Kowanyama Project Magazine - Issue 3: Ngethn o'! We're here!

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Issue 3 October 2019

KOWANYAMA PROJECT Issue 3: October 2019

Published: Kowanyama Culture and Research Centre Chellikee Street and Chapman Road Kowanyama QLD 4897 Printed: Lotsa Print Cairns QLD 4870 Editorial: Viv Sinnamon email: Charlessinnamon2@gmail.com Phone: 0429124666

Cover: Malcolm Possum cutting leaves from one of Kowanyama’s majestic and iconic cabbage palms: Image Viv Sinnamon Opposite: Weaving pattern of the big basket. Strand Ephemera Townsville August 2019: Image Fairlie Sandilands



© Reproduction of any of the content of this magazine may only occur with the written permission of the editor

From The Editor October 2019 Photograph by Mark Weaver

This is a special issue covering Ngethn o,’ a celebration of culture during the June school holidays so that our kids going to school at east coast colleges could be a part of the celebration. It is a testament to Kowanyama’s commitment to the maintenance of a cultural heritage that is constantly under threat. There were 22 deaths in Kowanyama by June and two occurred in the week before the event. After talks with some of the families Ngethn o’ went on to provide a quiet, positive and respectful cultural event for Kowanyama in a time of need. Organisation began with a team of four and twelve months of preparation. Thanks Bernadette Boscacci, Ngethn o’ Arts and Workshop Coordinator/Finances person (the latter was unplanned), Mark Weaver of Woven and Ngethn o’ Media Manager. Check out Mark’s hard work in the social media and published on the web https://woventracks.com/home. Many others helped in many ways. We will get the opportunity to thank them later in this issue. We thank you all for making it happen. It has been a year full of challenges. A special thanks to Carmen Fenwick Potter who travelled all the way from Toogum. Her stall raised over $1600 for Kowanyama Project. A fantastic effort.

We were blessed with sponsorships and donors with our first go at crowd funding. Asher Meadows and Life Without Barriers team, Rebecca Hyde of Skytrans, Ron and Dr Lara Wieland of Out There Kowanyama, Tania Major of Abm elgoring ambung our local PBC, Fiona Millard and team from Apunipima all put a lot of time and resources into making Ngethn o’ happen. It became our catch cry with some wondering if was ever going to happen. Thanks also to Avril Quaill, Quandamooka woman of Arts Queensland Indigenous Regional Arts Fund for helping get the grant over the line in time for the festival. Finally thank you to everyone who helped out when I was silly enough to damage my achilles during the first days of preparation and ended up in a wheelchair. To our visiting artists, Nina Dawson from Mission Beach, Janelle Evans from Woorabinda and Bernadette Boscacci from Townsville thank you for turning the old café into a great looking gallery for everyone to enjoy. I believe we have a magazine that readers will enjoy and one that makes Kowanyama proud.


Ngethn o’ A success 5


Giant basket a hit 6 Big basket goes to Townsville 9 Ministerial visit during Ngethn o’ 10 Healthy food 13 Natural Models 15 Atherton Mitchell River Wommeras Collection formally opened 17 Thanks to Simon at Hills Hats 19 Kowanyama Collections Completing an important part of history 19 Bush camp welcomes Rhondie home 20 Students of the eighties 21 Apunipima Healthy people, healthy country, healthy culture 22 Bush cooking 24 Gordon to the rescue 25


Photograph by Viv Sinnamon

AUGUST: Tea tree and beefwood blossom. Freshwater croc egg time.

Mitchell River Shields in Canberra 26 Shields Project Underway 27 Kowanyama Anniversary 1919-2019 28-29 Unexpected find 31

SEPTEMBER: Cotton tree blossom. Wallabies get fat on the blossom.

