In Memoriam

8 October 2019
St Michaels and All Angels Church

Robbie was there from the beginning of our movement as Pama of Cape York Peninsula. Together with David Byrne Robbie supported this community’s great leader, old man Dan. Robbie was the backroom organiser and administrator for the old leader. Like me he served as the Council Clerk of the Injinoo Community Council in the era of self‐management, inaugurated by then minister Bob Katter.

Injinoo was a vibrant, active community on the move under the chairmanship of the old man. A leading community of Cape York with developing enterprises and increasing capabilities in building infrastructure for their people, and lobbying government for better services and funding.

So when we started the Cape York Land Council at Lockhart River in 1990, Robbie was there, the old man’s most faithful worker and follower. When we held the second Land Summit here is Injinoo in November 1990, it was clear Injinoo Council was the most supportive of all of the councils on the Cape of our new political movement on behalf of traditional ownership. Without old man Dan, Robbie and their Council, the fledgling Land Council could never have succeeded as it did.

Every people and every great community has a defining leader in their history. The old man, Dan Ropeyarn, was that very leader. And the man we come to say farewell to today was his most diligent, relentless and faithful lieutenant. No nephew honoured their uncle and his legacy more than Robbie.

Robbie saw as his mission the job of taking Dan’s vision for this community and the vision he shared with the other elders of Cape York, out into the wider world of politics. He would do so for three decades, never deviating one inch from the old man’s dreams for his people. The cultural and moral legacy he carried was one that had been handed to him when his uncle died.

As a member of the Regional Council of ATSIC, he was elected to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, whilst also serving on the board of the Land Council and contributing to the work of our organisations. He fought for the land rights of his people starting with the campaign for the forced relinquishment by Australian Airlines of the Pajinka Wilderness Lodge. He was there with Dan, the late chairman of the Land Council, Bob Holroyd, and other Cape York leaders making the case in Parliament House for the return of Pajinka.

Robbie fought for justice for the traditional owners of this Northern Peninsula, and he fought for justice and greater autonomy for the Injinoo Community. The decision to amalgamate the previously independent community councils of this region into the Regional Council, distressed him, and seems to me to have been a grave mistake, manipulated by the State Government.

We have less independence and self management under the mainstream model of local government imposed upon our communities. Rather than Council Clerks coming from our communities, almost all of them are ex‐pats from the local government system down south. Old man Dan would never have supported the mainstream shire model that was put in place in the Northern Peninsula.

Rather than a Regional Council, a joint local government authority should perhaps have been considered involving some shared services and facilities, whilst retaining the distinct governance of each community in the hands of local community councils. The loss of independence, self management and self determination is a tremendous step backwards.

We say goodbye today to a stalwart leader who was a very young man when we first met, who steadily fell to the terrible disease that afflicts our people, but who never lost his voice or his determination to fight. He grew up to be a fearless and principled leader of this community and the Pama of Cape York, to whom a great debt of gratitude is owed. Who will carry the legacy that he and his uncle left for your people?

Land Reform Unit

The work of Balkanu’s Land Reform Unit is to secure land ownership and management opportunities for Cape York traditional owners. The Unit operates in parallel to, and in close cooperation with, the Cape York Land Council who are the statutory Native Title Representative Body for Cape York people under the Native Title Act (1993).

In October 2007 the Queensland Parliament passed the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act, 2007. This Act provides for Aboriginal ownership of all National Parks on Cape York Peninsula, and for joint management of these National Parks by traditional owners working in cooperation with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS). Balkanu has been contracted by QPWS to facilitate the negotiations.

