Many of Australia’s remote indigenous communities are in towns and centres that began as church missions, or places to which governments re-located indigenous people from their traditional lands. People were encouraged, or forced, to move into those towns, often a long way from the country to which they belonged.
In more recent times, indigenous people have been looking for ways to return to their country, renew their spiritual connections with land, and have more control in shaping their future.
The “homelands movement” dates back to the 1970s – and there have been success stories of people returning to live some or all of the time on their traditional country. But it’s not an easy journey. It can be hard to access services, and almost impossible to make a living.
Here in far north Queensland, there are people working towards making living on country viable, affordable, even profitable.
Sam Zaro lives at Coen, a tiny town on Cape York Peninsula, but his family’s country is a few hours drive away – on the east coast at Nesbit River. Sam sees a time in the not too distant future when his people will live on country, paying their way with appropriate business ventures and an eco-lodge designed to represent his people’s totem.
If you can use your suburban block of land to secure finance, Sam says he should be able to do the same with his country, to make a sustainable life there for his people.
Sam says it’s beautiful country around Nesbit River – the right eco-tourism venture could attract visitors from all over the world. And the crocodiles in the area brought one famous visitor years ago – the late Steve Irwin.
Sam and his nana, Dorothy Short, talk about their traditional country, where Dorothy has just been for the first time since she was a child.
Pictures by Lyndal Scobell Cape York NRM and Suzie Cray ABC Open