NPA Neighbours

Bamaga and Seisia

The first of the new communities to be set up were Bamaga and Seisia. In 1947, a group of people from Saibai Island (just off the Papuan coast) are said to have voluntarily moved to the mainland. They initially settled at Mutee Head where there was a WWII jetty for their boats and water tanks on the headland. However the water was not sufficient, nor conveniently located for a permanent settlement (McIntyre & Greer 1994:5-14). Lack of freshwater on Saibai has been quoted as one of the reasons that people moved from Saibai in the first place and the new settlers did not relish the thought of carrying buckets of water over long steep distances. Local people from Seisia, Bamaga and Injinoo recall that Mugai Elu asked permission of the local people at Cowal Creek to stay and asked their advice regarding where to set up a permanent settlement. Representatives of the Saibai people, the Queensland Land Inspector, Jomen Tamwoy (Torres Strait Island teacher, based at Cowal Creek) and Canon Bowie (Torres Strait Islander Minister based at Cowal Creek) and a traditional owner representative Mr Pablo set out to look at suitable places. The area inspected included both Red Island Point (RIP) and inland to Ichuru. They were advised by Cowal Creek representatives that a place near Red Island Point (now known as Seisia), would be a good spot as there were reliable springs behind the beach and the site would also provide a berth for their pearling luggers (pers.comm. Joseph Elu 1994; Gordon Pablo 1990 and Daniel Ropeyarn 1990; Bob Jacobs 1993). Solomon Woosup, an Injinoo man, showed Mugai Elu and the Saibai settlers the wells along a small creek line behind the beach at Seisia (pers comm. Joseph Elu 1994). The bulk of the Saibai people, however, were told by a Department of Native Affairs (DNA) surveyor and Jomen Tamwoy (a Badu Island schoolteacher living at Cowal Creek) that they had to move to ‘Bamaga’ (or Ichuru as local people knew it), which they did in 1949. The government officials favoured Ichuru because they considered it to have a more reliable water source. In addition the soils were more arable and the government may have already have had plans to promote agricultural enterprises. It appears that Seisia was settled without the sanction of the reserve administrators. For reasons unspecified, the reserve manager continued to try and pressure people at Seisia to move to Bamaga. Initially the community was not recognised by the Government and so was refused housing or a place in any decision-making process. The community was regarded by the Government as a small camp or off- shoot of Bamaga.

Those who elected to stay at Seisia close to the sea and their boats did so in the face of strong and persistent Government opposition. The small community suffered years of Queensland Government obstruction and yet managed after all to develop the settlement as a successful Islander community. Today the thriving community of Seisia is a testament to the persistence of its leaders.

Umagico: Chased from their Homelands

In the 1950′s a battle began between the local Protector of Aboriginals at Coen and Mrs Prideaux of Silver Plains Station over the future of the people from Port Stewart on the east coast of Cape York, just north of Princess Charlotte Bay (see Figure 3). This culminated in their forced relocation to a new settlement called ‘Umagico’ which lies between Bamaga and Cowal Creek (Figure 2). The Department of native Affairs later proposed to also relocate people from Lockhart to Umagico. However, the people at Lockhart resisted the move and only about 64 people were relocated (Long 1970:175) before the government agreed to keep the Lockhart River community but move it to a site they considered more suitable closer to Iron Range airfield.

The forced removal of the Port Stewart people was the culmination of a long running campaign by the Thompson and Prideaux families to remove Aboriginal people from Silver Plains Station (Appendix B). Mrs Prideaux suggested moving the people to the reserve at Coen or the Mission at Lockhart. In a letter dated 16/6/1955 Mrs A.E Prideaux wrote a letter to the Deputy Director Dept of Native Affairs in which she claimed that
“These natives roam over Silver Plains Station accompanied by their dogs and disturb the cattle, chiefly around watering places. Also we know they kill beasts for meat, take what they want and throw the rest of the carcass into a stream where the alligators will destroy all evidence. boys employed as stockmen spend their time with the above natives instead of doing the work they have been sent out to do (Prideaux 1955).”

