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Mornington Island

Introduction

Mornington Island is located in the Gulf of Carpentaria, about 444km north of Mount Isa and 28km off the coast of mainland Australia. It has a unique natural environment which has been occupied by the Traditional Owners, the Lardil people, for many thousands of years[1]. Today, Mornington Island is renowned for its rich Indigenous culture, expressed most prominently through the Mornington Island dancers and the internationally acclaimed artwork that has emerged from the community in recent times.

History of Mornington Island

European contact

Mornington Island is the largest of the North Wellesley Islands located in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is sometimes referred to as Gununa or Goonana by the Lardil people, the Traditional Owners of Mornington Island. The Lardil are also the traditional custodians of several other smaller islands including Langunganji (Sydney Island) and Lingunganji (Wallaby Island)[2]. Many Kaiadilt and Yangkaal people also live on Mornington Island. They are the Traditional Owners of the islands between Mornington Island and the mainland, and the South Wellesley Islands respectively[3]

Lardil, Kaiadilt and Yangkaal people had occasional contact with Macassan traders who visited the Gulf to collect beche-de-mer during the 1600s[4]. Contact with the British began when Matthew Flinders anchored the HMS Investigator off Sweers Island (South Wellesley) in 1802. Flinders named several islands at this time, including Mornington.  The British did not return until 1841, when Captain J Lort Stokes visited Bountiful, Fowler, Bentinck and Sweers Islands aboard the Beagle[6].

Contact with non-Indigenous people intensified after Burketown was established in 1865. The population of Burketown was relocated to Sweers Island in 1866 after an outbreak of ‘gulf fever’. The following year, the township of Carnarvon was established at Sweers Island, including a Customs House. This brought many people into the Wellesley Islands including Chinese and Pacific Island labourers[7].

Increased commercial activity in the Wellesley Islands impacted heavily on the traditional hunting practices of Indigenous people. Commercial fishing competed for sea resources and island ecosystems were devastated by the introduction of cattle, sheep, horses, rabbits and goats[8]. This competition for land and resources sometimes led to violence. In 1872, Customs Officers fired upon Kaiadilt people fishing at Sweers Island[9]. Kaiadilt oral histories also refer to the murder of 11 people at Bentinck Island in 1918 by a party of non-Indigenous people[10]. The abduction of Kaiadilt women and children was also relatively common throughout this period[11]. In 1867, armed Kaiadilt men were reported to have successfully retrieved two of their boys from local settlers at Sweers Island[12].

Despite the activity at Sweers and Bentinck Islands, few non-Indigenous people visited Mornington Island until the early 1900s, when commercial operators became interested in the Southern Gulf region[13]. Lardil people were increasingly exposed to the outside world, particularly men, who were recruited to work in the marine industries[14]. Employment on beche-de-mer and pearling boats was physically demanding and dangerous, and often exposed workers to abuse, alcohol and opium. In 1905, the government responded by declaring all islands in the Wellesley groups ‘Aboriginal reserves’ in an attempt to exclude labour recruiters from the Southern Gulf[15].

Government attempts to contact Lardil people were unsuccessful until 1908, when the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, R B Howard, visited Mornington Island and met a group of people who took him inland to show him a nearby lake[16]. After a second visit in 1912, Howard appealed to the government to establish a ‘protectionist presence’ on the island[17].

Two years later, the Presbyterian Church established a mission at Mornington Island with the assistance of the government. Founding missionary, Reverend Hall, arrived in May 1914, together with assistants, Paul and Walter Owen. Hall’s wife Katherine soon followed[18]. It was estimated that around 400 people lived on the island at this time[19].