Cape York Telegraph Line Normanton to Stirling telephone 32

OCTOBER: Waterholes are drying. Crayfish time

Itchy feet, gold fever & malaria The story of Robert Sefton 33 Honouring our supporters 34

Photograph by Lara Wieland

NGETHN O’ Quiet but successful Ngethn o’ was never planned to be a carnival like celebration at a time when so many members of our families have passed away. We have lost a number of key Elders this year alone. With a team of great people mostly behind the scenes, volunteers and those that came to film nights, exhibitions and other events, we have honoured our Elders and those recently passed. Some came to be with others weaving and doing things together to still the mind and to be with others who felt the same way about the need to maintain a cultural heritage that is constantly under threat. It is sometimes hard to maintain the traditions of our ancestors in this changing modern world. But everyone made Ngethn o’ happen and it was good. The good news received as the magazine was almost ready for print is that there have been successful talks about an arts, culture and gallery space. Thanks to a proposal by Tania Major following Ngethn o’, Kowanyama will be prepared for an exhibition at Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair in 2020. It will be a collaboration between Tania Major Consultancies, RISE, Kowanyama Aboriginal Shire Council and the Culture and Research Centre to develop a cultural and arts program as a part of RISE program activities. An interim arrangement has been reached between Kowanyama Council and RISE for the use of the old café as an art space. Work has begun as plans are made for our “big basket” now being held in Cairns for public exhibition and then it will be returned to Kowanyama.


Photographs by Bernadette Boscacci

GIANT BASKET IS A HIT A collaborative work of weavers The fine weave basket was a multi-purpose traditional basket made with a range of plant fibres. Known in Yir Yoront (Kokomnjen) as thawl, in Kokoberra thabvlang and in Kunjen/Olkol as abmbin. Sometimes synthetic raffia is used in its weaving but never a giant basket like the one made by weavers at Ngethn o’. It is special!


Twenty-nine weavers from Kowanyama, Normanton and Townsville worked until after last light during the week to complete the body of a traditional woven basket made from plastic and electrical wire.

Work began in the Cultural Centre grounds in building the base of the basket but was moved to the shade of the Church Mango tree. Later it was suspended from branches to allow weavers more space to weave the growing giant. Only two or three people could work on the piece at one time. Others stripped palm fibre, collected and dyed the raffia with morinda root dyes. Many came to watch the basket growing as it hung from the mango tree. Elders and adults as well as children visited the workshop located in a very public place. They came to look and to help.

Photographs by Bernadette Boscacci

It was the first time Kowanyama weavers had tried such a big work. Northern weavers had pioneered the use of contemporary materials gathered during the Ghost Net Program. Pormpuraaw artists have been making large artworks of dugong and other animals that have become well known in galleries around the country. The Kowanyama basket followed the same idea of using recycled plastics from electrical wire.

Weavers enjoyed fish provided by the boys from Ron’s bush group with damper cooked on the coals. A fire was kept going for cooking and billy tea by the group. Bernadette Boscacci worked tirelessly in the lead up to Ngethn o’ to find support to cover the travel and expenses of a second phase of the project called Thawl wedlvn (Making a basket in Yir Yoront). The basket was installed at Strand Ephemera in Townsville the following month of August. Five weavers travelled to Townsville to participate with other artists and to showcase traditional fibre working skills with the assistance of a Regional Arts Network grant.

Photograph by Mark Weaver


Nina and Bernie Loading the basket for the long trip down to Townsville

“It’s been amazing to watch this Thawl wedlvn Project draw the community together. So many hands have woven this contemporary statement. Every day has made it stronger. A Dillybag. Tonight under headlights and torches it was completed. Beautiful, strong, a statement about the importance of indigenous culture for all Australia. Thank you Kowanyama.” Mark Vincent Weaver: Coolum, Queensland Ngethn o’ Media Woven Tracks Facebook post

Photograph by Nina Dawson


$25.00 each

Photographs by Fairlie Sandiland

BIG BASKET GOES TO TOWNSVILLE Weavers showcase traditional fibre works The big basket made at Kowanyama during Ngethn o’ was transported back to Townsville. It was completed and installed in late July at Strand Ephemera 2019. It was a Townsville City Council hosted event, where it claimed a Highly Commended Award. Weavers travelled from Kowanyama and Normanton to Townsville to experience the event, represent the community and have weaving workshops on the Strand. They talked to exhibition audience members and showed their traditional weaving skills. Everyone was very excited to meet their local football hero, Jonathon Thurston. The group personally thanked Johnathon for the in-kind support provided by Skytrans for the project. The basket was displayed later at Umbrella Studios in Townsville during Bernadette’s own very successful art exhibition “Travelling by String”

