Great courage by him, a wonderful gift for all Australians and everyone around the world.

SIMON SANTOW: With world heritage listing now a reality, the Australian Government is expected to incorporate Koongarra into the Kakadu National Park.

TONY EASTLEY: Simon Santow.