That Unhappy Race Part 8 – Horace Tozer accepts Meston’s Proposed System

Horace Tozer, Queensland Colonial Secretary in the 1890s.
Horace Tozer, Queensland Colonial Secretary in the 1890s.

Following his involvement in resolving the “Wild Australia tour”  affair, Horace Tozer was another unlikely key figure in the fate of Queensland Aborigines. Born at Port Macquarie and educated in Newcastle and Sydney, the young Tozer went north to the new colony to become an articled clerk in Brisbane, before being admitted to the bar. At Gympie he became a member of the mining court and began to invest in mines. Though elected as member for Wide Bay in 1871 he immediately stood aside by prior arrangement to allow H.E. King to take the seat in a by-election. Tozer became an authority on mining law and a Gympie alderman. He stood again for Wide Bay in 1888, this time holding the seat for 10 years.

Tozer joined the “Griffilwaith” government as Colonial Secretary in 1890 where Aboriginal affairs came under his remit. Busy putting down the shearers’ strike at Barcaldine, Tozer was slow to react when the manager of Glenormiston west of Boulia complained Purcell had kidnapped blacks from the station. Archibald Meston told Tozer they had let that mob free and instead obtained another group of blacks from NT. With the blacks still stranded in Sydney, Meston vigorously defended his role saying he was left penniless calling it a “sad and disastrous termination of the tour”,

Tozer stepped in, agreeing for the Queensland Government to meet the cost of their return plus their food and accommodation debts in Sydney. When they returned, Meston had changed his story about Purcell not kidnapping blacks. After interviewing them, Meston said the NT mob had been “chained half the way from Boulia to Cloncurry and taken forcibly against their wishes”. Though Tozer turned down Meston’s request for an inquiry, he was becoming embroiled in indigenous issues with the people of Taroom threatening to shoot Aboriginal people over their consumption of opium in the town. Tozer urged the townsfolk to deal with the matter kindly.

Reports of opium addiction were starting to reach Brisbane from all quarters of the colony.  Police and magistrates queried whether they could use the Poisons Act or confiscate pipes to which Tozer said that only fines could be imposed. In the far north, there were reports Aborigines were still being “hunted like dingoes” while in the Wide Bay region the press reported the “abject and miserable condition of the blacks”. Like Meston, Tozer was slowly coming to the conclusion of bringing the blacks together in one spot to house the very old and very young and also those struggling for employment. However he believed local communities should pay for it and the Aborigines should be encouraged to work. “The duty is not upon the government but upon the people,” he wrote.

In 1895 Meston outlined his scheme to Tozer in an address he called “Queensland Aboriginals: Proposed System for their Improvement and Preservation”. Meston’s opening sentence outlined the problem while toadying to Tozer. “To you, Sir, a friend of the aboriginals, I submit this carefully considered plan for the improvement and preservation from extinction of that unhappy race.”  The address gathered all the ideas of the previous 60 years from GA Robinson in the 1830s to George Lukin in 1893 (who revived the idea of a Fraser Island mission). Meston’s one addition was to add the concept of “preservation”. Tozer was impressed enough to print the document and distribute it to parliament.

Meston’s Proposed System said there were 200,000 Aboriginal people in Queensland at white occupation now there was less than 30,000 and they were heading towards “ultimate annihilation”. He noted the treaties of Pennsylvania and New Zealand and the lack of compensation for land in Australia. All religious missions had failed but now Queensland, Meston told Tozer, could preserve the Aboriginal people “in a manner to the eternal honour of herself and our common humanity”.

Meston’s system proposed complete isolation from the whites. The reserves must be at remote places, one in northern Queensland and another in the south, and would eventually provide a pool of ready labour. They would be fed and young blacks would be taught agriculture, horsemanship, blacksmithing and other trades. No whites would be allowed on the reserve without permission.  Up to 5,000 blacks would be brought to each reserve, which would be run by a “protector”, an honorary role to be filled by a “white gentleman”.

If this document seems ludicrous and racist in the extreme today, Gordon Reid said it was a realistic and humanitarian statement when judged against the standards of the 1890s. Tozer and his fellow parliamentarians saw it as a way of solving the “Aboriginal problem” and a way of avoiding the extinction most whites believed was the Aboriginal fate. Meston’s system accepted Aboriginal people as human beings whose customs and beliefs were worth saving, within the framework of the European economic system. The system’s deepest flaw was that it was a solution imposed from above and its authoritarianism would blight Queensland’s indigenous people for much of the 20th century. The reserves they created became Australian concentration camps.

