In the late 1980s core northern Kaanju families began the permanent reoccupation of our Ngaachi centred on the upper Wenlock and Pascoe Rivers in Cape York Peninsula, northern Australia. A community was re-established at Chuulangun, one of the northern Kaanju clan estates on the upper reaches of the Wenlock River. Chuulangun was a main meeting place for a number of Kaanju clans before being forcibly removed from country over the last century under the Protection and Assimilation eras of government. It is now appropriate that Chuula acts as the hub for the development of communities on other northern Kaanju estates including Pa'un, Malandaji and Nhanthanji.
Chuulangun is located on sandridge country on the bottom of an extensive freshwater mountain spring-fed lagoon system. Chuula lies centrally, about two to three hours drive depending on the road conditions, from the Cape York communities of Lockhart River (approximately 90 kilometres to the east), Weipa (about 150 kilometres to the north-west) and Coen (approximately 120 kilometres to the south) (see Map). Chuula lies within the boundary of the former Lockhart River Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) lands, which in 2001 were transferred back to traditional owner groups under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 (Queensland) as Aboriginal Freehold under the Mangkuma Land Trust.
Chuulangun is occupied permanently throughout the year, however we are cut off by road for up to six months during the wet season (approximately November to April) by the flooded Wenlock, Pascoe and Archer Rivers, a number of creeks, and areas of flat country that become inundated and are at times impassable, even on foot. This means that access to and from Chuula is difficult or impossible during the 'wet', making it logistically hard for people to stay over the wet season for emergency reasons and the provision of basic services, such as medical attention and food supplies. Nevertheless, there are a number of people whose commitment to homelands is so strong that Chuulangun is a permanent residence all year round despite the difficulties.
Chuula has a permanent dry season population of 16 to 25, and a wet season residency of eight to ten. This number would be much higher but for the problems of wet season access, and during the dry, limited transport and accommodation. Despite this, on weekends and holidays during the dry season the population is significantly increased, with a flood of school children and their families camping, and on several occasions Chuulangun has accommodated up to 50 people.
Due to its central location visitation is high and an estimated 200 individuals each year 'drop in' on their way to and from communities and towns in the region, in particular Coen and Lockhart River where a number of Kaanju people and extended families reside. Some may stay for a short visit, while others camp for a day or two.
The development of Chuulangun as a vibrant, viable homelands community today is testimony to the commitment and hard work of a core of northern Kaanju people, young and old, who from the early 1970s struggled for recognition as northern Kaanju Traditional Owners and strove to return to homelands on a permanent basis. Our people had to ask permission to access our own traditional lands and in the early 1990s permission was finally granted from the local Community Council to set up a permanent 'outstation'.
In the early years there was very little support from government for 'decentralisation', as government called it, yet our people struggled enthusiastically with minimal resources to rebuild a community on homelands. We used resources immediately available to us, including bush timber and corrugated iron supplied by a neighbouring family on a cattle station to whom we have close social ties. During this early period power was supplied by generator and the onle means of communication was UHF radio.
In the late 1980s Chuulangun was occupied for two wet seasons under harsh conditions. On a number of occasions one 'oldfella' had to swim the flooded Wenlock River and walk several kilometres to collect mail and basic supplies from the closest airstrip at Orchid Creek Station. Despite the difficulties experienced during this early period, he and other 'pioneers' of northern Kaanju homelands development (some of whom have now sadly passed away) recall these early years with great enthusiasm and pride.
From the mid to late 1990s the following infrastructure was set up at Chuula: three galvanized iron sheds on concrete slabs with bush timber and iron extensions for housing; two kitchens with gas cookers; two septic toilets and four showers. Water for drinking, kitchen and laundry use and bathing is pumped from the nearby lagoon to a 5000 litre feeder tank. During this period power was supplied by diesel and petrol run generators.
Some of this infrastructure was acquired via funding from the former Queensland Department of Community Services (now Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, DATSIP) and from the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation has recently secured funding under the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, for the construction of modular housing to accommodate the Chuulangun Rangers.
At the instigation of members of the Chuulangun community in 2000 a permanent telephone for communication and satellite dish were installed for free-to-air television and radio stations. Broadband satellite Internet access was established in September 2002.
These communication facilities and services have been very important to the growth of our community, and to the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation which was formed in July 2002. The telephone and Internet access in particular have been integral to our organisation's activities as the majority of transactions have to be done electronically due to our remoteness and the irregularity of postal services.
Recently our telephone service has been upgraded with two new phone lines including to the new Chuulangun Ranger office. Wireless internet has also been set up for the ranger office and school room.
