An indigenous group in remote north-western WA is reportedly the first to start charging tourists who want to visit their traditional lands.

The Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, traditional owners of remote lands and coast in the northern Kimberley, has started charging cruise ship passengers to visit the area's spectacular waterfalls and rock art caves.

Ship and boat operators bringing in tourists are this tourist season being charged $200 per berth, but by 2019 this will rise to $152 for every individual visitor.

The Wunambal traditional owners said the funds would be used to help get indigenous Australians out to the remote sites so they can greet tourists, pick up rubbish and protect cultural sites.

The Piccaninny Creek in Purnululu National Park. Photo / 123RF
The Piccaninny Creek in Purnululu National Park. Photo / 123RF

"It's mainly to support our rangers and help the traditional owners go out on country to protect areas ... and to welcome tourists too, so they can see the rangers talk about the country and the area they're in," the corporation's chair Catherine Goonack told the ABC.

The move follows a huge increase in cruise ship tourism in the spectacular isolated coastal area. Recent tourism figures show international visitors to WA increased by 9.1 per cent to about 950,000 people in the year to March.

The tourism boom has seen rock art damaged and rubbish left on pristine beaches. As a result traditional owners have banned tourists from many special and sacred sites.

Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said he supported the move.

"If it's Aboriginal land, you need permission to be on Aboriginal land, it's a simple as that," he said.

"If cruise companies want to access this fantastic cultural opportunity that their tourists wish to see, then they have to come to some negotiated arrangement."

Tourism operators said they were were generally supportive, but were concerned entry fees could become too costly if other traditional owner groups started charging visitors too.

"The possible implementation of separate systems, on top of the lack of clarity for operators and the potential for excessive pricing, could stymie the growth of this [tourism] industry," West Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said.


"This could be detrimental to Aboriginal people, the tourism industry and visitors to our state."

In 2011, after some 20 years of struggle, the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation finally secured native title.