Thursday, January 11, 2024
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
Whether it be locals sipping their lattes at coffee shops, drinking pints at the local, sharing a story at the weekend barbie or rising from their yoga mats after their downward dogs, there’s a common theme in Airlie; An urban myth that pops up in conversation; A mystifying, riveting mystery of the ‘Curse of the Whitsundays’.
Many speak of a curse that’s been placed on the Whitsundays long ago. That Airlie Beach is a place of healing, yet it has a cloud that hangs over its dark past. Local Musician, Community Worker and Human Rights Advocate, Adrian Thomas has been writing music with Traditional Ngaro/Gia Owner, Harold Bowen. The two have been collaborating with some of Far North Queensland and Australia's best musicians, creating music that speaks to the heart of Harold and Ngaro/Gia people’s journey. Part of that journey has been unpacking Harold’s family’s displacement, slavery, pain, heartbreak, and survival. A familiar but saddening journey of many traditional people that unpacks the truth of the Curse of the Whitsundays.
As the story would go Ngaro/Gia People lived in this land for over 40,000 Years. They lived in harmony, self-sufficiently in the abundant and beautiful location we know as the Whitsundays. The Ngaro/Gia Dreamtime story speaks of the Rainbow Serpent moving through the area, creating the Proserpine River. It was thought to bring life via the waterways, feeding the animals, birdlife, trees, soil, and the Indigenous people since the beginning of time.
When the settlers came, communities of Ngaro and Gia people were living along the Proserpine River and throughout the Whitsundays, utilising the abundant natural resources. The new arrivals, however, were not interested in sharing the land or living with the local tribes; The opposite was the case.
What ensued was a slaughter of traditional communities including women and children, with tremendous brutality. The old people describe "the Proserpine River ran red with blood".
In the ensuing bloodshed, the few locals who were spared were those strong enough to work. That bloodshed running through the Proserpine River desecrated the sacred site and some say the spirits of the old people lie in the crocodiles now residing in the river. This may offer some explanation of the presence of more large crocodiles per kilometre here than in any other system in Queensland. Researchers have been baffled at the relative lack of scars and scratches on the reptiles, which they say is expected in high-density areas due to fights. Even more puzzling is the lack of larger males pushing their competitors out into nearby Airlie Beach, one of “Queensland's greatest tourist meccas" (ABC News 11-18-22).
The brutality of what Murri (Indigenous people native to Queensland) call “the killing times” has effectively desecrated the most sacred site and the life bringer of the entire Whitsundays. According to Adrian (who is of Black, Red, Yellow, and Irish descent) “our ancestors’ actions have cursed ourselves”. Queensland has a long history of brutality during these times which is starting to uncover. Harold’s great grandfather was one of the few ‘Indentured Servants’ (slaves) who helped build Proserpine. He was then shipped to Hopevale with most of the surviving Ngaro and Gia people.
It’s Adrian’s view that in lifting the ‘Curse of the Whitsundays’, we must acknowledge the truth of our darker past. He feels the first step is memorialising the massacres. There is currently only one memorial in Australia, Coniston near Yuendumu. He says by building a monument under the guidance of the Traditional Owners we can acknowledge the darkness that lies within each of us, that is passed down our ancestral tree, and play our part in building a foundation that sets the spirits of the past free. By bringing forth inclusiveness and reconciliation we can make way for healing, welcome returning Traditional Owners, and cleanse the most sacred site in the Whitsundays, renewing the whole region.
Adrian and Harold recently shared cultural insights at Cannonvale State School where 450 students were taught the dark history of the Ngaro/Gia people in an age-appropriate manner.
A film was recorded for their new music video and an up-and-coming documentary. This may have been one of the first times it’s been shared in a primary education setting in Queensland.
Adrian says "The next generation don't want or need to carry the burdens of the past".
He also applauds the progressive nature of the Cannonvale State School and Teaching Staff for their commitment to understanding, healing and unity.
Adrian says "The young people are ready to let go of the shackles. Perhaps we as a people are ready to follow suit.”
Songs and music video for the music collaboration "Milbi" will be released in early 2024.
Contributed with thanks to Adrian Thomas.
Harold Bowen and Adrian Thomas at Proserpine River, exploring the history and documenting Ngaro/Gia Dreamtime Stories, Colonisation, and trauma. Photos supplied