The Land Reform Unit currently manages negotiations between traditional owners and the Queensland State government under two linked projects:

  • The State Land Dealings project, which conducts negotiations on tenure dealings on State-owned and newly acquired lands, with a view to achieving agreement between the parties on returning some areas of land to traditional owners as Aboriginal freehold land, while other areas become Aboriginal-owned National Parks;
  • The National Park Transfers project, which conducts negotiations for the handover of existing national parks to traditional owners, and the development of joint management arrangements between traditional owners and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Our goals

  1. Increase the ownership of Cape York Traditional Lands by Indigenous people, clans and communities
  2. Maximise the ongoing economic and social outcomes from lands acquired by indigenous qroups
  3. Ensure that indigenous access and land management aspirations are recognized and protected in relation to State and Federal Government legislative and policy initiatives

Key activities

  • Tenure resolution of Kalpower, Archer Point , Melsonby properties. Other state lands and national parks that have been earmarked for transfer to Aboriginal management include the regions of Shelburne, Kalinga, Batavia, Iron Range/Portland roads, Cooktown, Bromley-Boynton, Starke, Mt Jack, Upper Bridge Ck, Munburra and National Parks – Mungkan-Kandju, Cliff Islands, Lakefield, Iron Range.
  • Establish coordinated support arrangements to Land Trusts working with Caring for Country and Cape York Business Development business units
  • Identify and promote the purchase of lands for indigenous groups
  • Improve the effectiveness of Cape York Indigenous land trusts, landholding and management corporations
  • Maintain or enhance the commercial value of pastoral properties acquired for Indigenous groups
  • Ensure that indigenous access and land management aspirations are recognized and protected in relation to State and Federal Government legislative and policy initiatives
  • Coordinated appointment of Regional Protected Area Management Committee



ABOVE: Tommy George Snr (right) and Francis Lee Cheu receive the ‘Deed of Grant of Land’ to Kalinga on behalf of the Grantees on the 26th May 2010.


ABOVE: Traditional owners, their family and organisers gather for a group photo after a successful Kalinga Authorisation meeting in April 2010.


ABOVE: Lakefield National Park

Aboriginal Traditional Owners Celebrate return of Cape York Land

Media Release 06 April 2016.

More than 50,000 hectares of land at Cape York has been returned to Aboriginal Traditional Owners, after a 22-year effort that might pave the way for further ancestral land tenure resolutions.  An area of about 54,500 hectares known as Sandstone East, about 90 kilometres north-west of Cooktown, has been returned to the Binthii, Balnaggarr, Nhirrbanh, Wundall and Wunuurr clans after Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Curtis Pitt handed over the title deeds at a ceremony at Hopevale on Wednesday. Continue reading “Aboriginal Traditional Owners Celebrate return of Cape York Land”

Keeping the Dream Alive

An exciting milestone for an ambitious Cape York tourism project was reached on 17 December 2014 when the first leg of the Dreaming Track was officially launch by Federal Member for Leichardt, Warren Entsch, at the Cooktown’s Grassy Hill lookout.

It was a proud day for the Gamaay people, the Traditional Owners of the land on the north shore of Cooktown on which the track was built.

Under the supervision of Balkanu Cape York Corporation, a committed workforce of Gamaay people constructed the 20 kilometres of class five track in a record time – from April to December 2014.

“It is an awesome experience to walk it and have customers visit our country,” said Traditional Owner Erica Deeral at the launch on Grassy Hill.

Another Tradtional Owner, Patrick Morris, said he felt “so proud to see someone smile when they see the view from the top.”

The Gamaay Traditional Owners were dedicated to the porject, with 100% worker attendance during the tough construction phase and full commitment from design, to consultation, to completion.

Gerhardt Pearson, Chief Executive of Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, paid tribute to the determination and grit of the Gamaay people through the duration of phase one of the project.

“The Traditional Owners have been integral to the design, the community consultations, the research and the construction of the “Track,” he said at the opening.  “Tradiitional Owners must show commitment and ownership of their project through the construction phase, as this flows on throught the business developement and into the running of a successful business.”

Mr Warren Entsch was delighted with the Walking Track and it’s ultimate goal to snake more than 1000 kilometres from outside Cairns to the tip of the Cape, which will provide economic opportunties and culture sharing for dozens of Tradtional Owner groups along the way.

