• Elder Gordon Pablo and the Cape York Land Council's Ritchie Ah Mat (Ritchie Ah Mat)Source: Ritchie Ah Mat
They’re known as the white sands people, the traditional owners of the Shelburne Bay region on the eastern side of the Cape York Peninsula and they’re on track to revive their culture with the return of traditional lands they were forced from 100 years ago.
Nancia Guivarra

19 Dec 2016 - 9:29 AM  UPDATED 20 Dec 2016 - 9:27 AM

The lands of the Wuthathi people in Shelburne Bay were formally handed back by the Queensland government in Lockhart River this month.  Cape York Land Council Chairman and Wuthathi Traditional Owner, Ritchie Ah Mat, celebrated the transfer and acknowledged the passing of one of their senior leaders, Elder Gordon Pablo.  

“This has been a massive, massive struggle for all the Wuthathi people who’ve been involved. We’ve lost so many of our senior elders along the way and it’s quite sad they’re not here to celebrate with us,” said Ah Mat.

The Wuthathi lands span 118,000 hectares of Aboriginal freehold title and land they have designated as national parks to be managed jointly with the Queensland government.

Shelburne Bay is internationally recognised as a uniquely pristine region that has been actively protected by its traditional owners and conservationists including the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society.  In 2012 it was nominated by the Federal government for World Heritage Listing.

The area is an untouched paradise, where pure white silica sands dunes sit alongside pear shaped lakes and the aqua waters of a hook shaped bay 800 km north of Cairns. 

 Its is just incredibly beautiful! Richie Ah Mat, Cape York Land Council Chairperson and Wuthathi Traditional Owner"

"I’ve been there many, many, many times. You don’t get anywhere in Australia where the silica sand dunes touch the ocean 150 to 200 metres high,” said Ah Mat.

Wuthathi peoples future vision for the site includes joint management of the parklands and resettling their homelands since being forcibly removed around 100 years ago. 

“Now that we’ve got freehold title we’ll get together all the Wuthathi mob and work out an economic plan that’s best for the Wuthathi peoples”  said Ah Mat.

The Wuthathi claim was the longest running land dispute in Queensland having begun decades ago.  This claim was determined after more than 20 years of negotiations with the Queensland Government.  Wuthathi leaders have maintained their connection to the land and their rights to occupy it since they were originally displaced.