Tasmania’s Aboriginal Land Council is pushing for what would be the first handback of land in more than a decade to preserve “precious” Indigenous sites on the state’s west coast.
The narrow strip of land running from Granville Harbour in the south to Marrawah in the north already has federal protection and the land council is seeking to take ownership.
There is no formal land claim process in Tasmania, so the council’s chairman, Michael Mansell, said he was trying to organise talks with the state and federal governments.
“Over a 10-year period from 1995 to 2005, all the lands that have been returned to Aboriginal people took place in that period. In the last 13 years, no land has been returned to Aboriginal people,” Mr Mansell said.
“So it is high time, I think.”
The land council said about 2,500 Aboriginal people lived in the area before they were killed or rounded up by settlers.
“It’s an absolute tragedy of Tasmania that this happened, but it doesn’t mean we should all just sit around and lament the fact that Aboriginal people were treated so disgracefully in the 1800s,” he said.
“It’s time to make amends by saying look, with all that Aboriginal heritage there, it sets a context for bringing Aboriginal life back into the 21st century.”
The ABC contacted the State Government for comment on the proposal.
Mr Mansell said if the land council could take control, it would rebuild some of the traditional villages to educate visitors about pre-colonial Indigenous life.
“The villages were scattered a couple of kilometres apart, and some of the villages held up to 80 people,” he said.
“We want people to be able to see these things, we want to be able to put the grass floors back in, we want to show people where the foods were.
“There was an absolute supermarket around these villages.”
The Tasmanian Greens have been supporting a handback of land to Indigenous people in the region.
“The Aboriginal community of Tasmania has a very strong argument to have that landscape returned, and we have no doubt at all that they’d be better managers of the land than the Liberal government currently is,” Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said.
The State Government was seeking to re-open four-wheel-drive tracks in the area, prompting an outcry from conservationists and some Aboriginal groups.
Mr Mansell said a handover would not affect access.
“Under the transfer proposal, Parks and Wildlife would still manage access,” he said.
“You’d have to go to Parks for a permit like you do now. Parks would charge a fee like they do now.”