“Quite frankly, I think this has the potential to be one of our national greatest walks,” Mr Entsch enthused after the opening.

Now Gamaay Traditional Owners are very eager to start on the next part of the journey – to open the Track to the public by April 2015 and to develop the next phase, building businesses associated with it such as fishing guided and non-guided tours, bushwalker collection services and camping sites.

Balkanu Cape York Developement Corporation, which is assisting the Tradtional Owners wih their aspirations, continues to work with the Gamaay people on their business plans.  It is expected that Gamaay clan will need up to two years of support developing their businesses, marketing their products and services and running the booking facilities.

Balkanu’s specialty is in providing practical business development and mentoring structures for Traditional Owners and will walk the journey with the Gamaay people and other Traditional Owner groups as the project winds it’s way up the Cape over the next few decades.

But the project requires a continuation of funding to help Traditional Owners realise their dreams.  The first phase of feasibililty, market research, design and construction was completed throught an injection of capital from both the Commonwealth and State of Queensland.

Hike it, bike it, ride it, drive it… do it!

Balkanu is working with the Traditional Owners of Cape York to develop the greatest tourism trail  in Cape York Peninsula – the Cape York Dreaming Track – traversing the beautiful unspoilt areas of eastern Cape York Peninsula from the Daintree rainforests in the south, through mountains, savannah plains, wetlands and stunning coastline, to the most northern tip of Australia.



The Cape York Dreaming Track will create a world-class tourism brand for indigenous Cape York that is owned by the Traditional Owners. Based on an interlinking tourist track network of iconic experiences, it will offer a diversity of experiential journeys that focus on nature, adventure and indigenous culture, delivered by the indigenous people of Cape York.

With education, training, mentoring, and business support as the foundation, the Cape York Dreaming Track will support the development and growth of aspirational, new and existing indigenous-owned businesses, products and services that link cohesively with and add value to the local and regional tourism sector. This broadened Traditional Owner participation in the regional economy will not only improve employment and financial opportunities for the people of Cape York, but will deliver corresponding, interrelated social, health, education, and land management outcomes.

With its stunning scenery and unique environments, fascinating history and enduring indigenous cultures, exploring the vast wilderness of Cape York Peninsula is a life changing experience that has visitors returning over and over again. Cape York is like no other place. It is one of the last preserved tropical regions in the world, but that’s only part of the story.

A new era for Cape York Icon

Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation is proud to announce that the historic Homestead Guesthouse in Coen is under new management.  Adai Cape York Investments Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of the Cape York Charitable Trust– 100% Cape York Indigenous owned, recently purchased the Guesthouse and has appointed Balkanu to operate the business as a commercial indigenous enterprise.
Continue reading “A new era for Cape York Icon”

Norman Baird: A Spark Within

The book “Norman Baird – a spark within” has encapsulated the details of the life of an extraordinary indigenous Australian – Norman Baird who was a Bama Buruwarra (man from Buru).

EXTRACTS from Norman Baird – a spark within

Norman Baird once wrote that he was prepared to advocate for the Kuku Yalanji people as long as there was ‘a spark left within’. In this letter he writes about his concern for the welfare of his community and how bureaucratic process was depriving Bama of their rights.

He was a man who despite feeling as though no progress was being made and that little if any justice was forthcoming, continued to work for the betterment of his people until the end of his life.

As a young man Norman fought to defend the rights of Australians in World War I only to come home and fight for his own freedom and that of his children. As an old man and almost blind, Norman recorded an ancient language and preserved part of a unique Australian culture.

Norman’s mother was an indigenous Australian and his father was native to Scotland. He learnt skills from both cultures: reading and writing, mining and hunting, English and Kuku Yalanji – skills that served him from the jungles of Far North Queensland to the battlefields of Europe.

Norman’s story provides an opportunity to glimpse the history of Far North Queensland – a shared history, and one that needs to be told so that common ground can be found to strengthen and unite Australian communities.

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