Island has a chequered history
IN TOMORROW’S BULLETIN: Foxtel’s number one talk show host, Paul Murray, is back with another column
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-
I THINK IT WOULD AN OPPORTUNE TIME FOR THE BUYERS OF THE LEASES TO BE OBLIGED TO RESTORE LEEKE HOMESTEAD.
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.
HISTORIC LINK: Leeke Homestead on Great Keppel Island has been allowed to fall into disrepair.