The weaving team in Townsville on the Strand with Olkola Elder, Hazel Barr and friends


Official party photograph

Kowanyama’s Ministerial Champion visits Ngethn o’ The honourable Mark Ryan MLA Minister for Police and Corrections, Paul Taylor, QPS Assistant Commissioner for Police and The Member for Cook, Cynthia Lui MLA paid an overnight visit to Kowanyama during Ngethn o’. Mark Ryan is Kowanyama’s Ministerial Champion, the person from the Queensland Government whose job it is to provide a voice from the Kowanyama community to Government on important issues and opinions. The official party were treated to a barbecue and kub murri after a meeting with Kowanyama Council and visited the Gallery to see the historical and Cultural exhibits. The theme of the exhibition was the early contact time between the tribes, explorers and pastoralists. The gallery exhibition featured the Nhar iron cannon recently repatriated from the Queensland Museum, Jardine Brother’s cattle drive through Mitchell River country in 1864 and the Native Mounted Police of Cairo Lagoon (Highbury Station) in 1885-1900. Minister Ryan and our Member for Cook also enjoyed talks over the display of stone, bone and shell tools that were a central feature of the gallery along with a collection of lancewood spears made by Ralph Dennis and the Late Edgar Bendigo.


Photographs by Cynthia Lui

“I was delighted to attend Ngethn o’ and will always remember the warmth of your welcome. It was a privilege and an absolute pleasure to attend your special festival”. Mark Ryan MP Minister for Police and Corrections Ministerial Champion for Kowanyama

“It was wonderful to visit beautiful Kowanyama with Ministerial Champion, Mark Ryan MP to attend Ngethn o’ Arts Festival. It was also a huge honour and privilege to join the community today for a historical smoking ceremony for the return of traditional Kowanyama artefacts. It was a very moving and heart felt ceremony and one I will never forget”. Cynthia Lui MP Member for Cook

11 Visiting Trubanamen Mission 1905-1919

Healthy Food With Doc Lara Out There Kowanyama


During Ngethn o’ the healthy food stall run by charity OTK was a hit with locals and visitors alike. Meals were prepared using meats easily available to locals and vegetables that are grown easily throughout the community. Meals were prepared that were at least similar to meals that community members are familiar with, for example stew and rice, Coconut curry and rice and mince and rice. The difference is that they were all chock full of veges and in particular Moringa leaves.

Photographs by Lara Wieland

Moringa is a very interesting tree with amazing potential to improve nutrition in remote Top End communities. Also known as Miracle tree, Indian Horseradish tree, or Drumstick tree it is a powerhouse of nutrition. And to top it all off it actually tastes really good and is super easy to pick the little soft leaves and throw them into just about everything! Soups, stews, curries, stir fries, scrambled eggs, smoothies you name it! Best of all for Kowanyama – it goes well with foods that people in Kowanyama are used to – things like wallaby stew or fish soup and it grows super easily in Kowanyama. On


Healthy People



can be grown from a branch cutting or from the seeds that can be harvested from the dry brown pods around October. A few years back, OTK ‘introduced’ Moringa to Kowanyama as part of its Community Demo Vege garden and nutrition project. We were pleased to see how super quickly and easily it grew in Kowanyama. It pretty much grows itself once it’s a couple feet high and grows very fast producing lots of edible leaves, flowers and pods. When I was a Doctor working in Kowanyama years ago I was talking to a Zimbabwean nurse at the clinic about Moringa. She told me that there were two very old Moringa trees in town already! What a surprise to see it already growing in town – one in front of the store and one in front of someone’s house. We asked around but no one could tell us where they came from. Now we have heard it was brought in from a station by Thomas Bruce. Then a trip to Indonesia added some clues to the mystery. We spotted a ‘moringa’ shop that sold all things Moringa. On the wall was a world map showing the distribution of Moringa. It’s well known in Asia and South East Asia. But there on the poster were the words “Aboriginal Australia” marked in the Top End of Australia as a place where Moringa was known. So Indonesians knew that ‘Aboriginal Australia’ knew Moringa!? Did the early Macassans introduce it to our Indigenous people only for it to be later forgotten?