That Unhappy Race Part 7 – Archibald Meston “the sacred ibis”

The Sacred Ibis: Archibald Meston
The Sacred Ibis: Archibald Meston

Archibald Meston was born in Aberdeenshire in 1851.  Aged eight, his family moved to NSW to follow Meston’s older brother who grew crops at Ulmarra on the Clarence River. They switched to sugar cane in 1863 and Archibald helped out on the farm while learning the language and culture of local Aboriginal groups. As a young man, Meston was a constant traveller working in canefields and learning more Aboriginal vocabularies. He married Frances Prowse Shaw in 1871 and their first son Harold was born three years later. By then Archibald was manager at Pearlwell sugar plantation at St Lucia in Brisbane and a correspondent to the Queenslander newspaper under the pen-name Ramrod.

A year later his literary talents were recognised, appointed editor of the Ipswich Observer. There he campaigned for small farmers and against the Pacific Island workers in the sugar industry. By 1878 aged 27, he was well known enough to easily win the seat of Rosewood in the Queensland election, on the vote of small German farmers. Meston’s supporters celebrated the victory with a parade from One Mile Bridge to the centre of Ipswich where the streets were lined with flags.

In parliament Meston was considered ambitious, dashing and irrepressible. He was immediately made Liberal party whip and considered Premier material. Political opponent Boyd Dunlop Morehead gave Meston the nickname that stuck. Morehead believed Australia should be an exclusive British colony and attacked German immigrants as communists and socialists. Meston strongly defended his constituents in parliament. He noted the Teutonic influence on the British race in a speech littered with classical allusions including the ibis and crocodile sacred to ancient Egyptians. Morehead was grudgingly impressed with Meston’s defence and later told him he was the reincarnation of the Sacred Ibis whose plumage symbolised the light of the sun. Meston liked it so much, the Sacred Ibis replaced Ramrod as his pen-name.

Meston’s political ambitions were undone after a defamation action against a German-Australian newspaper the Nord Australische Zeitung. Meston was a supporter of Premier Thomas McIlwraith. McIlwraith was investigated for corruption after had handed a lucrative railway contract to Steel Rails which he held shares in, but a Royal Commission cleared him of personal blame. Meston voted to accept the Royal Commission verdict, a decision which the Zeitung asserted had been “bought”. A furious Meston took the German paper to court but lost, and worse still he lost favour with his German constituents in Rosewood. At the next election the paper’s editor Jean Baptiste Isambert defeated him.

Out of parliament and made insolvent by the court case, Meston continued to edit the Observer until forced out by a syndicate of new owners that included McIlwraith and Morehead. In 1882 he moved north to become editor of the Townsville Herald, and then on to Cairns where he managed a sugar cane plantation and became a local councillor. Meston pushed hard to make Cairns the northern terminus of the railway to the mining fields. It was also the time where Meston began to establish his reputation as an expert on Queensland Aborigines.

This would have been a surprise to those that knew the Sacred Ibis in Ipswich and Brisbane, despite the linguistic interests of his teen years. The Observer had made little mention of Aborigines except to justify a revenge attack by whites up north.  He was also reputed to have shot indigenous people during his canefield days to prevent attacks on local plantations. But by the 1890s, Meston considered himself an accomplished bushman and empathised with Aboriginal bushcraft in his prolific writings. In 1889 he had led a scientific expedition to the Bellenden Ker Range and gave an ethnological description of local tribes.

Meston was mostly mouthing conventional wisdoms of indigenous culture with wild assertions about cannibalism and depictions of the blacks as “savages”. He admitted to white brutality and unscrupulous behaviour too but his Social Darwinism prevented him from prescribing a solution. “The Australian blacks,” he wrote in 1889, “are moving rapidly on into the eternal darkness in which all savages and inferior races are destined to disappear.”

Yet within a few years, Meston had changed his mind and began a campaign to protect and preserve Queensland’s native people. His paradox, a desire to help while treating blacks with contempt, mirrored the paradox of wider Queensland society which grappled with its conscience on how to deal with a troublesome yet untouchable people. Meston’s campaign would dominate the remaining 30 years of his life. He was a regular contributor to Brisbane and Sydney newspapers. He quickly became an implacable opponent of the native police calling them “slaughterers” capable of “systematic outrage.”

