Historic mission gravesites to be given back to families
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