Wild Rivers Act drains Aboriginal hopes

By: Tony Koch

DROUGHT has gripped the country around Coen for three long, bitter years, and it has been a daily battle for Alan Creek and his family to keep their 800 head of brahman-cross breeders alive.
Yesterday brought some unexpected help: businessman Peter Holmes a Court worked the cattle with Mr Creek and his son, Dallas, along the collection of tired waterholes that used to be Stewart River.
In the eight years since he leased the property from an Aboriginal trustee company, Mr Creek has built two small dams to alleviate the water shortage in central Cape York. But that and the house and yards he built with his own hands are not enough. For his enterprise to survive, he needs to build up to six more dams.
With careful thought regarding their positioning, he will provide his cattle with the shortest walk to water, and thereby help to keep them alive when things get tough.
However, the Queensland government's Wild Rivers Act could stop that dead.
``It's the only life I have ever known -- being a ringer. I have worked on almost every cattle property in Cape York during my lifetime, and I want to pass this place on to my children,'' said Mr Creek, a leader of the Cape York Aboriginal community. Mr Holmes a Court, a former chief executive of Australia's largest private cattle breeder, the Australian Agricultural Company, is travelling through Cape York with his twin 10-year-old sons, George and Robert, at the invitation of Noel Pearson to gauge the significance of the state legislation to protect the wild rivers of Cape York.
Locals are furious, saying the Wild Rivers Act stops them developing any enterprise on the rivers and in the tens of thousands of square kilometres of catchment area.
``Alan Creek is an Aboriginal man who was born on this country, was reared on it and has walked every part of it,'' Mr Holmes a Court said.
``He thinks the wild rivers legislation inhibits his ability to progress and succeed in the way that any cattleman would want to operate. He is the person we should be listening to.
``He has pointed out to me the need for more dams on his property and they are obviously an absolute necessity. They will help the environment because cattle will not have to walk so far to water, wildlife will have the extra facilities available, and the area around the waterholes will be used much less and therefore be less degraded. More is less.''
Mr Holmes a Court expressed surprise at the lack of any real land tenure available for Aboriginal cattle producers such as Mr Creek, who cannot borrow from a bank because he does not have secure title.
``This is the sort of Australian we should be encouraging,'' Mr Holmes a Court said.
``It is not Alan Creek and people like him that are any threat to the environment in this area -- they are the ones who have kept it in such wonderful condition for such a long time.
``The real threats are the introduced species, the cane toads and the feral pigs.''