SENSATIONALIST reporting by the Courier Mail, Cairns Post and other Murdoch rags saw the media blanketed with stories by people claiming to be traditional owners of the area indicating the tip of Cape York had been closed to tourists. It was shoddy journalism at best, with reporters failing to check facts and choosing instead to run half-truths and innuendo in a scare campaign that has cost Peninsula businesses thousands of dollars in cancelled bookings. Cape York open
Visitors come to walk to the ‘Tip’, it’s an Australian rite of passage. The threat of closure for that sacred piece of land was enough to persuade hundreds of prospective travellers to look elsewhere. Statements claiming the road between Bamaga and Cape York had been closed east of the Croc Shop at Lockerbie – the Punsand Bay turnoff – proved to be just that… a crock!
Local police confirmed the road as far as the gate to the abandoned Pajinka Lodge was a gazetted thoroughfare and could not be closed without their permission. Furthermore, the traditional owners who were talking about possibly closing access to the Tip had no authority to do so without the agreement of the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council.Cape York open
The mayor Patricia Yusia then clarified the issue, stating the council had not been officially approached by the traditional owners about such a closure. The problem has now been resolved, with an additional charge of $10 per head earmarked to assist traditional owners in constructing new toilet facilities at the Tip – to alleviate visitors having to head into the bush to conduct their ablutions.
However, spreading this message after the mass hysteria created by the misleading press reports has proved difficult, given the power of mainstream press and social media. As a person who has spent many of the best years of their life living and working at Pajinka Lodge from 1988 to 1992, it pained me to see how the place was allowed to deteriorate after its closure around 2004.Cape York open
The question of why the traditional owners walked away and left one of the most iconic tourism facilities in the entire country abandoned, without security or presence for the ensuing 17 years, before deciding to create a ruckus immediately following the Cape’s worst tourist season in modern history due to COVID lockdowns, needs to be clarified.
There’s no racist agenda here, I’m merely stating the facts. Those of us who live in this remote area – which is larger than Victoria – are confronted by similar scenarios all too often. I spent 18 months investigating indigenous tourism development opportunities on the Cape, so I have comprehensive appreciation of the issues involved.Cape York open
There definitely needs to be more dialogue and cooperation between all parties as we face the future. So, the important message here for those contemplating a Cape York exploration or fishing trip is clear – Cape York Peninsula is open and ready to welcome visitors! The Peninsula Development Road is expected to be fully open and trafficable, and the Jardine River ferry refurbished by the end of April.
As bookings for the 2021 season – June to October – are already heavy, it is advisable to book National Park and major campground sites as soon as possible. If you do choose to camp away from the designated areas, be sure to bury toilet refuse, extinguish all fires and take rubbish with you when leaving. Keep in mind that access to our beautiful countryside depends on being respectful towards the areas you are passing through.
Cape communities, large landholders and traditional owners do not appreciate visitors trashing their country, so if you see others doing the wrong thing, call them out or report them to the authorities. Future access could very well depend on such vigilance. Meanwhile, the Cape has had its best wet season for many years, both in terms of rainfall and longevity.Cape York open
This augurs well for a bumper fishing season, especially considering that due to heavily reduced tourist numbers in 2020, pressure on fish stocks was well below normal throughout the area. It seems that Australians can no longer trust mainstream media to provide them with balanced, unbiased and accurate news on important issues. Finding sources that are locally focussed and independent – now that the media giants have hijacked the industry – has become increasingly difficult.Cape York open
However, here in the Cape’s largest community, we are indeed fortunate to have the truly local publication Cape York Weekly, so I would enthusiastically recommend all travellers preparing for or contemplating a trip this way, sign up for a free digital copy each week at capeyorkweekly.com.au to ensure the news they receive is real and current.
Safe travelling, and good fishing!