In 1891 his reputation as an Aboriginal sympathiser took a hit with an extraordinarily ill-advised business venture. Meston assembled a troupe of indigenous people for a world tour called “Wild Australia”. His business partner Brabazon Purcell gathered Aboriginal people from far western Queensland, the Torres Strait and NT and took them on tour of the capital cities with “a large number of curios and weapons”. In Melbourne the tour ran into trouble as the number of Aborigines and curios did not match the advertised amount leaving Meston with unpaid debts. He “bolted” after a warrant, leaving the troupe with Purcell. When Purcell arranged a departure for England, the Queensland Government objected saying the blacks had been kidnapped and demanded their return. Purcell disappeared leaving the blacks stranded in Sydney, and the Queensland Government agreed to meet the cost of their return.

The man behind the government’s action was colonial secretary Horace Tozer, and an embarrassed Meston would remain forever grateful to his support. Meston initially backed Purcell but now claimed now the blacks were indeed taken from Boulia without consent. Tozer rejected a Meston request conduct an investigation but it became a public issue. The press picked up a letter Purcell wrote to Meston which spoke of an opportunity to “investigate the vile and degrading temperament of whites in western Queensland”. But Meston’s eventual solution was not to do anything about the whites, but to remove the blacks.

That Unhappy Race Part 6: The Empty Years

Premier Thomas McIlwraith brought Queensland out of depression in the 1880s but he had no interest in Indigenous affairs.
Premier Thomas McIlwraith brought Queensland out of depression in the 1880s but he had no interest in Indigenous affairs.

After the failure of the Drew and Hale Commissions to achieve results, Queensland Aboriginal policy in 1880s drifted into what Gordon Reid in “That Unhappy Race” called the empty years. Scottish-born premier Thomas McIlwraith’s plan was to cut government costs and push economic development when conditions improved. Aboriginal affairs would have drifted out of public consciousness but for the efforts of one man: editor-in-chief and part of owner of the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander, Gresley Lukin.

Lukin wrote a stinging editorial in the Queenslander on May 1, 1880 calling for reform in response to a letter from Cooktown about the brutal war raging in the north. Headed “The way we civilise” Lukin’s editorial began by saying Aboriginal people in new territories were treated no better than wild animals. “Their goods are taken, their children forcibly stolen, their women carried away, entirely at the caprice of white men,” he said, and all at the butt of a rifle. Lukin said those who committed outrages were protected by the majority under a code of silence, while the government looked the other way. When blacks retaliated, they were “dispersed” by native police, a euphemism that Lukin knew to mean “wholesale massacre”.

Lukin wrote several more editorials in the same vein urging the replacement of the native police with a white force assisted by black trackers. He also rebuked frontier journals for encouraging murder of Aboriginals just for the theft of clothes. But Lukin’s pleas went unanswered. At Battle Mountain near Cloncurry the Native Police defeated the Kalkadoon people, while in Brisbane McIlwraith was unmoved. Each show of European superiority confirmed the attitude of powerbrokers that the Aboriginal people were doomed to extinction.

The election of Samuel Griffith as the Liberal premier in November 1883 offered some hope of change. His government introduced legislation to protect Aboriginals and New Guineans who were being exploited on ships in Queensland waters. However the bill was watered down in parliament and the abuses and kidnapping continued. Griffith’s Minister for Lands Charles Dutton established the first Aboriginal reserve since 1879, a Lutheran mission at Cape Bedford (it endures today as Hopevale, the homeland of Noel Pearson).

Aboriginal people in the region were ravaged by goldmining at Cooktown though the rough terrain meant they offered stern resistance to the native police. They were brought in by the loss of traditional lands and hunger. To placate them, first the settlers, and then the government offered them rations. This peace through food plan was successful and Griffiths started taking notice. In 1885 he asked his police commissioner to report on the possibility of replacing the native police with a white force and he gradually rolled out a new system across the north. By the early 1890s this was established government policy, keeping the blacks quiet and in places they could be watched. However a new problem added to the need for further control: opium.

One of the earliest to notice the problem was the Surat settler EH Smith who was “most shocked at witnessing the effects of opium on the ‘niggers’.” Smith said opium was everywhere with Chinese people in Roma supplying the drug at immense profit. A Rockhampton settler said an Aboriginal woman visiting Cooktown “learned the use of it” and spread it back to her countrypeople, where it had become endemic. “They formerly bought flour, tea, tobacco, red handkerchiefs and now the sale of them is entirely stopped for opium,” he wrote. Stations quickly got into the habit of paying Aboriginal workers in opium and if supply was bad in some areas, the entire population would move on to other areas. A police inspector noted that the addiction did not lead to crime but “they lose all their animal spirits and become lethargic in their nature and disposition”.

