Leekes Creek was nominated in 2004 for declaration as a fish habitat area and the Woppaburra have worked closely with Queensland National Parks and Wildlife since the process started.
Leekes Creek is a significant ecosystem and a significant cultural heritage site for the Woppaburra.
The project covers an 865ha area from Passage Rocks, to Half Tide Rocks, Big Peninsula and the Leekes Creek estuary.
Together they’ve worked on fish surveys identifying a wide range of juvenile target fish species and mature popular species such as barramundi, mangrove jack, bream and whiting.
The declaration prevents coastal development to protect fisheries into the future and to reduce habitat loss and declines in water quality flowing into the Great Barrier Reef, but allows for limited appropriate infrastructure along with legal commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishing.
Woppaburra elders celebrate the work that culminated in a fish habitat zone on Great Keppel Island’s Leeke’s Creek in 2017 with Keppel MP, Brittany Lauga
Chair of the Woppaburra Land Trust, Christine Doherty said seeing the elders on the island together was a very emotional experience.
“It’s not about one of us, it’s about all of us together…whatever we try and do benefits many and that’s what important,” she said.
“What the Woppaburra do benefits all the users of our traditional islands, the people who live here, the people who work here. We want to share its beauty with everybody.”
The Balban Dara Guya (Leekes Creek) declaration came about in line with the Traditional Use of Marina Resource Agreement, which gives Indigenous people the right to hunt.
But TUMRA steering committee chair and former NAIDOC Elder of the Year, Bob Muir said Woppaburra decided against hunting and instead to focus on research.
It’s a focus that brings the younger people together with the elders, all working in a common direction.
Woppaburra Traditional Owners Christine Doherty and Bob Muir present at the Leekes Creek ceremony in June 2017
“The elders have done their time and the young ones are the future generation,” Christine Doherty said.
“We, in between, set the boundaries for change and bring about these wonderful projects that benefit everybody.”
At 23, Jade Gould was the first person in her family to finish high school. She is the great-great granddaughter of Fred Ross who, at 8-years-old was removed from Great Keppel Island.
Jade has a Bachelor of Science degree from James Cook University and is now studying for a master’s degree and in 2015, she was selected to represent Australia’s Indigenous youth at the World Climate Summit in Paris.
As part of the TUMRA, she has used her scientific knowledge to help in the conservation of particularly dugongs and turtles in Keppel Bay.
“I’ve brought my traditional knowledge and western science to build a bridge between the elders, the department and scientists,” she said.
“We’re pushing away from more materialistic values to more cultural values and it’s cultural values that have such an impact on well-being.”
Robert Muir jnr Woppaburra Traditional Owner performing at Leekes Creek
Robert Muir jnr agrees that the elders are leaving the younger Woppaburra with good stepping stones for the future.
“This is something we can pick up and keep moving forward with,” he said.
As the Woppaburra continue to move forward towards their dream of Native Title, last weekend represented a milestone that proves they are more than able to manage the land that was taken from them more than a century ago.