Dr Leah Talbot, descendant of the Kuku Yalanji People from the Bloomfield River area in Cape York Peninsula believes traditional knowledge is vital to create effective land management, from both on-ground practice up to executive decision-making.


Article by Wet Tropics Management Authority, published in the Koori Mail

“I think it’s really, really important that we move past just paying lip service contributions to Traditional Owners and start to build stronger partnerships,” Dr Talbot said.

Dr Talbot is a director on the Wet Tropics Management Authority Board. The Authority is one of the leading lights in collaborative partnerships and is responsible for the World Heritage Wet Tropics Area that covers almost 9000 km2 extending from Townsville to Cooktown.

It is the most biodiverse part of Australia – with more unique species of plants and animals than anywhere else in the country.

The Authority is responsible to protect and present the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area to current and future generations, as per Australia's obligations under the World Heritage Convention.

Dr Talbot said she considers the Authority is vital in its role of taking care of this World Heritage listed area and that the board has a huge responsibility on its shoulders to ensure that this place is protected for future generations.

Dr Talbot, who has previously worked as a research scientist for CSIRO and is currently working with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, has sat on various Queensland and Commonwealth ministerial appointed committees.

These include - the 2017 Indigenous Advisory Committee Member to Minister for Environment and Energy; 2017 Queensland Government Climate Advisory Council Member; 2017 Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee Member - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; and 2008-2013 Cape York Peninsula Regional Advisory Committee.

She has also been a 2017 Plenary Speaker for EcoTAS17 Ecological Society of Australia; a 2005 Member of the International Committee of the Cultural and Conservation (CEESP) Working Group – IUCN; and a 2005 Member of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), IUCN.

Her research has investigated conservation and Indigenous governance, knowledge, rights and interests in Protected Areas, in Australia and in Sweden.

Dr Talbot has experience in conservation and environmental management, high level Indigenous negotiations and developing collaborative Indigenous research methodologies, and participative planning with Indigenous communities.

She also has experience in international forums particularly in environmental policy, community engagement and Indigenous involvement. Her employment history incorporates extensive time working with Indigenous community organisations in the areas of native title, cultural heritage, protection of significant cultural sites, oral and community history, and natural and cultural resource management.

With her tenure on the Wet Tropics Management Authority Board coming to an end in May this year, Dr Talbot, said she had learned a great deal.

“What I have learnt from the experience… is the significance of this World Heritage area and how it is bigger and all-encompassing of us who are here at this very moment.”

“It also incorporates our past generations as well as our current generations while being mindful of our future generations yet to come. That has been the biggest message to me over the past couple of years being involved with the Authority and being a member of the Authority Board,” she said.

“It’s important to keep in mind the decisions we make today, and what that is going to mean for our future generations.”

Protecting biodiversity

“What we’ve seen from the devastating impacts of the bushfires in southern parts of Australia reminds us how critical it is that we protect the biodiversity we have in the Wet Tropics and to make sure it is going to be around for many more years to come.

“We have to play a very smart role to ensure that is the case,” she said.

Dr Talbot believes it is vital that the Authority and all of the other land managers build real and strong partnerships with the local Traditional Owner Groups, not only across the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, but many of the other World Heritage areas.

“Traditional knowledge and cultural responsibility that our Traditional Owner Groups have in these areas position Traditional Owners well to contribute to the decision and to be a part of the decision-making process through their knowledge, traditions and cultural responsibilities to better manage the environment into the future,” she said.

Dr Talbot also thinks it is important Rainforest Aboriginal Traditional Owner Groups start to share in the equity and benefits that come from living and managing the World Heritage Area, particularly the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

“There are elements of traditional knowledge that are deeply embedded within Indigenous People, our culture, customs and traditions, our Indigenous knowledge systems, our governance systems, all of which help better inform the management of a lot of these protected areas,” she said.

“It is critical that Western society and scientific knowledge comes together with that Indigenous knowledge and those Indigenous people, to be able to better manage those ecosystems and our planet for a much more sustainable outcome and future.

Partnerships needed

“But it is really about the people, we can’t separate the knowledge, we can’t extract that traditional knowledge from the communities from which it is embedded and to which it belongs.

“So it’s critical that there is genuine recognition and genuine partnerships and relationships built with the Traditional Owners who hold the keys to those knowledge systems and obligation and management systems to better look after these protected areas.”

Dr Talbot said it was critical to remember the Wet Tropics was a whole ecosystem.

“My message to anybody considering becoming involved with the Authority as a board director, particularly in terms of the board structure and role, it’s really important to remember that it’s a whole ecosystem, that there’s huge responsibilities that are placed on the shoulders of the board directors, and its obligations to ensure it continues not only for the communities that live here but for the whole world and the future generations.

“We have to remember that the decisions that we take moving forward have to be inclusive, need to be reflective of all of those different views and aspects that are out there,” she said.

“I think in particular for a Rainforest Aboriginal person that is out there who is considering taking on the role of a board director, it’s a big opportunity to become closely involved and to understand how the World Heritage convention operates and its responsibilities and obligations.

“It’s a huge learning curve as well as personal satisfaction to know you are helping to build a better place for future generations and helping to create a more sustainable environment for people to live and work and build their communities.”

Dr Talbot’s director position on the Wet Tropics Management Authority Board is one of two positions dedicated to an Aboriginal person who is particularly concerned with land and waters in the area.