Hall attracted few permanent residents during his brief time as Superintendent. Peter Kangarumgully, Big Billy, Paddy Marmies and Gully Peters were among the first. Hall’s successes included the establishment of a beche-de-mer enterprise using the mission ketch Morning Star[20]

Reverend Hall was killed by a Lardil man named Kidikur (also known as ‘Bad Peter’ and ‘Burketown Peter’) in October 1917. The highly publicised event led some to suggest missionaries had no place on the island. A 10 day siege followed Hall’s murder, during which time Hall’s wife and children were held captive. Kidikir was sentenced to life at St. Helena Prison in Moreton Bay, while six others involved were removed to the newly opened Palm Island settlement[21]. In 1918, the government appointed Reverend Robert Wilson as a permanent replacement[22]

Under Wilson, mission residents performed all the work necessary to develop and maintain the mission. Many men worked as stockmen, tending to cattle bought to the island to provide a food and revenue source[23]. Up until the 1930s, mission residents also sold sandalwood, beche-de-mer, dugong oil, turtle shell, fruit and vegetables to supplement the mission income[24].

By 1921, the use of dormitories to isolate children for education and Christian conversion was well established. The Sunday service provided one of the few opportunities for girls to spend time with their parents. Dormitory boys were released twice a week to see their families[25]. Discipline was strict and physical punishments were common during Wilson’s time. Children were segregated from the opposite sex and were locked into dormitories after evening meals. In addition to attending school and church services, the children were responsible for much of the agricultural and domestic work at the mission[26].

The mission was poorly funded and residents often experienced shortages of ‘white man’s food’[27]. Dormitory children often relied on bush foods brought to them by relatives, including dugong, turtle, oysters, fish, crab, goanna and wild honey[28]. The reliance on traditional foods was probably influential in Wilson's policy of releasing teenage boys from the dormitories to allow them to learn traditional hunting skills from their relatives. Girls often remained in the dormitories until they married or were sent into domestic service on the mainland[29].

The mission did not receive dedicated medical assistance until 1931. Health problems at the mission included hookworm, whooping cough, gastro-enteritis and mosquito borne illnesses[30]. An airstrip was completed on Denham Island in 1934 to assist missionaries to import food, medical services and supplies. Many mission men, women and children worked together for about a year to complete the airstrip[31].

The mission population grew rapidly at times. In 1936, 40 people were removed to Mornington Island from Turn Off Lagoon west of Burketown, many of whom were Waanyi people[32]. The new arrivals were met by a severe cyclone which destroyed almost all of the mission buildings that same year. 

During World War Two, adult mission residents were encouraged to ‘go bush’ in preparation for a Japanese invasion. In 1942, almost all the mission staff and the children in the dormitory were evacuated to the mainland. The older children were put into domestic service at stations in the Gulf and the younger ones were sent to Doomadgee Mission[34]. Modern influences arrived when the Royal Australian Air Force established a radar station on the island in 1943. Concerts to entertain troops and locals were a regular event. Some mission men experienced a wage economy for the first time, after being sent to Burketown to work as stockmen to alleviate wartime labour shortages[35].

Mission staff returned to Mornington Island in 1944 without Reverend Wilson, who had been replaced by Reverend McCarthy. Unlike Wilson, McCarthy interfered with the rule of Elders in the camps surrounding the mission. He also introduced legal marriages, Aboriginal (Native) police and initiated the development of the first permanent housing in the community. He left the mission in 1948[36]

In 1947 and 1948, many Kaiadilt people were relocated to Mornington Island by the government after drought and a cyclonic tidal surge made living conditions on Bentinck Island very difficult. Some people had to be ‘induced’ to leave their home island[37].

More people arrived in 1958, when several Doomadgee mission families voluntarily relocated to Mornington Island to take advantage of the liberalised philosophies of the new Superintendent Reverend Belcher. Popular on the island, Belcher was referred to as ‘kantha’ (father)[38]. Belcher closed the dormitories in 1954[39], however he remained on in Mornington Island until 1970[40].

After World War Two, the Presbyterian missions were in serious debt[41]. With little money to develop the missions, living conditions deteriorated and sanitation became problematic at Mapoon and Mornington Island missions[42]. Periodic drought and water shortages compounded these problems and Mornington Island residents were regularly sent into the bush due to food shortages[43].

