Gunlom Falls faces risk of closure as row escalates

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gunlom falls
The Gunlom Falls site is a popular swimming spots in the dry season. PIC: ABC Open Contributor Heath Whiley

One of Kakadu’s most well-known tourist sites is facing the threat of closure as a dispute between a powerful land council and Parks Australia escalates.

A court case in which Parks Australia is facing charges for carrying out work on a sacred site near the Gunlom Falls infinity pool was delayed again this week, sparking fears the areas may now be closed off just as the dry season approaches.

The ABC reports that Mick Markham, a Bolmo elder who chairs the Gunlom Land Trust, has now written to the Northern Land Council asking them to call a meeting to propose the closure of the entire Gunlom region.

“My proposal is that until we are satisfied with the results of this court case we will close all access from the Gunlom turn-off on the Kakadu Highway,” he wrote in an email seen by the ABC.

The pool, which is currently closed due to wet season conditions, is one of Kakadu’s most popular tourist swimming spots during the dry season

The dispute centres on the allegation that Parks Australia constructed a walking track close to a key feature of the sacred site in the Gunlom area that is restricted according to Aboriginal tradition.

The Director of Parks Australia has not formally entered a plea since charges were laid in September 2020.

The matter was adjourned earlier this week despite protests from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), which is bringing the prosecution and wanted a trial date to be set.

Mr Markham told the ABC that the way Parks Australia handled the issue was at odds with what Kakadu elders were trying to do by protecting their traditions.

“It’s our churches, it’s our cemeteries, and we’ve got to look after it, in principle, that’s our land and our spirituality, in the Aboriginal way,” Mr Markham said. “How can we protect it when parks are wanting to overrun us with tourist development without the proper procedure?”

Parks Australia also said the Director of National Parks would issue a binding direction to all Parks Australia staff working on matters relating to Kakadu National Park that requires them to consider the impacts of any works conducted in the park, to consult with AAPA where there may be an impact on any sacred site, and to obtain Authority Certificates to carry out relevant works.

The matter will return to court in April.

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