As Reid wrote, opium addiction had become another thing that Indigenous people had suffered at the hands of the white intruder in two decades of Queensland settlement, following malnutrition, disease, dispossession, abuse and violence. In the white community the opium problem fed on paranoid suspicions about the influence of the Chinese increasing public pressure to take action. The stage was set in the 1890s for one man with political will to come up with a workable plan. That man was Archibald Meston. 

That Unhappy race Part 5 – The Drew and Hale Commissions

Aboriginal people at Durundur reserve.
Aboriginal people at Durundur reserve.

By the 1870s those pushing for further white expansion in Queensland could see only one way it was possible: by corralling all the indigenous people into one manageable place far from white towns. For instance, Maryborough residents were deeply offended by the large group of Aborigines camped near the town cemetery. Though the Maryborough blacks had not been troublesome since 1853, there continued many massacres of indigenous people in the area. There was an existential fear among whites after Hornet Bank and Cullin-la-Ringo which had never gone away. There was also distaste at alcohol-fuelled quarrels and the tendency of the blacks to wander the streets naked. There were calls to move “savages” away from the sensitive eyes of white women and children.

Edward Fuller was a Primitive Methodist who believed Aborigines could be shown the path to a white god. He thought the solution in Maryborough was a mission on Fraser Island. Fraser had been proposed as a mission site in the 1840s but nothing came of it. Even in the 1860s government proposals to gazette a reserve on the island got a chilly reception from squatters wanting to develop the island. Fuller began his Fraser mission in 1870 and attracted over 30 people to his camp. But he suffered the usual problem of white encroachment with timber-getters moving in, and supplying the blacks with alcohol. Fuller was a frustrated man on a mission and his inability to convert at Fraser Island, was mirrored by later failures across Queensland at Lake Weyba, Hinchinbrook Island and Bellenden Plains.

A man named Frank Bridgman had better luck with the first secular reserve at Mackay in 1871. Bridgman was a grazier from down south who brought sheep to the Isaac region. Initially Bridgman was not averse to supporting the native police’s brutal tactics to “disperse” blacks from his property at Grosvenor Downs near Fort Cooper native police barracks. Judith Wright‘s grandfather Albert wrote in his diary in 1868 that “about 60 Blacks were shot at Grosvenor Downs last week”.

Bridgman and other Mackay squatters sent a letter to colonial secretary Arthur Palmer – himself a squatter of the Mackay hinterland – asking for more protection “against the numbers and increasing audacity of the Blacks”. By 1870 Bridgman was starting to think of other ways to solve the problem. It occurred to him a labour reserve of cheap Aboriginal workers might be useful in the sparsely populated north, or as he put it, “labour being valuable, there will be less wish to have them shot down.” He wrote a letter to Palmer in 1870 asking for separate lands in country too poor for white farmers. Bridgman recommended scrubby land near a Homebush lagoon be gazetted for Aboriginal people. The land commissioner approved the request in 1871 and within two years Bridgman established the Association for the Employment and Protection of Aborigines in Mackay. The Association wanted low paid indigenous workers to replace the indentured South Sea labour which was under attack in parliament. Bridgman hoped he could use them on his own sugar plantation.

By March 1873 over 200 Aborigines moved onto Bridgman’s reserve at GooneenberryPalmer had been made premier and his government established a commission under William Drew to see if the Mackay scheme could be applied across the colony. The commissioners visited the north and spoke to squatters (but not to indigenous people). Bridgman told them Aboriginal people were reliable employees.

In their May 1874 report the Drew Commission admitted a system of reserves and protectors would be expensive. But it argued Queensland was only profitable because of Aboriginal land. Drew said Queensland made most of its money from the lease and sale of crown lands “which the Aborigines originally occupied”. Sadly Palmer was out of power and new premier Arthur Macalister ignored the report.

What forced Macalister’s hand was the report of an attempted murder which filtered its way to all-powerful London. The news of Native Police shooting a black at Cooktown made the Sydney papers and ultimately caught the attention of Lord Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. Carnarvon requested an explanation from the Marquis of Normanby, the governor of Queensland. Normanby rejected allegations of atrocities and argued Aboriginal lives were being improved by white settlement. Yet this interest from London was embarrassing and unwanted. Normanby and Macalister agreed to re-institute the Drew Commission to implement its suggestions. The Brisbane Courier said this was warranted but defended the practices of the native police on the wild north frontier. “If the aborigines were more civilised than they are, we should either make treaties with them, or we should be at open war with them,” the Courier said.