Access to Chuulangun from the main gazetted road is via one gravel track. This road passes through alluvial flat country that becomes inundated during the wet season rains. Access by four-wheel-drive via this road is difficult or impossible when there are heavy soaking rains, and when the main gazetted road is open after the wet season this track is often still hazardous for vehicles. With minimal funding and mainly in-kind contributions Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation has undertaken work to improve this road for all season access.
In previous years the Chuulangun community has relied on private vehicles and those leased with ATSIC 'Wishlist' funding for transport. In the case of the latter in particular, problems have arisen due to the very high demand placed on vehicles and the often excessive running and maintenance costs involved.
More recently Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation has been able to access vehicles for land and resources management activities through funding from the Queensland Wild River Rangers and Australian government Working on Country programs.
Since our reoccupation of our homelands in the late 1980s we have been planning for the sustainable development of our community at Chuula and for communities on surrounding northern Kaanju clan estates. A number of reports have been written by and for the Chuula community that examine homelands development planning and funding issues. These include:
Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation. 2003 Kaanju Homelands Land and Resource Management Framework. Unpublished report, Chuula, Cape York.
Chuula Community. 2002 Chuulangun, Pa'un and Malandaji: Kaanju Homelands Development 2002 and Beyond. Chuula, Cape York.
Claudie, D. 1999 Wenlock Outstation Development Plan 1999-2000. Chuula, Cape York.
Airstrip and Access
Due to the remoteness of Chuulangun we have struggled for over a decade with problems of access to essential services, particularly during the wet season. In late 1999 pioneer work was done on the Chuulangun airstrip. An area of 1300 metres x 100 metres was cleared, but much work was needed for the airstrip to meet the requirements of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). This early work was made possible by the planning and initiative of Chuula residents and with funding from ATSICWishlist' programme. However, there are limited funds available for infrastructure such as airstrips and funding that is forthcoming is often piece-meal.
In early 2002 the Chuulangun community submitted an application to the former Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS) Regional Solutions Programme for funding to complete the airstrip. However, in late 2002 we were notified that the application was unsuccessful. In early October 2003, Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation redrafted the application and resubmitted it to DOTARS, this time to the Regional Partnerships (RP) Programme. After some feedback from RP we revised the application and obtained further written support for the project, including from the RFDS and neighbouring communities. We also secured an additional funding partner, the Queensland Government's Rural and Remote Airport Development Program (RRADP). We resubmitted our application to RP in early 2005 and it was approved in October 2005.
After considerable planning, coordination and on-ground effort from the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation and the Chuula community, the Chuulangun Airstrip is now constructed to CASA guidelines for aerodromes intended for small aeroplane operations. The project was jointly funded by the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation, the Regional Partnerships Program, and the Queensland Government's RRADP. The completed airstrip means reliability of access for the community all year round to emergency medical attention through the RFDS, the delivery of mail, fresh food supplies, educational materials, and access to air travel via the Remote Air Service Subsidy (RASS) Scheme.
In December 2004 a Bushlight Household Renewable Energy System was set up for one household at Chuulangun. The system was established under the Bushlight Program and funded through the former ATSIC. The Chuula Case Study can be viewed on Bushlight's website. Five years after the installation of the household system, planning is currently being undertaken for upgrade to a community system which will accommodate additional houses and the Ranger office. Prior to the establishment of the Bushlight System the community at Chuula relied completely on diesel and petrol run generators that were costly due to the fuel consumption and maintenance required.
Homelands Development Information Links
For information about services and programs relevant to homelands development visit our links page.
As the community at Chuulaexpands there is a strong need for a building that will accommodate offices for the administration of Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation's activities, as well as the Kaanju homelands land and resource management and enterprise development projects.
It is invisaged that such a building would also provide temporary accommodation for a schoolhouse and healthcare/RFDS clinic room until funding can be secured for a specialised building. A significant number of school-age children make up the permanent residents and regular visitors at Chuula, and would greatly benefit from a school on homelands. Like the airstrip, it is planned that the multi-purpose building will serve not only the growing community at Chuula, but also communities in the region on surrounding homelands, and pastoral and homestead leases.
The existing housing infrastructure at Chuula is grossly inadequate for our growing community. Completion of extensions on existing buildings, disability and elderly access and facilities and the construction of new housing are priorities for the coming period.
Due to our remoteness the cost of establishing infrastructure such as housing is very high, therefore as part of our community planning we are considering the best options for housing development. The factors we are incorporating into housing design are:
Environmentally appropriate design
We hope to engage with an architectural company or university faculty in the design of appropriate housing for our growing community. We are seeking funds for this project and for the construction of six houses over the next three years.