The Courier-Mail
State gives council status to
 township it tried to destroy
 By WAYNE SMITH
 8nov99

 THE State Government this week is expected to pass legislation
 that will enable full council status to be conferred on the
 Aboriginal community at Mapoon  36 years to the month after it
 tried to erase all trace of the Cape York township from the face of
 the earth.

 In November 1963, armed police raided Mapoon, 85km north of
 Weipa, forcibly herded the Aboriginal inhabitants into boats and
 relocated them to "New Mapoon" at the tip of Cape York
 Peninsula.

 Prominent Brisbane academic and historian Ross Fitzgerald says
 the church, school, stores, shops and homes of Aboriginal elders
 were burnt to the ground during the raid and in the days that
 followed.

 Less than two years after the removal of the community,
 Canadian mining company Alcan was granted a 105-year lease
 over 1373sqkm of the Mapoon Aboriginal Reserve.

 The incident became notorious internationally, to the point that a
 Natal newspaper cited it in a 1985 editorial to accuse the then
 Australian prime minister Bob Hawke of hypocrisy for his criticism
 of South Africa's apartheid system.

 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Minister Judy Spence
 said yesterday a special Mapoon amendment to the Community
 Services Act was the most significant acknowledgement by a
 Queensland Government of the right of the Mapoon people to
 self- determination at their original site.

 "It is an important act of reconciliation which acknowledges past
 injustice and seeks to make amends," Ms Spence said. "Anything
 the Government and the new council can do to salve the wounds
 of Mapoon is part of the reconciliation process."

 Jean Jans, one of a handful of original residents of "Old Mapoon"
 who has resettled in the township, yesterday described the raid
 as an atrocity.

 "I was doing my nursing training at St Andrew's in Brisbane at
 the time of the raid and only learned what had happened when I
 read about it in The Courier-Mail," Ms Jans said. "The old people
 did a lot of hunting in those days and the police were waiting for
 them when they came back. At gunpoint they were herded into
 boats. They sat in the boats and watched their homes burn."

 She claimed the State Government and the Presbyterian Church,
 which founded its first north Queensland mission there in 1891,
 had lied to the people about why Mapoon had to be closed, with
 no mention of mining companies.

 "They told us Mapoon was sinking and that there was no water,"
 she said. "They wouldn't trust my people with the truth.

 "We're still going through a lot of pain. It manifests itself in a lot
 of ways. But we haven't talked about this issue. It's suppressed
 and repressed. There is a lot of unresolved grief."

 Ms Jans, a former executive officer of the Aboriginal corporation
 that administers the township, said she had written to Premier
 Peter Beattie, inviting him to talk through the issue with the
 people of Mapoon.

 In particular, she wanted the State Government to help in
 bringing home to Mapoon the bodies of former residents who
 died in New Mapoon as outcasts from their own lands, among
 them her paternal grandfather, a Thepatagi elder.

 Ms Spence, who will time her visit to Mapoon to coincide with the
 local government elections in March, said the Government would
 consider any formal proposal from the new council to bring back
 the bodies.


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