Queensland’s Government wanted neither war nor treaties so it opted for a report to buy more time. In 1876 new Governor William Cairns instituted another commission under Anglican Bishop of Brisbane Mathew Hale with four other commissioners. Like the Drew Commission it was stacked with squatter sympathisers or explorers like Gregory and Landsborough who also saw the destruction of Aboriginal society as an inevitable consequence of Christian civilisation.

The Hale Commission was authorised to “inquire into and investigate the condition of Aboriginal inhabitants of Queensland and to report on the best means to legislate or otherwise improve their condition”. But rather than report, they immediate set about establishing a reserve under Tom Petrie at Bribie Island. Petrie would use his knowledge of Aboriginal languages to get them to work. Initial reports were favourable. Petrie suggested blacks at Brisbane should be compelled to live at the reserve. But Petrie didn’t stay long and his replacement was a zealot with little empathy for Aboriginals.

That man was Father Duncan McNab who had roving commission from the Catholic Church to convert the aborigines as long as it did not cost the church money. McNab had to fend for himself and applied to take over the Bribie mission when Petrie left. But McNab could not get the Aboriginal people to work. Meanwhile Hale wrote to the police commissioner complaining blacks were still being allowed to enter Brisbane, which was a deterrent to keeping them on Bribie.

McNab suggested the place was the problem, not him. He recommended a new reserve at Durundur on the Stanley River in the upper Brisbane Valley. With the support of new premier John Douglas it was opened in 1877 and a small amount of blacks moved it. Local squatters were pleased thinking it would supply a ready source of cheap labour. The Commission also approved another settlement at Mackay near Cape Hilsborough but this idea lapsed due to lack of government funds. The commission appointed Bridgman to be its agent for northern coastal districts and he suggested new reserves including one at Palm Island. Though just an idea at that stage, Palms would eventually become Queensland’s most infamous gulag in the 20th century.

The early efforts of building concentration camps at Mackay, Fraser and Durundur all failed. McNab proved to be impatient, wanting to immediately cure the Aboriginal people of their pagan ways while the funding dried up from Brisbane. But the Drew and Hale Commissions had asked an important question that would not go away: did the Aboriginal people have rights to the land as prior occupants?

That Unhappy Race Part 4: Gideon Lang

Cullin-la-Ringo station, Qld c 1875.
Cullin-la-Ringo station, Qld c 1875.

In 1865 a new figure enters the story of Queensland’s unhappy history of Aboriginal affairs. On July 12 that year, a Victorian squatter named Gideon Lang stood up in St George’s Hall in Melbourne and delivered a lecture on a pamphlet he called The Aborigines of Australia. Lang’s account was the most detailed yet by a settler on Aboriginal people in eastern Australia.

Gideon Scott Lang was born in Scotland and moved to Melbourne as a young man to follow his two older brothers. At Buninyong he joined his brothers in a farming venture where they faced the usual problem of how to pacify a large group of Aboriginal people on their run. The Langs succeeded in finding a peaceful solution by making an agreement to feed some of them if no attacks were made on their stock. The Langs were successful and Gideon gradually branched northwards to the Riverina before he visited the Darling Downs looking for selections. He was elected MP for Liverpool Plains and Gwydir in 1856 and served on the 1856 NSW Inquiry into Aboriginal conditions. By 1865 he was a director of a Melbourne bank and extremely influential in Victorian circles.

In his pamphlet Lang admitted he wasn’t a “blind partisan” for Aboriginal people having taken part in at least one attack against them during his squatting days. But Lang had come to the conclusion that had anyone died in that attack he would have considered himself a murderer. The first half of his pamphlet deals with his own experiences in the south and the solutions they came up with to co-exist with Aboriginal people.

However the second half was looked on with alarm in Brisbane: it was a direct attack on the Queensland squatters, their government and their native police.  It was especially timely following massacres in revenge for the deaths of white settlers at Cullin-la-Ringo four years earlier. Lang said the issues on the frontier were caused by a lack of recognition of Aboriginal society, deprivation of hunting grounds and the lack of government oversight. Lang said it led to atrocious cruelties on both sides, particularly in Queensland where it was the “rule and custom to arrange the black question by killing them off.”

