Better to save turtles

WHILE it may have the ability to shock or upset people, it is the legal right of Aboriginal people to kill turtles and other sea creatures for food.

Butchulla elder Aunty Frances Gala says Commonwealth legislation protects those who do so, because it is recognised as a traditional practice and one of cultural significance.

“In some areas yes we do (kill turtles),” she said.

“We don’t do it here anymore, not much.

“But there’s some people that aren’t Butchulla that come here and they are allowed to do it.

“As long as they have a bit of sense about it and don’t do it in front of people.

“It is our traditional food but it is always best not to do it in front of other people.”

Her comments come in the wake of a recent court case in which Sean Keidge argued with Guboo Fraser over the fate of a turtle at a Tinnanbar campsite in 2008.

Mr Keidge threatened to cut Mr Fraser’s throat if he did not release a sea turtle caught on a fishing line at Kauri Creek.

Sarah Laikind, regional manager of the Hervey Bay Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, says many people do not realise that the hunting of sea creatures is legally recognised if it is for sustenance, ceremonial purpose or cultural significance and not commercial reasons.

“Certainly it’s something that not a lot of Australians would realise or understand,” Ms Laikind said.

“It creates a lot of emotion on both sides.

“A lot of white Australians think they are creatures that should be protected or preserved.

“But in many ceremonies ... there’s a spiritual element to it.”

Aunty Frances says Butchulla people recognise the importance of preserving our local turtle and dugong populations.

“Our family don’t like it because the turtles are scarce now,” she said.

“It’s a preservation thing.

“Those that do, we tell them to make sure they only take one because we don’t like it, not anymore.

“We don’t like dugongs being touched because they’re nearly extinct you know.”

Nick Rigby, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service’s wildlife director, says the hunting of sea creatures is recognised by the Commonwealth Native Title Act of 1993 but only covers traditional hunting in native title areas, or traditional lands.

“Under Commonwealth legislation, indigenous people who hold native title rights to hunt native marine wildlife such as turtles and dugongs are exempted from the need for a permit or licence under State or Commonwealth laws as long as certain tests are met,” Mr Rigby said.

The tests must prove the hunting is in line with custom and occurs only in the native title area, he said.

However, other laws define how the animals can be treated and the unlawful taking of turtles and dugongs can attract a $22,500 fine for a vulnerable species and a $300,000 fine or two years jail for an endangered species.

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