Environmental and cultural implications of visitor access in the Kimberley region, Australia
This article was originally published as: Scherrer, P. , Smith, A., Randall, M., & Dowling, R. K. (2011). Environmental and cultural implications of visitor access in the Kimberley region, Australia. Australian Geographer, 42(3), 257-271. Original article available here
The Kimberley coast in Australia's far north-west is the traditional country and home of a number of Indigenous groups and hosts some of the country's richest cultural heritage, most spectacular rock art, scenery and wildlife, making it an attractive tourism destination. A growing expedition cruise industry provides the main means of visitor access to remote coastal sites and offers excursions to shore-based attractions in what are mostly Aboriginal Reserve lands. In light of concerns about environmental and cultural site impacts resulting from increasing visitor numbers, this study examined biophysical site impacts along access trails to shore-based attractions and used qualitative methods to ascertain cultural impacts. The synthesis of the findings highlights that cultural concerns arising from visitor access without having sought traditional owner consent for such access, combined with a lack of traditional owner involvement in the planning, management or running of visitor activities, overshadow currently low environmental impacts of onshore expedition cruise activities. To overcome the continuing impasse regarding the issue of unsanctioned visitor access, the Kimberley urgently needs a coordinated approach by key stakeholders and the traditional owners which recognises and acknowledges the historical context. Such a process would facilitate tourism activities to become culturally sustainable.