His­toric mis­sion gravesites to be given back to fam­i­lies

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - RICHARD KOSER

THE Dain­tree Abo­rig­i­nal mis­sion has been closed for nearly 50 years, but yes­ter­day the tra­di­tional own­ers of the land took a huge step to­wards tak­ing of­fi­cial own­er­ship of the site.

A small group of tra­di­tional own­ers of the Kuku Yalanji peo­ple sat in the gallery of the Moss­man coun­cil cham­bers yes­ter­day for the “sig­nif­i­cant and his­toric” oc­ca­sion.

The site of the Dain­tree Abo­rig­i­nal mis­sion, closed nearly 50 years ago, was of­fi­cially ex­cised from the neigh­bour­ing cane farm in the most im­por­tant for­mal step on the road to trans­fer­ring own­er­ship of the mis­sion and the more than 200 graves on the site to the Kuku Yalanji landown­ers.

“It’s an emo­tional day for all the fam­i­lies,” said Pamela Salt, whose mother ran away from the mis­sion at the age of 16.

Ms Salt’s mother had tried for years to gain ac­cess to the site, but passed away be­fore she could see the day when own­er­ship of the land was handed back to the Abo­rig­i­nal tra­di­tional own­ers.

Lorna Shuen’s grand­fa­thers are buried in the mis­sion ceme­tery along with dozens of other peo­ple.

She said it would be good to be able to visit with the rest of her fam­ily.

Di­vi­sion 10 councillor Ju­lia Leu said the is­sue of ac­cess to the gravesites was one of the first brought to her at­ten­tion when she joined the Dou­glas Shire Coun­cil in 1994.

“I’m very pleased coun­cil has ap­proved this pro­posal,” Cr Leu said.

“For many years, the tra­di­tional own­ers and descen­dents of the res­i­dents of the mis­sion were de­nied ac­cess to that site.

“This is a very sig­nif­i­cant and his­toric moment for the com­mu­nity. “Part of the site will be gifted to the tra­di­tional own­ers, who will have law­ful ac­cess to the ceme­tery and will be in a po­si­tion to re­ha­bil­i­tate the site for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Al­lan Quaid, the farmer who is hand­ing back the 1.7ha site, said it had taken longer than he ex­pected to clam­ber over bureau­cratic hur­dles.

“I bought two cane farms in the Dain­tree, but I couldn’t do any­thing with that piece of land,” he said.

“I wanted to give it back, but you can’t sub-di­vide small blocks.

“I got Ja­son O’Brien in­volved and the whole thing got big­ger than Ben Hur.”

John Fraser, who has been work­ing to see the for­mal process through, said the de­lays had al­lowed all the re­main­ing ducks to be lined up.

“We’re about 95 per cent of the way down

It’s an emo­tional day for all the fam­i­lies

- Pamela Salt

the road now,” he said.

“The agree­ment with Ja­bal­bina has been signed.”

The 10 coun­cil­lors present unan­i­mously ap­proved the sub­di­vi­sion yes­ter­day, de­spite it break­ing devel­op­ment guide­lines.

The land will be man­aged by the Ja­bal­bina Yalanji Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion.

A for­mal cer­e­mony on site is planned for next year, af­ter a del­i­cate op­er­a­tion to clear the gravesites of 50 years of ac­cu­mu­lated de­bris. “It’ll be a his­tor­i­cal event,” Ms Salt said. “It’ll be a sad time as well as a happy time.”

The Dain­tree Abo­rig­i­nal Mis­sion was opened in 1940 and man­aged by the Bap­tist As­sem­blies of God. It closed in 1963, when the re­main­ing fam­i­lies were moved to the mis­sion at Moss­man Gorge.

Emoth­ional day: Pamela Salt and Lorna Shuan at coun­cil yes­ter­day

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