Media coverage of a gastro-enteritis outbreak at Mornington Island during the drought of 1952 drew national attention to the impoverished conditions at the mission. An evacuation of residents to Aurukun was narrowly avoided, after McCarthy supported residents who refused to leave without a guarantee they would be allowed to return when the drought broke[44]. The following year, 11 children died during an outbreak of dysentery on the island. Health workers went public, blaming poor sanitation, water quality and diet, and sub-standard housing[45]. By 1954, the government was pressuring the Presbyterian Church to close both the Mornington Island and Mapoon missions. The Mornington Island closure was abandoned, as a result of strong community protest and the discovery of a new source of drinking water[46]

Reverend Belcher introduced a cash economy into the community in 1954. Housing supplies, clothes and food items became available at the island store for the first time. Residents gradually replaced the bark and galvanized iron huts with prefabricated homes constructed by the residents themselves. Many residents took up work on the mainland as domestics, stockmen and fencers or worked on cargo boats. With Reverend Belcher’s encouragement, a cultural revival developed during the 1960s, which enabled several residents to become professional artists and dancers, the most notable being Dick Roughsey[47].

During the late 1960s and 1970s, the church introduced policies at Mornington Island and Aurukun missions which supported the communities’ aspirations to achieve self-management and recognition of Aboriginal land tenure. On Mornington Island, this was done through the creation of Gunanamanda Aboriginal Corporation. This placed the mission in direct conflict with the Queensland government, which threatened to assume administrative responsibility for the missions unless the church complied with official ‘assimilation’ polices[48]. The relationship broke down completely after the church began aggressively supporting the Aboriginal land rights protest which developed at Aurukun in 1975, after the government introduced legislation to facilitate bauxite mining there[49].

Cyclone Ted crossed the Mornington Island coast in December 1976 and destroyed almost all of the buildings and houses in the community[50]. Mission residents lived in tents for over a year whilst the Queensland government disputed the terms attached to disaster relief ($1 million) provided by the Australian government for rebuilding. The condition was that 30% of the money would be spent on ‘upgraded’ housing. The Queensland government wanted only 15% of the money to be spent in this way, and was actively refusing to rehouse some community members on the basis of a lack of employment prospects[51]. The relationship between the Australian and Queensland governments was particularly dysfunctional by this time, partly because of their conflicting policies in relation to Aboriginal land rights and self-determination[52].

After the Queensland government withdrew funding to the church in March 1978, and initiated an administrative take-over, the Australian government provided financial and political support to Aurukun and Mornington Island communities[53]. By this time, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was preparing legislation to facilitate self-management at Aurukun and Mornington Island missions after the communities requested his intervention[54].

Eventually the Queensland and Australian governments agreed to facilitate self-management through the creation of local government authorities at both Mornington Island and Aurukun communities.

Local government

The Mornington Island Shire Council was constituted with the introduction of the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act 1978. A renewable 50-year lease to former reserve lands was issued to the council[55]

