World Heritage Places - Kakadu National Park
Kakadu is one of four Australian sites included on the World Heritage List for both cultural and natural outstanding universal values. The floodplains of Kakadu illustrate the ecological effects of sea-level change in northern Australia. The park features great natural beauty and sweeping landscapes, as well as internationally important wetlands.
The region is extremely important to Aboriginal people, and many communities still live in the region. The Indigenous art sites of Kakadu are a unique artistic achievement that provides an outstanding record of human interaction with the environment over tens of thousands of years. These and the region's other Indigenous sites also illustrate globally significant example of the hunter-gatherer way of life, including its spiritual aspects and sites of great antiquity.
Kakadu National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in three stages - 1981 (Stage 1), 1987 (Stages 1 and 2) and 1992 (Stages 1, 2 and 3).
Kakadu was one of 15 World Heritage places included in the National Heritage List under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 on 21 May 2007.
In recognition of its outstanding natural and cultural values, the Koongarra area was added to the Kakadu World Heritage Area on by the World Heritage Committee on 27 June 2011.
The 1,228 hectare Koongarra area was excluded from Kakadu National Park's original boundaries in 1979 because of its potential uranium resources, although no mineral exploration or mining rights were ever granted. Koongarra has strong cultural importance to the traditional owners, who do not want to see Koongarra mined and want the area added to the National Park and the World Heritage Area.
Koongarra looks out over Nourlangie Rock, famous for its rock art. The inclusion of Koongarra on the World Heritage List enhances the protection of more than 50,000 years of Indigenous history and culture.
The area also contains an upstream component of some of the Kakadu National Park's most important wetlands.
The inclusion of Koongarra into the Kakadu World Heritage area means that it will have protection under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999.
Click an image for a larger view.
Kakadu is located in the tropical north of Australia, 130 kilometres east of Darwin, and covers a vast 19,804 square kilometres. The addition of Koongarra brings the total area of the World Heritage Area to over 19,816 square kilometres.
Description of place
The park stretches from the mangrove-fringed tidal plains in the north, through floodplains and lowland hills to the high sandstone cliffs of the spectacular Arnhem Land escarpment, through to the rugged stone country in the south. It protects almost the entire catchment of a large tropical river, another three river systems and examples of most of Australia’s Top End habitats.
Kakadu’s ancient escarpment and stone country spans more than two billion years of the earth’s geological history. In contrast the riverine and coastal floodplains are more recent, dynamic environments, shaped by changing sea levels and the big floods every wet season.
This is a place of enormous biological diversity. Savannah woodlands, eucalypt and monsoon forests, rivers and billabongs, coastal beaches, mudflats and mangroves are home to a range of rare and endemic plants and animals.
There are 77 species of mammals (nearly a quarter of Australia’s land mammals), 271 species of birds (more than one-third of Australian bird species), 132 reptiles, 27 species of frogs, 314 fish species, almost 1600 plant species and over 10,000 species of insects.
Kakadu’s landscapes undergo dramatic seasonal changes. Wet season rains create a sea of shallow freshwater for hundreds of square kilometres, and saltwater crocodiles move swiftly upstream. As the floodplains start to dry, vast numbers of ducks, geese and wading birds flock to the rivers and billabongs. These extensive wetlands are listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention).
More than 30 species of waders have been recorded on the wetlands, many being winter migrants from the sub-Arctic region. Kakadu is a major staging point within Australia for many migrating birds.
The wet also brings spectacular waterfalls to the 500 kilometre long Arnhem Land escarpment and new life to the rainforests in the ravines and plateau.
The rainforests are dominated by allosyncarpia trees, found only in this region. Rare birds such as the hooded parrot and white-throated grass wren live in the plateau’s spinifex and woodland, and rare bats shelter in the escarpment caves. Restricted populations of animals such as the black wallaroo, the Oenpelli python and the giant cave gecko live around the isolated massive rock outliers, left behind when the escarpment eroded eastwards.
Kakadu’s rivers meander to the Van Dieman Gulf, gradually depositing large quantities of silt to form extensive mudflats. These are inundated with salt water at high tide, and only salt-tolerant plants can grow here. Twenty-two species of mangroves form extensive mangrove swamps, important feeding and breeding grounds for many invertebrate species, fish (including barramundi) and birds.
Generations of Aboriginal people – known as Bininj/Mungguy – have lived and cared for this country for tens of thousands of years. Their deep spiritual connection to the land dates back to the Creation or Dreamtime.
Bininj/Mungguy believe that during the creation time ancestral beings known as the first people or Nayahunggi journeyed across the landscape. They came in many different forms – such as the Rainbow Serpent, Bula (Jawoyn Ancestor), Namarrgon (Lightning Man) and Warramurrungundji (Earth Mother). The ancestors created the landforms, plants, animals and Aboriginal people we see today, and they left language, ceremonies, kinship, and rules to live by. The cultural obligations and responsibility for country handed down by the ancestors are still central to the lives of Bininj/Mungguy, and age-old skills such as patch burning are integral to the modern management of the park.
Kakadu’s Aboriginal rock art documents these creation stories. The paintings constitute one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world, an outstanding record of human interaction with the environment over tens of thousands of years. Some 5,000 art sites have been recorded and a further 10,000 sites are thought to exist.
Concentrated along the escarpment, in gorges, and on rock outliers, the art sites display a range of styles including naturalistic paintings of animals and traditional x-ray art. Some galleries intriguingly capture the first contacts with non-Aboriginal people, from the Macassans in 17th century to the early European explorers in the 19th century.
Kakadu is jointly managed by the Australian Government Director of National Parks in conjunction with a Board of Management, which has an Aboriginal majority representing the traditional owners. Day-to-day management is carried out by Parks Australia, a division of the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Addition of Koongarra - 27 June 2011
Koongarra was added to the Kakadu World Heritage area on 27 June 2011. Mr Jeffrey Lee, Koongarra senior traditional owner of the Djok (Gundjeihmi) clan, was in Paris to witness the decision and while there made a statement to the World Heritage Committee thanking them for inscribing Koongarra into the Kakadu World Heritage area. A copy of his statement is below.
- Statement to the World Heritage Committee by Mr Jeffrey Lee (PDF - 109.47 KB) | (RTF - 13.24 KB)
- Map: Koongarra site within the Kakadu National Park World Heritage Area (PDF - 410.71 KB)
Jeffrey Lee thanking the World Heritage Committee for inscribing Koongarra onto the World Heritage List.
Jeffrey Lee and Stewart Gangali outside UNESCO Headquarters in Paris after Koongarra was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
- Australia's Commitments: Protecting Kakadu - Progress Report to the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee - 15 April 2000 (PDF - 102.25 KB)
- Kakadu Factsheet (PDF - 402.59 KB)
- Protected Planet Database - Kakadu National Park World Heritage Site
- Kakadu National Park
- World Heritage Committee information for Kakadu National Park