Described as one of Queensland’s longest-running and most historic land disputes was resolved in December last year, with 118,132 hectares of Shelburne Bay returned to the Wuthathi people.

Located on the northeast coast of Cape York, Shelburne Bay is a striking white sand beach some 800 kilometers north of Cairns.

Traditional owners have been fighting to regain ownership of the area for the last 20 years, Phil Wallis (a Wuthathi man) told ABC News.

“Because this country is very unspoilt, very untouched, there’s a lot of sacred sites out there, a lot of story places the younger generation need to learn and carry on those practices, whether it be gathering food, medicine, teaching those kids about the story places and why they are important to us.”

On the 15th of December, minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Curtis Pitt delivered the Shelburne title deeds to the Wuthathi Aboriginal Corporation at a ceremony in Lockhart River.

“The Wuthathi people will once again take custodianship of the area enjoyed and respected by their ancestors, so they too can use, preserve and pass on their lands, culture and knowledge through the generations,” Pitt announced.

In returning the area to the Wuthathi, some of the area will become a new national park. National Parks minister  DR Steven Miles said the agreement would help protect ecological, as well as cultural, values.

“Roughly a third of land will become the new Wuthathi (Shelburne Bay) National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land), under joint management by the Wuthathi Aboriginal Corporation and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service,” Miles said.

“This is a much-needed step towards preserving the area’s natural integrity, including pristine rainforest and eucalypt woodlands, nationally significant wetlands and internationally significant dune fields.

“Several rare and threatened plants and animals live here, such as palm cockatoos and various orchid varieties including Queensland’s floral emblem, the Cooktown orchid.

The creation of the Wuthathi (Shelburne Bay) National Park is welcomed by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), which first proposed parts of the area should be protected as such in 1976.

“ACF congratulates the Wuthathi people on this historic day that sees the return of their homelands and thanks them for the creation of Australia’s newest national park,” said ACF Northern Australia Project Officer Andrew Picone.

“The return of land to the Wuthathi people is the best way to protect this area’s natural and cultural heritage.”

Since 1995, the Cape York land tenure resolution process has returned over three million hectares of land to Aboriginal ownership, including over two  million hectares of Aboriginal owned and jointly managed national parks and more than one million hectares of Aboriginal freehold.