End notes

  1. Lardil Peoples v Queensland [2004] FCA 298; Lardil, Yangkaal, Gangalidda & Kaiadilt Peoples v State of Queensland [2008] FCA 1855.
  2. Lardil language names for Sydney and Wallaby Islands sourced from: Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, Thuwathu/Bujimulla Sea Country Plan (2006) http://www.environment.gov.au/indigenous/publications/pubs/thuwathu-bujimulla-plan.pdf at 28 November 2012.
  3. Above n 1.
  4. P Saenger, Sweers Island: Changes over 200 years since Flinders visit (Royal Geographical Society of Queensland, Brisbane, 2005) 11; Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, Thuwathu/Bujimulla Sea Country Plan (Lardil, Yangkaal, Kaiadilt and Gangalidda peoples (Wellesley Islands Sea Claim Determination native title holders and the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, 2006) 10.
  5. M Flinders, A voyage to Terra Australis, undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802 and 1803 (G and W Nicol, London,1814) at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00050.html#chapter2-1; J E Heeres (ed), Abel Janszoon Tasman's Journal (1895) http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600571h.html at 12 December 2012.
  6. J L Stokes, Discoveries in Australia, Volume 2, (1846) http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00039.html at 12 December 2012.
  7. Carnarvon was almost entirely abandoned in 1868 when people relocated to Normanton. The Customs Station was relocated to Normanton in 1880: P Saenger, Sweers Island: Changes over 200 years since Flinders visit, Gulf of Carpentaria Scientific Report (Royal Geographical Society of Queensland, Brisbane, 2005) 14-15; author unknown, ‘The Gulf Country’, The Queenslander, 13 July 1867, 8; author unknown, ‘Polynesians at Carpentaria’, The Queenslander, 27 March 1869, 5; author unknown, title unknown, The Queenslander 27 July 1867, 8; author unknown, ‘Left to Perish’, The Queenslander 4 June 1887, 898; author unknown, title unknown, The Queenslander, 9 December 1869, 5; author unknown, ‘Telegraphic extension in the north’, The Brisbane Courier, 27 March 1867; TRE/B 1880-81 48/1881 at http://www.dropbears.com/s/sweers/notes.htm#N170).
  8. Author unknown, ‘Notes from Sweers Island’, The Queenslander, 7 September 1867, 9; author unknown, title unknown, The Queenslander 25 December 1869, 3; author unknown, title unknown, The Queenslander, 30 April 1869, 3; P Saenger, Sweers Island: Changes over 200 years since Flinders visit, 15-16; Queensland State Archives, item A/69618, Home Office Correspondence, 1864/34784.
  9. The officers kidnapped a young Aboriginal boy during the incident: Queensland State Archives, COL/A182 1873/849, depositions taken at the Magisterial Inquiry into the shooting of some natives of Bentinck Island in October 1872; Queensland State Archives, TRE/A13, 1873/645 (13 May 1873); N B Tindale, Geographical Knowledge of the Kaiadilt People of Bentinck Island, Queensland (South Australian Museum, Adelaide, 1962) 14: 252-296.
  10. Anthropologist Norman Tindale reported that a Bentinck islander told him of a hostile attack by 'an unidentified white man with helpers' in 1918. Accompanied by dogs, the mounted party reportedly killed eleven people. Kaiadilt oral histories suggest that John MacKenzie was involved in the shootings. MacKenzie operated a lime kiln on Sweers Island around the time. Dick Roughsey also recounts stories told to him by an old Kaiadilt man named Jack about this shooting. Tindale also reports the death in 1918 of 'Ngiltalngati' as a result of being ‘shot by white man who came in a boat from Sweers Island: N B Tindale, Geographical Knowledge of the Kaiadilt People of Bentinck Island, Queensland (South Australian Museum, Adelaide: 1962) 14: 309-310, 334; D Roughsey, Moon and Rainbow: The Autobiography of an Aboriginal (Reed, Sydney, 1971) 97-98; Queensland State Archives, A/58785, 1917/3796; R Kelly and N Evans, ‘The MacKenzie Massacre on Bentinck Island’ (1985) 9, 1, Aboriginal History, 44-52.
  11. T Blake, Historical Report Wellesley Islands Sea Claim (unpublished report, Carpentaria Land Council, 1998) (as quoted in C Daley and P Memmott, Domains and the Intercultural: Understanding Aboriginal Missionary Engagement at the Mornington Island Mission (2010) 14, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 115; Queensland State Archives, Chief Protector of Aboriginals, Register of Inwards correspondence, A/58994, 1907-1909, Crime, letter 1907/2606, regarding Javanese man removing Aboriginal women from Bentinck Island; Queensland State Archives, Colonial Secretary’s Office inwards correspondence, COL/A150, 1870/3098, regarding kidnapping by the Native Police at Bentinck Island.