In answer to a query for more details made by the Deputy Director of Native Affairs to the Protector of Aboriginals at Coen, the latter responded that he was… “quite sure that the complaint of the Executrix of the Estate of H.J Thompson is entirely without foundation, and has undoubtedly been made in retaliation for the refusal of Harry Liddy, an aged Aboriginal to work on Silver Plains Station for 10/- per week and keep” (Coen Protector A.V Moylan, 1955 see Appendix B). Furthermore Moylan reported that Mr Wassell had threatened Harry Liddy that if he did not work for him then he would have all the Port Stewart natives sent to Lockhart River Station (see Letter dated 13/7/55).

A paper war ensued following these letters, with Silver Plains Station repeatedly pressing for the removal of the Port Stewart Aboriginals and the local Protector of Aboriginals at Coen disputing each of their claims. Notwithstanding the dubiousness of the claims made by the owners of Silver Plains about the ‘welfare’ and activities of the Aborigines, the Government agreed to remove them to Cowal Creek. In a confidential memorandum from Inspector Gill to the Commissioner of Police it is made obvious that the Aboriginal people were duped into boarding a boat for their removal.

Although the natives are unwilling to leave Port Stewart permanently they are agreeable to travelling to Thursday Island for medical and dental treatment and should it be decided to move them, this may provide the means of making their removal less difficult (Gill 1960).

It is interesting to note that the removal of the Port Stewart people happened despite opposition to the plan from the local policeman and Protector of Aboriginals. Apparently other white residents in the area did not agree with the actions of the lease holders of Silver Plains either. In 1963, Harry Liddy attempted to walk home from Cowal Creek, a journey of around 400 km. He was apprehended at the instruction of the reserve manager and made to return. However, Jimmy Kulla Kulla another Port Stewart man, was allowed to return to Coen briefly for a holiday. While there he appealed to the local Policeman (T.J Newman) to be allowed to stay. In a memorandum dated 14/10/63 to the Director of Native Affairs in Brisbane, Newman presented an appeal on Mr Kulla Kulla and Mr Liddy’s behalf (Appendix B). In it he states that a Mr Ian Boyd Pratt, who had a block of country at Running Creek on the coast of Port Stewart was happy to have the Port Stewart Aborigines live on his property. Alternatively Newman suggests that there would be ample accommodation at the Coen Reserve should they return there (Newman 1963.See Appendix B). Unfortunately, the response from Brisbane was negative and decidedly paternalistic:

Whilst sympathising with the desire of the ‘old timers’ to remain in the Port Stewart area… The history of these people whilst at Port Stewart left much to be desired and there is no wish on the Department’s part to condemn the young folk to a life of isolation, lack of educational opportunities or a reversion to a nomadic way of life (Director DNA 1963).

The Department thought more of placating non-indigenous leaseholders than they did of protecting the rights and welfare of the Port Stewart Aboriginal people. The exchange of correspondence is also of interest in that it reveals the lack of influence that ‘Protectors’ now exerted. Departmental officials took little notice of the views and insights of the Local Protector of Aboriginals except in relation to the mechanics of how they might affect the will of the Department. Clearly the decision to move the Port Stewart people was not based on a consideration of their best interests.

New Mapoon- Punja People

The Queensland Government again relocated an Aboriginal community to the new reserve in 1963. Some of the people from Mapoon were shipped to Red Island Point, settled temporarily at Bamaga and then taken to the present site of New Mapoon (previously known as Charcoal Burner. Others from Mapoon had already been relocated to Weipa. This notorious incident has been widely reported (see Roberts et al 1975-6). Through this action the Queensland Government hoped to facilitate bauxite mining in the Mapoon area. Mapoon men who were at that time working for the prospecting company ‘Enterprise’ report that they were not told that their families had been moved but returned to find them gone and the village burnt (Jimmy Bond Snr 1990/1).

The Community at New Mapoon is comprised of older people who dream of their homelands, Mapoon the land of milk and honey, and younger people who have lived their whole lives in the cosmopolitan world of the tip! The young as a rule have no desire to move back ‘home’ and so there is tension in some families between some who would like to return to their land and the young who want to stay at New Mapoon. Even the young, however, see themselves as having a communal identity related to their homelands and hence the popular name for themselves “Punja People” and the name of the local football team Tongandji (Tjungantji) Brothers. Punja is the Mapoon word for the waterlily seed that is a popular traditional food from the Old Mapoon swamps and Tjungantji is the local name for Cullen Point near the Old Mapoon Mission site.


Extracted from:

McIntyre-Tamwoy, S 2002 “Red Devils and White Men” unpublished PhD thesis James Cook University