Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yarrabah pt. 3

In 1874 a man named Old Bill Smith was killed at Green Island.[1] In November 1876 there was an Aboriginal attack on a Chinese Camp near the Three Mile.[2] It appeared that from settlement onwards there were few attacks on residents in Cairns; those that did occur were on packers, settlers and farmers in isolated areas. It is useful to quote Collinson in this regard. He was one of the original pioneers and lost many stock to Aboriginal raids.
But other influences were at work, and the advent of the timber-getters soon resulted in hostilities. Blacks thieved the camps when the men were absent, and in retaliation were shot on sight. Their fishing and hunting grounds were filched from them, and they were gradually driven back into the scrubs. They watched every opportunity to rob the camps, way-lay pack teams, drive off cattle and horses, and raid maize or sweet potato patches. From 1877 till well into 1884, it was unsafe for any (white) person to travel far away from Cairns without arms. Packers and teamsters’ outfits always included a revolver and a rifle.[3]
In 1878 a packer was killed west of Cairns[4] and in the same year an Aboriginal man named Monday was killed at Smithfield.[5]

The first Aborigines to come into Cairns itself did so in 1882 when three of them arrived from the Cape Grafton or Yarrabah side in canoes.[6] As Jones notes, it is interesting that no native police camp was ever established in Cairns and that until the mid 1880s only a handful of police were available in the town.[7] By June 1886 there were about 100 Aborigines who had come into Cairns seeking work with settlers although they were too uncertain of their reception to bring women with them.[8]

Aborigines continued to be steadily forced off their land and further into the interior as land was taken over for cultivation and settlement. They reacted by attacking isolated properties and crops whenever they could. Selectors and timber-getters were encroaching upon the rainforest and its inhabitants from the east, so denying them the fertile rivers and river flats of the Barron and Mulgrave. Miners in the west restricted access to hunting grounds and freshwater fishing. While the scrub provided refuge, it contained insufficient food. In 1878 the Police Commissioner noted that from the Mulgrave to the Mossman “the natives were literally starving”.[9] By 1886 most of the available agricultural land around Cairns and the Barron River was taken up by selectors. It was thus inevitable that conflict would erupt.[10]

Jones lists a litany of attacks and reprisals that occurred around the district from 1884 to 1890.[11] At the end of July 1884 John (Jack) Conway was murdered in the Russell River McManus selection area. It was believed that his death was in retaliation for the way he treated Aborigines.[12] On 21 December 1884 Donald McAuley, a selector on the Mulgrave River, was killed as was another selector in the same area.[13] These deaths took place after selectors on the Mulgrave River and Trinity Inlet petitioned parliament for the native police to be relocated closer to them and thus provide greater protection against:
The incursions of the blacks upon their crops and the consequent loss that are sustaining.[14]
 Not content to wait for assistance, retribution was taken by the settlers in the Mulgrave Valley, which resulted in completely breaking up the tribe”. [15] There were numerous reports of “serious deprecations” amongst the cattle and horses in the Smithfield district.[16] James Jameson, manager and proprietor of the Mount Buchan Estate, complained that his homestead was not safe to leave unless well protected by the occupants.[17]

Aborigines fired the cane several times at Pyramid Estate south of Cairns in 1885. In the same year there were attacks at Mt Buchan and at Freshwater Creek.[18] Cattle were slaughtered and in February 1886, four miles from the Cairns Post Office at the Hop Wah Estate, armed Aborigines were found driving horses off after having turned them loose.[19] There was also concern over the supply of liquor to Aborigines leading to outrages against settlers when intoxicated. The Cairns Post was moved to point out that this was a punishable offence under the law.[20] On 5 January 1886, Charles Henry Townsend was killed at Cape Grafton in the Yarrabah area.[21]

The first blanket day was held in Cairns in 1886.[22] In September 1886 John Nairne was almost killed in an attack at Freshwater. Stock was still being speared at Mt Buchan in 1887 while the bush on the southern side of Trinity Inlet was being fired.[23] In October 1887 selectors in the Barron Valley petitioned the minister of lands for permission to abandon their selections for 12 months by which time things might have improved.[24] Cane was still being set on fire at the Pyramid Estate.

