The largest national park in Australia and one of the largest in the world’s tropics is Kakakdu, Kakadu preserves the greatest variety of ecosystems on the Australian continent including extensive areas of savanna woodlands, open forest, floodplains, mangroves, tidal mudflats, coastal areas and monsoon forests.
The park also has a huge diversity of flora and is one of the least impacted areas of the northern part of the Australian continent. Kakadu National Park is a living cultural landscape with exceptional natural and cultural values.
Many of the art and archaeological sites of the park are thousands of years old, showing a continuous temporal span of the hunting and gathering tradition from the Pleistocene Era until the present. While these sites exhibit great diversity, both in space and through time, the overwhelming picture is also one of a continuous cultural development.
The Kakadu region has had relatively little impact from European settlement, in comparison with much of the Australian continent. With extensive and relatively unmodified natural vegetation and largely intact faunal composition, the park provides a unique opportunity to investigate large-scale evolutionary processes in a relatively intact landscape.
The cultural and natural values of Kakadu National Park were recognised internationally when the park was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is an international register of properties that are recognised as having outstanding cultural or natural values of international significance.
Kakadu was listed in three stages: stage 1 in 1981, stage 2 in 1987, and the entire park in 1992. Kakadu National Park was declared under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 (NPWC Act) in three stages between 1979 and 1991.
The NPWC Act was replaced by the EPBC Act in 2000. The declaration of the park continues under the EPBC Act. Each stage of the park includes Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act that is leased to the Director of National Parks or land that is subject to a claim to traditional ownership under the Land Rights Act.
Most of the land that was to become part of Stage One of Kakadu was granted to the Kakadu Aboriginal land Trust under the Land Rights Act in August 1978 and, in November 1978, the Land Trust and the Director signed a lease for the land to be managed as a national park. Stage one of the park was declared on 5 April 1979.
The first non-Aboriginal people to visit and have sustained contact with Aboriginal people in northern Australia were the Macassans from Sulawesi and other parts of the Indonesian archipelago.
They travelled to northern Australia every wet season, probably from the last quarter of the seventeenth century, in sailing boats called praus. Their main aim was to harvest trepang (sea cucumber), turtle shell, pearls and other prized items to trade in their homeland.
Aboriginal people were involved in harvesting and processing the trepang, and in collecting and exchanging the other goods. In 2011, the Koongarra land, which had previously been excluded from the listing because of its potential uranium resources, was added to the Kakadu World Heritage Area following decades of lobbying by Koongarra’s senior custodian Jeffrey Lee.