Lang said he held these beliefs for 10 years but had delayed publication of his pamphlet until he found proof of massacres. That proof, he said, had now emerged. In May that year Aboriginal people had killed Native Police lieutenant Cecil Hill on the lower Dawson. His death caused a hardening of attitudes against the blacks, expressed by a letter writer to the Brisbane Courier: “These incorrigible rogues are becoming unbearable, and required a regular dressing down. Ordinary morality can only be driven into their obtuse skulls by leaden lessons.”

Officials were more circumspect and described revenge attacks for the death of Hill as “collisions” in the official record. These collisions, as Lang found out, were group punishment on a large number of blacks. Lang suggested the need for a “chief curator” of Aborigines, with the power of a police commissioner, who would punish outrages by white and black alike on the frontier. The curators would have the power to negotiate the use of waterholes with local groups before issuing new pastoral land licences, and stations could hire local blacks who would receive an allowance of food, blankets, tomahawks and tobacco.

Lang optimistically believed that within two years black and white would live amicably together. The blacks’ view of plan was unknown, but the white Queensland squatters were apoplectic at being told how to run their lives by an uppity southerner. The counterattack was led by Queensland MP and squatter Gordon Sandeman who spoke on behalf of his caste. Sandeman rejected claims of atrocities as “sensational” and said Lang had no experience of Queensland. He described the native police as a “defensive force” and asked why didn’t Lang make his opposition to them known in the 1856 NSW inquiry when he was still in parliament. Sandeman said the most humane solution was to not permit Aboriginal people on squatters’ runs at all, though he did not offer any solution as to where they might otherwise go.

Archibald Meston would later take some of his ideas for his Proposed System in 1895.  From Lang’s plan, Meston adapted the idea of chief curator, which Meston called “protector”.  One major difference was that Lang offered Aboriginal people a choice to take part whereas Meston’s plan was coercive. In the short term Lang’s plan came to nothing. There was some relief from colonisation due to an economic crisis in 1866 and the frontier temporarily stalled.

In the late 1860s, the new threat was from mining not land grabs. Payable gold on the Mary River near Gympie, the Cape River near Bowen, and Ravenswood near Townsville brought miners by the thousands to Queensland. There were more finds at Etheridge River near Georgetown and Charters Towers and the rush continued to the Cape at Palmer River, invading rugged lands that were too forbidding for pastoralists.

The blacks, as one settler said, no longer knew where to go out of the way of white people. “No localities they might keep to themselves had been pointed out to them and no system of treatment of them had been laid down,” wrote another. The government looked on helplessly as blacks drifted to makeshift camps outside the new white towns where they were not welcome.

In 1872 the London-based Aboriginal Protection Society asked Queensland’s third governor the Marquis of Normanby to appoint an unpaid board to look into the Aboriginal problem. The new premier Arthur Palmer was unenthusiastic thinking the inquiry’s expenses would cripple the treasury. However Normanby got his Inquiry up, anxious to avoid embarrassing inquiries from London about “blackbirding” which had started in Queensland’s sugar industry. The government’s lack of support meant that inquiry was also doomed to fail but it had lasting implications we will look at next.

That Unhappy Race Part 3: The Squatters’ Inquiry

20140221_120659[1]In 1861 the new Queensland Government held its first Inquiry into Aboriginal affairs. It would not be its last. Among the white “indiscretions” it examined was the killing of five Aboriginal people at Fassifern by Native Police lieutenant Frederick Wheeler. Wheeler was one of several white young men who saw their role was to eliminate all black people. In Fassifern there had been reports of Indigenous people killing settlers’ stock. Without bothering to establish who was responsible Lt Wheeler shot and killed four men and one woman. He would have got away with murder but for the fact one of the dead worked for a local squatter, the Ipswich magistrate and MP, Henry Challinor.

The 1861 Queensland Legislative Assembly Select Committee issued a slap on Wheeler’s wrists despite reports of other killings in the Logan district. They said he acted with “indiscretion” and because he was a “most valuable and zealous officer” his punishment should merely be removal to another area. Wheeler moved to Central Queensland and continued his reign of terror on blacks. It was not until 1876 he was charged in Rockhampton with the death of a black youth. Wheeler fled Australia rather than face justice.

The 1861 Inquiry that whitewashed Wheeler followed a similar trajectory to inquiries in NSW in 1856 and 1858. All of them looked at the problem with white eyes, none addressed the causes of the violence on the frontier. The squatters’ parliament in Brisbane thought it was an inevitable consequence of colonisation and believed only a military-style native police force could solve the problem.

