Jeffrey Lee

Park Ranger and Djok Senior Traditional owner of Koongarra land
Kakadu National Park, Australia

Jeffrey Lee, Djok Senior Traditional Owner of Kakadu National ParkPhoto: Wayne Quilliam Photography

Recognised in plenary at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney for his determination to protect his ancestral country from the pressures of the mining industry, Jeffrey Lee’s remarkable story of dedication and perseverance inspired the IUCN World Heritage Programme to create the Heritage Heroes Award. Nominated again this year for recognition at the IUCN Congress, the selection panel have decided to name him as the first Heritage Hero, awarded retroactivelyfor his exceptional work to conserve Kakadu National Park, a natural World Heritage site listed since 1981.

Jeffrey Lee, sole member of the Djok clan, is the owner of the 12’028 hectare Koongarra region in Australia’s Northern Territory, which is totally surrounded by Kakadu National Park. “I don't own the land. The land owns me,” he says.

Because of its significant uranium deposit, his territory raised high interest among nuclear and mining giants for many years. But Jeffrey chose to turn his back on the prospect of royalty payments and secure the recognition of his land under the World Heritage Convention.

In 2011,  he travelled to Paris to personally ask UNESCO to declare his land part of the Kakadu National Park:  “I want to ensure that the traditional laws, customs, sites, bush tucker, trees, plants and water at Koongarra stay the same as when they were passed on to me by my father and great grandfather”, he stated.

By doing so, he put an end to over 35 years of pressure from the uranium mining industry and helped secure the Outstanding Universal Value of Kakadu National. Park Jeffrey Lee sets a high standard as IUCN’s first World Heritage Hero.