The Kimberley Marine Tourism Association (KMTA) are asking the WA Government to allow access to Traditional Owners’ land via a single fee, claiming separate payments to different groups is unsustainable.

Native Title holders are increasingly initiating their land rights over coastal areas in the Kimberley region, requesting tourism operators in the areas pay a fee for access to traditional lands.

While the fee-for-access system isn’t new to coastal areas, the potential increase of areas requesting fees has KMTA suggesting the increase will inhibit tourists visiting the area and have a negative effect on the Kimberley’s tourism economy.

The Association is lobbying the WA Government to develop a potential single-permit access fee for tourists travelling between Broome and Darwin, an area with strong cultural significance for Indigenous people of the area.

President of the Association, Chad Avenell, sees the benefit the fees have provided to the community but is worried it is unsustainable.

“A lot of [the access fees have] been really positive because [they are] creating jobs and value-adding,” Avenell said.

“But the concern for operators is that … if we have three or four groups charging a similar fee … then eventually it’ll get to the point that tourists think it’s too much money.”

Currently, Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) is the only coastal group charging access fees, however Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) is petitioning for an access fee arrangement from visitors of the area.

WGAC said the creation of the pass was thoroughly developed from a commercial, tourism and legal standpoint.

The corporation uses the money from the access fees to hire more rangers, improve infrastructure around visitor areas and provide the traditional welcoming ceremonies.

The land has been free to access for decades prior to the development of the access fee, and many of the sites visited are sacred to Traditional Owners.

WGAC Chair, Catherine Goonack, said the need for Indigenous control of the land was a key aspect in developing the Uungur Visitor Pass (UVP).

“In the past, many people have accessed sites without our permission. We are happy for people to visit our Country but it must be done in the right way,” Goonack said.

“[The pass allows] us to manage and protect cultural sites, to share our culture and make the visitor experience authentic.”

Launched in 2017, WGAC has had significant success with the UVP.

“With the UVP our people are getting back on Country,” Goonack said.

The pass has allowed for people of Wunambal Gaambera to create employment for themselves and the infrastructure development from the fees has allowed young people to get back on Country.

DAC also looks set to charge access fees for tourists seeking to enter their Native Title determination area.

This will allow Traditional Owners to control the areas visited by tourists and ensure all entrances are deemed appropriate only by Traditional Owners.

The fees will be a welcome addition to an area which has suffered through government funding cuts announced in mid 2019.

The DAC’s request comes after the Traditional Owners of Central Land Council implemented a ban on the climbing of Uluru, a known site of cultural significance in October 2019.

Prior to the closure, any income received by Traditional Owners through people climbing the sacred men’s site were reinvested back into community projects such as Purple House Dialysis Clinic and the Tjurpinytjaku pool, in Mutitjulu.

By Caris Duncan