  12. Author unknown, ‘Burketown-From a Correspondent’, The Queenslander, 25 May 1867, 8.
  13. Author unknown, ‘Mr Landsborough’s Report’, The Brisbane Courier, 20 September 1867, 6; author unknown, ‘The Mornington Island Blacks’, The Queenslander, 25 July 1873, 36; C Daley and P Memmott, Domains and the Intercultural, 116.
  14. The Government appointed Mapoon Missionary Reverend Hey to regulate the recruitment of Aboriginal labour by the marine industries, after he reported the abuses of these labourers, disproportionate death rates caused by shark attack and pulmonary complications, and other problems related to violence, kidnapping, and opium and alcohol addiction. The Government banned the use of Aboriginal labour in the marine industries in 1903, but the ban only applied to coastal areas between Mapoon and Aurukun. This effectively encouraged recruiters to move south and across to the Wellesley Islands: Regina Ganter, German Missionaries in Queensland (date unknown) http://missionaries.griffith.edu.au/qld-mission/aurukun-1904-1913#_edn5 at 12 December 2012; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1904 (1905) 4, 13, 17; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1903 (1904), 4-5.
  15. Sweers Island was the exception. It became a reserve in 1934: Queensland, Queensland Government Gazette, 22 April 1905; Queensland, Queensland Government Gazette, 4 August 1934, 344.
  16. Walter Roth, the Northern Chief Protector of Aboriginals visited Mornington Island at least twice, in 1901 and 1903. He encountered Indigenous people at Bentinck Island, but Kaiadilt people showed no interest in dialogue with Roth. Roth spent three days walking across Mornington Island but had only limited success in having close contact with the Lardil. In 1908, Howard was taken inland by Lardil people to see the fresh waters lakes, and reported that the island offered a ‘…splendid opportunity to prove whether or not these people can be brought into a better and more comfortable mode of life. He also warned the Government that ’five diving boats were seen…in close proximity to Mornington Island’: Queensland State Archives, A/3369, W E Roth to Under Secretary, Department of Public Lands, 27 June 1903; Queensland, Annual Report of the Northern Protector of Aboriginals for 1903 (1904) 5; author unknown, ‘Wild Blacks – visit to Mornington Island’, The Brisbane Courier, 14 October 1908, 7.
  17. Howard was against the introduction of missionaries in the Wellesley Islands and advocated a Government presence only: author unknown, ‘Mornington Island – proposed Government Settlement’, The Queenslander, 23 November 1912, 40; P Memmott, Lardil Properties of Place: An Ethnological Study in Man-Environment Relations (PhD Thesis, University of Queensland, St Lucia, 1979) 248.
  18. P Memmott, Lardil Properties of Place, above n 17, 249; Queensland State Archives, A/58785, 1924/5925, Mornington Island correspondence.
  19. Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1910 (1911) 8.
  20. Queensland State Archives, A/58785, 1924/5925, Mornington Island correspondence; Queensland, Annual Reports of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1914 (17), 1915 (15), 1916 (12); P Memmott, Lardil Properties of Place, above n 17, 250-251; D Roughsey, Moon and Rainbow, aove n 10, 30-31.
  21. Queensland State Archives, JUS/N651, 1917/763, inquest into death of Robert Hall; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1917 (1918) 10; C Daley and P Memmott, Domains and the Intercultural, 116-117; author unknown, ‘Parliament – Legislative Assembly’ The Brisbane Courier, 11 September 1913, 8; author unknown, ‘The Mornington Island Blacks’, The Brisbane Courier, 23 November 1917, 9.
  22. F D White, Church and State in Presbyterian Missions, Gulf of Carpentaria: 1937-1947 (MA Thesis, University of Queensland, St Lucia, 1994).
  23. Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1928 (1929) 11; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1929 (1930) 12; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1930 (1931) 14; E Roughsey, An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New (1984) 6-25, 32, 36.
