Kakadu National Park has been plagued by declining tourist numbers for years. (AAP: Tara Ravens)
Calls to restore Kakadu National Park to its former glory have come as “music to the ears” of some of its traditional owners.
On Thursday, a joint standing committee on Northern Australia released more than 30 recommendations to improve tourism in remote parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.
Among those, it called for investment in infrastructure and access to Kakadu National Park, about 150 kilometres south-east of Darwin.
It also called for airports at Jabiru and Cooinda to be upgraded.
Visitation numbers to the dual World Heritage-listed park have dropped by more than 40,000 since 2008, according to data from Parks Australia.
The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation — representing the traditional owners for parts of Kakadu National Park, the Mirrar clan — has been working on a related master plan for the nearby mining town of Jabiru.
“This report is music to our ears,” said Justin O’Brien, Gundjeihmi’s chief executive.
“Everyone recognises the need for Kakadu to be properly restored back to its iconic status, up there with Uluru, up there with the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation’s Justin O’Brien said genuine relationships with Indigenous people were needed for the park to succeed. (ABC News: Michael Donnelly)
The committee also recommended the Federal Government set up a peak body for Indigenous tourism operators, working with the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia.
“For places like Kakadu to be genuine and to be durable, you need genuine relationships and partnerships with Aboriginal people,” Mr O’Brien said.
“For too many years Kakadu’s been unloved, infrastructure’s slipped back, the marketing distribution model has never been properly revised.
“Why not do that now? If mining is leaving, we need to transition.”
Mr O’Brien said he and former NT chief minister Clare Martin met with Federal Government politicians, advisers and bureaucrats in Canberra this week about the future of Jabiru as a Kakadu tourism hub.
He said there was now “in principle” support for the idea after several positive meetings.
“We have in principle support for a strong future for the town, for the town to play a pivotal role in the development of Indigenous tourism across the area,” he said.
“Hopefully we’ll be in a position to announce some great news about Jabiru in the next few months.”
Kakadu ‘tired’ for decades: Tourism body
Tourism Top End, a peak body for tourism businesses in the NT, said the industry had been pushing for upgrades for the “tired” Kakadu National Park for decades.
“It’s been on everyone’s lips in the tourism industry for a very long time,” general manager Trevor Cox said.
“The toilets, the shower blocks, but also getting to our attractions, so the roads infrastructure needs upgrading, the signage needs upgrading, interpretations need upgrading.
“Those sort of things that just put the edge on a visit to a destination — they’re the things that are lacking.”
Kakadu Tourism told the inquiry visitor numbers to the national park had decreased “over recent years” and despite an “encouraging turnaround” in 2016, there was still a “declining trend”.
“So it’s really now up to the Federal Government to roll the sleeves up, release some funding to Parks Australia so we can get Kakadu up to speed,” Mr Cox said.