Is­land has a che­quered his­tory

IN TO­MOR­ROW’S BUL­LETIN: Fox­tel’s num­ber one talk show host, Paul Mur­ray, is back with an­other col­umn

The Morning Bulletin - - OPINION - MAL­COLM WELLS

GREAT Kep­pel Is­land had a che­quered his­tory long be­fore Tower Hold­ings came along. In 1882, prom­i­nent Cen­tral Queens­land squat­ter Robert Ross ob­tained leases over both Great and North Kep­pel to pas­ture 4000 sheep and mur­dered 84 lo­cals in a cave as part of his prepa­ra­tion. He also lured seven men and 23 women and chil­dren on to a boat and kid­napped them – a story that was leaked to the Queens­land Fi­garo news­pa­per by his stock­keeper, who quit in dis­gust. By 1902, the re­main­ing in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion of the Kep­pel Is­land had been moved to govern­ment re­serves. The graz­ing lease for Great Kep­pel, cov­er­ing al­most the whole is­land, was even­tu­ally taken up by Michael O’Neil in 1918, and he kept 1500 merino sheep there with his wife Lizzie. When he died in 1923, one year af­ter they moved to the is­land perma-


nently, she mar­ried Ralph Leeke. They lived in the res­i­dence now known as Leeke Home­stead. This build­ing was listed on the Queens­land Her­itage regis­ter on July 28, 2000. It is con­sid­ered an im­por­tant part of the evo­lu­tion of Queens­land his­tory. It is part of the story of the at­tempt to es­tab­lish a vi­able pas­toral op­er­a­tion, at the ex­pense of the lo­cal in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion, who were ei­ther killed or vi­o­lently dis­placed from their homeland. It is a vi­tal last phys­i­cal link be­tween 4000 years of Wop­paburra oc­cu­pa­tion, and the cur­rent tourist theme that oc­cu­pies so much of the is­land to­day. It is also said to show the ba­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics of an iso­lated is­land res­i­dence of its time, when the trans­port of ma­te­ri­als was dif­fi­cult, and skilled labour was un­avail­able. Un­for­tu­nately, the build­ing has been al­lowed to fall into dis­re­pair, along with the re­sort, by the cur­rent lease­hold­ers Tower Hold­ings. On April 4, 2007 was the of­fi­cial han­dover of free­hold ti­tle to 170ha of land on Great Kep­pel Is­land to its tra­di­tional own­ers. The deeds to five parcels of for­mer un­al­lo­cated state land were handed to 40 trustees at a cer­e­mony on Great Kep­pel Is­land that in­cluded tra­di­tional danc­ing and speeches by el­ders, fol­lowed by the first meet­ing of the Wop­paburra Land Trust. A year later, the Great Kep­pel re­sort was closed by Tower Hold­ings that had bought the leases on the land. These leases now ap­pear to be up for sale once more. I think it would an op­por­tune time for the buy­ers of the leases to be obliged to re­store Leeke Home­stead. It could then be put in the hands of the Wop­paburra Trust to be used as an in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, mu­seum or as a start­ing point for tours of the is­land. Any use that would help keep the his­tory of the tra­di­tional own­ers alive, at the same time pre­serv­ing this im­por­tant build­ing is worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing. We also need to see the erad­i­ca­tion of the feral goat pop­u­la­tion that has been al­lowed to spread, re­moval of weeds and the re­gen­er­a­tion of the na­tive flora of the is­land.

Photo: Mal­colm Wells

HIS­TORIC LINK: Leeke Home­stead on Great Kep­pel Is­land has been al­lowed to fall into dis­re­pair.

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