  24. R Kidd, The Way We Civilize (University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1996) 93; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1921 (1922) 9; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1922 (1923) 9; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1923 (1924) 10; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1924 (1925) 10; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1925 (1926) 10; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1931 (1932)
  25. 13; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1932 (1933) 18; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1933 (1934) 17.
  26. P Memmott, ‘Lardil Properties of Place: An Ethnological Study in Man-Environment Relations’ above n 17, 254-255, 261-263.
  27. E Roughsey, An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New, above n 23, 6-25; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1925 (1926) 10; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1926 (1927) 10; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1930 (1931) 14; D Roughsey, Moon and Rainbow, above n 10, 38-56.
  28. Kidd, above n 24; G Wharton, The Day They Burned Mapoon: A Study of the Closure of a Queensland Presbyterian Mission (Unpublished Thesis, University of Queensland: 1996) 61; E Roughsey, An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New, 10-11, 27; D Roughsey, Moon and Rainbow.
  29. E Roughsey, An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New, 10-11, 27.
  30. E Roughsey, An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New, 137-38; D Roughsey, Moon and Rainbow, 41-43.
  31. Malaria claimed 5 lives at Mornington in 1935 and 5 lives in 1937: Kidd, above n 24, 92-99; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1915 (1916) 15; Queensland, Reports upon the Operations of Certain Sub-Departments of the Home Secretary’s Department, Aboriginal Department – Information contained in Report for the Year ended 31 December 1931 (1932) 13; Queensland State Archives, A/58785, 31/5792, Mornington Island; Queensland State Archives, A/69441, 1935/2842, Missions; Queensland, Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals for 1922 (1923) 9; Queensland State Archives, A/69469, 1937/640, Mornington Island.
  32. Inaugural visits by the Australian Inland Mission aerial doctor commenced in 1931. The Royal Flying Doctor service took over medical visits after this time; Memmott, above n 17, 260-261; Queensland, Reports upon the Operations of Certain Sub-Departments of the Home Secretary’s Department, Aboriginal Department – Information contained in Report for the Year ended 31 December 1931 (1932) 13.
  33. D Trigger, White Fella Comin’, 40; Queensland State Archives, A/58803, 1936/895, Removals; Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Community and Personal Histories Removals Database; M Copland, Calculating Lives The Numbers and Narratives of Forced Removals in Queensland 1859–1972 (PhD Thesis, School of Arts, Media and Culture, Griffith University, Nathan, 2005).
  34. E Roughsey, An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New, above n 23, 36; Bureau of Meteorology, Tropical Cyclones in Queensland (2012) http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/about/cyclones-gulf-impacts.shtml at 12 December 2012. Queensland, Reports upon the Operations of Certain Sub-Departments of the Home Secretary’s Department, Aboriginal Department – Information contained in Report for the Year ended 31 December 1936 (1936) 22.
  35. Queensland State Archives, Series SRS 505/1, 6K/14, Mornington Island, Evacuation of Mission 1942. Military authorities insisted on evacuating thirteen girls and six infant boys from the Mornington Island dormitories to the mainland because they were without a ‘natural male protector’: Kidd, above n 24, 158-162; G Mackenzie, Aurukun Diaries (The Aldersgate Press, Melbourne, 1981) 99-104.
  36. E Roughsey, Aboriginal Mothers Craft, Culture and Customs, 41, 85 as quoted in P Memmott, Lardil Properties of Place, 249; Queensland State Archives, A/58785, Mornington Island 1911-1933, 275.
  37. Memmott, above n 25, 276-278; Queensland State Archives, A/58785, Mornington Island 1911-1933, 32.
