Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations through education. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. The Wet Tropics of Australia is one of the few World Heritage sites that meet all four criteria for natural heritage listing:
- Outstanding examples representing the major stages of the earth’s evolutionary history,
- Outstanding examples representing significant ongoing geological processes, biological evolution and man’s interaction with the natural environment,
- Superlative natural phenomena, formations or features or areas of exceptional natural beauty, and
- The most important and significant natural habitats where threatened species of plants and animals of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science and conservation still survive.
Our interpretation explains our unique rainforest in these terms. If the people of the world are to value and support conservation, then they need to understand what it is that makes a site World Heritage and how it contributes to human life and inspiration. Education is the key to universal conservation. The world’s population must accept responsibility to care for and protect the natural values, and to present and transmit these values to present and future generations. Daintree Rainforest is one of the first freehold parcels of land to be inscribed into the Wet Tropics of Australia. With this single decision, Australia determined that natural values are important to conservation regardless of tenure. This precedent gave the landholder the legislative order to comply with the primary goal, and it also empowered the human inhabitants on protected private land to conserve and present their lands to perpetuity. That we have done this without any funding from the public purse is an indication that altruistic travellers want to learn about the global treasure they are visiting and are willing to pay for an enhanced and personalised experience. We share our rainforest with a family of cassowaries. The dominant female, Big Bertha, with her distinctive casque, reigns supreme over her male entourage and their chicks. Recognised as a key-stone species, they make an occasional appearances to groups of visitors.
Learning our rainforest has become an all-consuming exercise. Every day we wander into the forest, following the winding trails, seeing new vistas at every turn and learning to appreciate the intricacy and beauty of our global treasure. We could not claim this as the world’s oldest rainforest unless we could provide evidence. We are informed that there are more species of primitive and rare plants, angiosperms (primitive flowering plants) in the rainforest north of the Daintree River that do not occur anywhere else on the planet. Of the nineteen identified families of primitive angiosperms on earth, thirteen are found in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and twelve of these exist north of the Daintree River. In time we learnt to identify eight primitive families of plants that could be found along our trails, including the green dinosaur, Idiospermum australiense. The majority of our plants are ancient angiosperms. We are convinced by what the forest had to offer and empowered to explain its significance to visitors to our property.
We were also enthralled by the camouflage of insects and spiders. At night, wildlife can be located by their eye shine. Torchlight from their eyes reflects back to the viewer. When we returned to examine the critters by daylight, they could not be seen, yet each night they were back in their same exact location. The breakthrough came when a lichen spider produced an egg sac, and positioned itself flat on the tree trunk with its front legs around the eggs. Once we were able to locate the egg sacs, our eyes adapted to the miracle of their camouflage and we could actually point out lichen spiders to incredulous visitors on day tours. We discovered that the complexity of this extraordinarily diverse and rare rainforest is controlled and bonded through bio-chemicals and pheromones in a chemical communication between plants and animals. People can become participants in these ecosystems and recipients of information. By living in the rainforest we are more aware and more concerned about invasive pests and weeds. We can visualise the ultimate effect of loss of biodiversity. Feral pigs present the greatest threat to the rainforest environment. They show how important it is to maintain the proper balance within the eco-system and indicate the ongoing threatening process of destruction if not eradicated. People do care about the environment. They can demand effective and responsible governance that supports true conservation if they are properly informed about the values and benefits of a healthy environment.