Aboriginal women were to be found in selectors’ camps and beche-de-mer fishermen were known to steal Aboriginal women. Aborigines started congregating in town amidst squalid conditions and abuse of liquor. The first fringe camp formed in 1886 on the banks of Lily Creek, at the turn-off of the West Cairns and Mulgrave roads. This makeshift settlement was a collection of gunyahs built of bags, old kerosene tins and bark. The residents were forced to earn a living by begging or through wood and water-carrying.[25] Aboriginal men roamed the streets of Cairns scavenging, leading to frightened white housewives. After an incident where a constable was threatened with a tomahawk, the Aboriginal inhabitants of Cairns were rounded up and forced out of town.[26] Opium use also became a problem. Attacks continued throughout the district in 1888,1889 and 1890, leading for calls for an Aboriginal Reserve along the Barron River or north of Buchans Point.[27] In July 1890 George Hobson was killed on the Lower Barron.[28] Reverend John Gribble arrived in the district in 1891 looking for land on which to start a mission, leading to the eventual formation of the Yarrabah Mission. In his report to the Queensland Colonial secretary he stated that the:
Barron and Kuranda Blacks were succumbing to white exploitation and that they were no longer regarded as dangerous although the settlers take every precaution.[29]

[1] N. Loos, Invasion and Resistance: Aboriginal-European Relations on the North Queensland Frontier, p.213
[2] Jones, p. 301
[3] Collinson, p. 61-2
[4] Loos, p. 221
[5] Ibid., p. 223
[6] Ibid., p. 301
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., p. 97
[9] Ibid., p. 93
[10] This did not always occur. In the Cairns Post, 6 March 1884, mention is made of one property that was immune to attack and cattle spearing as the selector was supplying food to Aborigines on his selection
[11] Jones, p. 302-314
[12] Jones, p. 303. Cairns Post 14 August 1884. Loos, p. 231. Collinson, p. 62
[13] Loos, p. 232
[14] Cairns Post 22 May 1884, p. 2; 3 July 1884, p. 2 and p. 3; 10 July 1884, p. 2 and Jones, p. 306. The need for a centralised native police camp was justified on the grounds that “By the long immunity from punishment, these blacks are now getting very bold in their deprecations, and unless the district has a native police force in a central position we may expect to hear of even more serious offences than thieving committed(Cairns Post, 3 July 1884). Examples of the losses sustained are also given. In less than a week a calf was speared on Fallon’s selection, Jamieson lost a working bullock, Anderson had 2 cows speared and a calf was speared in the Mulgrave district. The paper points out that “Such a state of affairs in a well settled district and within a short distance of a populous town, surely points to something radically wrong in the administration of the forces appointed to keep the blacks in check and protect the settlers(Cairns Post 10 July 1884, p. 2). However in a letter to the Cairns Post on 7 August 1884, p. 2, John Atherton wrote that Inspector Carr had told him that he was stationed in the district to “protect the blacks, not to punish them”
[15] Collinson, p. 63. He further stated that, “there in those surroundings of mountain and stream, men, women and children were annihilated, and deprived of existence in a land no longer theirs”. I have been unable to find any verification of this account, but as Collinson was resident in the district at the time it can reasonably be assumed to be accurate
[16] Cairns Post 6 March 1884, p. 2
[17] Cairns Post 3 July 1884, p. 2
[18] Jones, p. 307
[19] Cairns Post 11 February 1886
[20] Cairns Post 7 August 1884, p. 2
[21] Loos, p. 377. Jones, p. 309
[22] Jones, p.310
[23] Ibid., p. 310
[24] Ibid.
[25] Collinson, p. 64-5
[26] Jones, p. 311-312
[27] Jones, p. 312-314
[28] Ibid., p. 241
[29] J. Gribble, Summary of the Report of Rev J.B. Gribble ..., p. 1