  38. Reverend Wilson deliberately fostered a friendly relationship between the Lardil and Kaiadilt people. He began sending married couples from Mornington Island to Bentinck Island in 1926 to honeymoon and fish for beche-de-mer to establish contact. By 1947 around 50 people were removed to Mornington Island (42 from Sweers Island, 5 from Allan Island and 1 from Bentinck). Bentinck Islanders were first sent to Sweers Island before being transported to Mornington Island. The term ‘induced’ was used to describe the removal. The incorporation of the new arrivals strained already insufficient resources and caused some initial tensions. Several Bentinck Island people returned to their traditional home during the 1990s: Queensland State Archives, A/69764, 1949/3036, Aboriginal Reserves; Memmott, above n 25, 282-283; Queensland, Reports upon the Operations of Certain Sub-Departments of the Home Secretary’s Department, Aboriginal Department – Information contained in Report for the Year ended 31 December 1932 (1933) 18; QQueensland State Archives, A/69441, 1935/49, Missions; Queensland State Archives, Home Secretary’s correspondence, HOM/J668, 1928/3094.
  39. A Commonwealth Health team reported in 1950 that rules were being relaxed at Mornington Island Mission. It was the only mission observed in the north which allowed boys and girls to play together. Girls were being released to their families when they became teenagers by this time: D Trigger, Whitefella Comin', above n 32, 74; Queensland State Archives, SRS 505/1, 1D/133, Commonwealth report on a visit to Aboriginal Mission Stations, Gulf of Carpentaria, 9.5.1950; Memmott, above n 25, 289.
  40. The Queensland government reduced the value of grants to missions in 1942, following the introduction of the Child Endowment Act 1941. The post-war trebling of food prices devoured the Presbyterian mission committee’s funds, which slid from a credit of £18,000 to a deficit of £10,000 by 1952: G Wharton, The Day They Burned Mapoon, above n 27, 43, 192-192.
  41. Kidd, above n 24, 192-198; R Kidd, Regulating Bodies: Administration and Aborigines in Queensland 1840-1988 (PhD Thesis, Griffith University, Nathan, 1994) 489, 494-497; Queensland State Archives, SRS 505/1, 6G/20, O’Leary to Under Secretary, 15.3.1953 and SRS 505/1, 1D/133, report on a visit to Aboriginal Mission Stations, Gulf of Carpentaria, 9.5.1950.
  42. A news article in the Sun Herald on 2 April 1967 refers to children breaking from school at lunch to go bush with their parents to hunt for food: Memmott, above n 25, 303; E Roughsey, An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New above n 27.
  43. Reverend McCarthy was suspended from duties for supporting the community’s protest: Queensland State Archives, SRS 505/1, 6G/20, Mapoon Mission, Future of Mission; author unknown, ‘Drought, Food Shortage on Remote Island’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 1952; R Kidd, Regulating Bodies, 495.
  44. Queensland State Archives, A/69469, Mornington Island 1954, report dated 26.3.54.
  45. Kidd, above n 24, 193, 199; R Kidd, Regulating Bodies, above n 42, 497-500; G Wharton, The Day They Burned Mapoon, above n 27,46-54; Queensland State Archives, A/58885, 53/11714, Native Affairs - Missions – Epidemics; Queensland State Archives, A/69469, Mornington Island 1954, report dated 26.03.54.
  46. Memmott, above n 25,, 290, 297-299.
  47. F Brennan, Land Rights Queensland Style: The Struggle for Aboriginal Self-management (University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1992) 10; Queensland State Archives, A/55283, N/128, Aurukun Aboriginal Mission, Parliamentary speech by Minister Claude Wharton 4.12.1975; P Sutton, The Politics of Suffering (Melbourne University Publishing, Carlton, 2009) 21-25.
  48. In 1976 the Church distributed an open letter dated 3.8.1976 to every Member of Parliament in Queensland and the Prime Minister. It stated - ‘the Presbyterian Church of Australia and Queensland have been committed by overwhelming votes, to Aboriginal Land rights since a resolution by the Presbyterian Church of Australia in 1959’. Many examples of Presbyterian support for Aurukun land rights exist in the public sphere, this is a small selection provided from Government files: Queensland State Archives, SRS 505/1, 6A/35, Authority to Prospect Tipperary Land Corporation, Part 2, see 4 page Presbyterian pamphlet entitled Mission Probe – Land or Life itself?, attached to letter to Premier Bjelke-Petersen from Minister Wharton; P Sutton, The Politics of Suffering, above n 48, 21-25; Queensland State Archives, Item id 1236797, Ministerial statement by Minister C R Porter in Legislative Assembly of Queensland, 5.4.1978; F Brennan, Land Rights Queensland Style, 10; Queensland State Archives, A/55283, N/128, Aurukun.