The 1861 recommendations were a master-class of administrative action that addressed processes rather than causes. It ordered the native police appoint cadets, troopers should be stationed away from towns to avoid the temptation of alcohol, they should be recruited from areas far from where they would serve, officers would provide monthly reports, and a new and simpler means of keeping accounts was required. The fact local blacks could not be trusted to kill their own was glossed over.

The Inquiry decided that despite “misguided” officers like Wheeler the native police had to stay. The Queensland “myalls” (wild blacks) could not adjust to civilisation. The Inquiry noted “all attempts to Christianise or educate the Aborigines of Australia have hitherto proved abortive”. They said Aboriginal people were cannibals beyond redemption who had “no idea of a future state”, and were “sunk in the lowest depths of barbarism”. The Inquiry offered no suggestions how to improve their situation.

The policy of Aboriginal expulsion from their lands received a green light to continue. Challinor, the man who exposed Wheeler, told the Inquiry Aborigines should be entitled to hunt game in the own country. He also supported the Christian mission of William Ridley who recommended co-existence. But Aboriginal people roaming wild among the cattle did not suit squatter interests.

Back in 1837 Colonial Secretary Glenelg told the Australian colonies the Aborigines were to be treated as British subjects. But in 1861 Queensland decided this rule did not apply beyond the frontier. Rare voices like Challinor continued to advocate for Aboriginal protectors in each district to arbitrate issues between black and white. But with Aboriginal testimony not allowed in Queensland courts until 1884 their side of the argument was not heard.

They weren’t heard from in the 1861 Inquiry either and white voices were not supportive. Queensland’s first Surveyor-General Augustus Gregory praised the native police as necessary to the safety of the colony and said it was popular on the frontier. Aboriginal sympathiser Tom Petrie, who spoke Indigenous languages, said the native police had a beneficial role and a white-only force would be “inefficient”. Even the two missionaries from Zion’s Hill, Johann Zillman and Augustus Rode, admitted they had made no conversions and agreed the native police kept the black population in a state of fear.

The overwhelming view of Queensland’s parliament was either that there was no problem, or if there was, it would solve itself. With this sanguine view the government withdrew itself from Aboriginal affairs to weightier matters: how to make more money for the squatters.

Those like Challinor that saw the problem, were mostly driven by Christian concerns. The squatters contemptuously called them the Church Party and considered them well-meaning fools with no idea of life on the frontier. Ridley was now a journalist in Sydney using newspapers to get across his ideas. He said the missions in Wellington Valley (NSW) and Poonindie (SA) showed Aboriginal people were capable of “social and spiritual improvement”. He believed for missions to be successful, they must attract Aboriginal people in large numbers. They could not be drilled in European ways and should instead learn bushcraft with time off for hunting and other traditional pursuits. School should be taught in English but hours needed to be short and the missions needed to be far from the temptations of towns and their “vile passions”.

Another man with similar advice, station manager JC White, wrote a letter to the government about the “pressing” need to find new lands for Aboriginal people. White said station owners forbade them from crossing their runs to hunt kangaroos in case they set fire to the grass. Some resorted to killing cattle, increasing the likelihood of conflict. White said that in their natural state Aboriginal people were not bloodthirsty or cruel but “kindly disposed, hospitable and social, intelligent and improvable”. White suggested protectorates were needed as well as depots where they could receive food rations, and negotiate for employment on stations. He also suggested the native police should be abolished except on “extreme frontiers”. Governor Bowen was impressed by White’s letter and authorised land grants to persons or institutions that might establish Indigenous missions and industrial schools.

When a Catholic priest WJ Larkin offered his services of educating Aborigines in the Roma district, he too got some support from the government keen to keep London’s Exeter Hall liberals onside. But a change of government brought a change of attitude and Queensland poured money into the expansion of the railways rather than improving the lives of Aboriginal people. However the ideas that germinated in the work of Ridley, Challinor, Petrie, White and Larkin would eventually coalesce in Archibald Meston’s 1895 “Proposed System”.

See Part 1 and Part 2

A trip to Coochiemudlo Island

20150609_093145To the Quandamooka people, the islands of Moreton Bay were rich hunting grounds. They could roast water lily bulbs and the roots of ferns, pick pandanus fruit and hunt birds, reptiles, bats, bandicoots and koalas. They could hunt or net dugong, dolphin and turtle and harvest a wide range of fish and shellfish. One small island in particular lay tantalisingly close to the mainland and they named it for its distinctive iron-coloured cliffs: “kutchi mudlo” (red stone).