  49. Aboriginal Mission, Parliamentary speech by Minister Claude Wharton 4.12.1975.
  50. Bureau of Meteorology, Tropical Cyclones in Queensland, (2012) http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/about/cyclones-gulf-impacts.shtml at 12 December 2012; Memmott, above n 25, 51.
  51. Kidd, above n 24, 290-291.
  52. Queensland Premier Bjelke-Petersen was involved in two Supreme Court cases in the 1970’s involving Aurukun, each of which were symbolic of the politically polarised positions of the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments in relation to Aboriginal land rights and self-determination. One case was Corporation of the Director of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement v Peikinna & Ors (1978) See footnote 46. The other was Koowarta v Bjelke-Petersen & Ors; Queensland v Commonwealth (1998). This case related to Bjelke-Petersen’s blocking of the sale of the Archer River cattle station to the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission in 1976. The property was to be purchased on behalf of Aurukun traditional owner John Koowarta, a Winychanam man, who wanted to use the land to allow elders to return to country. Koowarta took the Queensland Government to the Supreme Court, claiming discrimination under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Bjelke-Peterson responded by claiming that the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 was constitutionally invalid, causing the case to be referred to the High Court. Eventually, Koowarta’s claim was upheld in May 1982, but not before Bjelke-Peterson had regazetted the property as a National Park. The Aboriginal Land Fund Commission no longer exists, but was set up to purchase land for Aboriginal people to allow them to remain on country. The Act under which it was constituted was the Aboriginal Land Fund Act 1974 (repealed on 1 July 1980), which was an intrinsic element of the Commonwealth’s land rights policies under the Whitlam Government. The Act was conceived from the recommendations of Mr Justice A E Woodward, whose Commission to examine a ‘means to recognise and establish traditional rights and interests of Aborigines in relation to land’ was established by the Federal Government on 8 February 1973: Queensland State Archives, 8J/873, media release by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal service, 25.8.1981 and letter from Minister for Water Resources and Aboriginal and Island Affairs, K B Tomkins, to Acting Crown Solicitor, 3. 8.1981.
  53. In March 1978 the Privy Council overturned the Supreme Court decision against Patrick Killoran, the Director of the Department Native Affairs, allowing him to resume his role as trustee of the Mornington Island and Aurukun reserves. The Queensland Government immediately informed the Church that they would cease to subsidise the Uniting Church for administration of Mornington Island and Aurukun communities on 31.3.1978, Queensland State Archives, 1E/58, File no.2, Administration and Missions, Government Subsidies and Grants, Aurukun and Mornington Island; Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, MS 1525, Box 41a, Item 37, corr.10 March 1978 letter by Charles Porter to Reverend Busch, Moderator of Uniting Church in Australia; Queensland State Archives, Item id 1236797, Aurukun Community, Part 1, corr. 21.3.1978 and Ministerial Statement by Charles Porter in relation to Aurukun and Mornington Island Aboriginal communities; Australian Intitute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, MS1525/021/27, Aurukun Manager to BOEMAR, 7.7.1976.
  54. National Archives of Australia, Barcode 8147067, Series A12909, Commonwealth Government Submission no. 2046: Proposed Queensland Government takeover of management of Aurukun and Mornington Island missions, Cabinet Minute, Canberra 22.3.1978; Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, MS1525, Box 41A, Item 37.
  55. The Queensland Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act 1978 was assented to on 22 May 1978. The reserve status applied to the Wellesley Islands in 1905 was rescinded, Queensland, Queensland Government Gazette, 6 April 1978, 741.

 

 

Mornington Island barge

A barge unloading on new landing at Mornington Island in April 1972.

Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated:
4 February 2015
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