20150609_100632Stones on the island showed they traded with people as far inland as Rosewood, west of Ipswich.  The Quandamooka used the ochre obtained from the soft red rock to decorate their bodies and shields and told Dreamtime legends that the red is the blood of a dolphin speared by a sparrow-hawk.

Coastal Aboriginal people lived in blissful ignorance of a dangerous world beyond for thousands of years. Captain Cook named Moreton Bay on his trip north in 1770 but did not explore it. Matthew Finders explored the bay in great detail aboard the Norfolk in July 1799. He landed on Coochiemudlo on what is now known as Norfolk Beach on July 19. Next month on Sunday, July 19 there will the annual recreation of that landing. Flinders assumed the Pumicestone Passage was a river and failed to spot the opening of the Brisbane River.

20150609_095533In 1823 cedar-lumberers Thomas Pamphlett, Richard Parsons, John Finnegan and John Thompson were wrecked on Moreton Island and survived with the help of friendly Aborigines. Pamphlett and Finnegan were rescued in November 1823 by Surveyor-General John Oxley, on a voyage from Sydney to find a site for a new northern colony. The two men were able to show Oxley the mouth of the Brisbane River, almost a quarter of a century after Flinders missed it. In 1824 Oxley’s recommendation that a convict settlement be established at Moreton Bay was implemented.

20150609_100235When the colony of Queensland was declared in 1859, bullock teams swum over from the mainland to Coochiemudlo to drag felled trees to the sea. Coochiemudlo was also used for oyster farming in the 1880s by the Moreton Bay Oyster Company until ravaged by a marine mud worm at the turn of that century. The islands were also becoming popular as a recreation resort for wealthy Brisbanites, and tourist steamers plied the Bay.

20150609_110929In 1887, the western half of Coochiemudlo was subdivided one acre lots which owners turned into market gardens producing bananas, passion fruit, grapes, paw paw, pineapples, tomatoes, vegetables and flowers. Despite an auction of 90 lots of crown land in early 1888 there was initially little interest from anyone settling on the island. The earliest residents were father and son Henry and Norman Wright who camped there for four years amid the sandflies and mosquitoes before leaving “this god forsaken place” about 1900.

The unoccupied land was exploited for timber and cattle grazing. It wasn’t until after the First World War that two injured veterans Doug Morton and Eric Gordon started to share-farm on the island. Gordon did not stay long but Morton, who survived Gallipoli and the Somme, found he could survive Coochiemudlo too, and lived there for 40 years.

20150609_102144In 1921 he married Mary Colburn from a farming family at Victoria Point and she was the only woman on the island for the next 12 years. Doug and Mary grew commercial crops and flowers, and cultivating a custard apple they named Island Gem. Doug built jetties and developed the tourist industry. Morton’s Steps on the west of the island are named for him. The Mortons left Coochiemudlo in 1966, when they felt it had become too crowded.

By then the farming era was over after Alfred Grant developed the eastern half of the island in the 1950s. Richard Marsh and Company also subdivided the north and west of the Island into tiny allotments for small holiday cottages. Sales stagnated in the 1960s and only 20 people lived permanently on Coochiemudlo by 1970.

20150609_085829A regular ferry service in the 1970s and then a vehicular barge in 1987 made the island more attractive to commuters and retirees and permanent residency increased. The foreshore was kept as a reserve keeping the pristine look from the sea.

Despite living in Brisbane for 17 years, I’d never been to the island until this week. A return 10-minute trip on the ferry from Victoria Point cost just $8 and the island felt like it was a million miles from anywhere despite being less than 40km from the centre of Brisbane.

20150609_091041The walk around the foreshore (a mixture of beach front and mangrove) took me around 90 minutes to two hours. There are only a handful of stores and cafes and they congregate around the jetty. There is supposed to be bicycle hire on the island but I did not see any evidence of that when I was there, Perhaps they only advertise on weekends. In any case, the island is ideal for walkers and nowhere is far from anyplace else on Coochie. It’s a beautiful and relaxing part of south-east Queensland, and I’ll be back – though I’m not sure I’ll be there on July 17 for the pageantry of Matthew Flinders day. What the Quandamooka make of that day I do not know, but I suspect that like Australia Day, they don’t look on it with fondness.