Healthy Community

I asked several elders who knew nothing. But then one day an old lady told me that a distant memory had come back to her – that her grandmother had told her the tree was bush medicine and good to eat. This ‘introduced’ food that is so well suited to the Kowanyama environment and lifestyle is really just bringing something back that used to be in use and is way healthier than anything you can buy in the store. Research is now being done on its positive effects on diabetes and maybe even cancer.

OTK has now planted trees throughout the community in public places and some people’s yards. RISE garden crew in partnership with OTK has grown plants in lots of pots and locals can request a tree for their yard from the Community Demo Vege garden. We’re also hoping our Ngethn O food stall will inspire some enterprising locals, cafés, store, tuck shop and community to make some cheap and easy to prepare delicious meals to improve the health of the community.

Have a go at using some Moringa in your cooking today!


Photo by Nina Dawson Birdtribe Wearable Art

Wendell Luke models a set of Nina’s Birdtribe creations making his community proud https://www.facebook.com/birdtribewearableart/


NATURAL MODELS Kowanyama finds another self

Nina trading as Nina Blackcockatoo works a lot with silk. Wearable artworks inspired by nature and created using natural fibres and plant dyes. Nina is a talented photographer, printmaker, weaver and devotee of nature. See: https://www.instagram.com/birdtribewearableart/ Nina has an online Birdtribe.etsy.com site that markets her garments. Nina likes to work with Northern indigenous communities sharing her skills and learning about traditional dyes and fibre works from the first craftswomen of North Queensland. Nina we thank you. You did a great job. To all of the Kowanyama women young and old who took part. You made us proud.

Photographs by Nina Dawson

Mission Beach based Nina Dawson designer in wearable art brought a whole new side to Ngethn o’ when she teamed up with local women in a modelling shoot at two different places in the bush outside Kowanyama. The result was amazing. The models … well the pictures say it all.

Nina also ran screen printing workshops mostly attended by our younger women to produce Ngethn o’ t shirts for sale during and after the week.


Photograph by Cynthia Lui

THE ATHERTON MITCHELL RIVER WOMMERA COLLECTION 1880’S TO 1912 Chris and Louise Atherton of Toowong in Brisbane travelled to Kowanyama to attend the public opening of Chris’s great grandfather, John Atherton’s collection of wommeras. In 2016 the collection was bought from the Atherton family with the support of two generous donors. The Mayor, Michael Yam welcomed Chris and Louise to Kowanyama. The box was traditionally warmed and smoked with ironwood leaf before opening with the help of Craig Goggleye and Malcolm Possum.


The collection including shell necklaces and message stick were collected during John Atherton’s travels while living at his property at Emerald Creek on what is now known as the Atherton Tablelands. Assisting Curator of the Kowanyama Collection and Ngethn o’ Organiser Viv Sinnamon, said “The Atherton Collection is a significant acquisition for Kowanyama and that the collection is of great importance to the Atherton Tablelands community, North Queensland and Cape York”. Viv thanked the two anonymous donors who helped in the purchase and Chris Atherton for making it all possible. Chris was invited to open the box of cultural objects.

The wommeras were unwrapped by Chris and presented to a crowd of about fifty people. Chris explained during his opening and presentation of the objects that during his great grandfather’s time at Emerald Creek he had travelled widely. William Atherton, John Atherton’s brother had settled at Chillagoe Station in 1887 and later Nychum when Edmund Atherton their father had travelled out of western NSW near Armidale into QLD. Family members settled at Rockhampton and Mackay on the way north. It took the others eight months by dray to get to the tablelands just as the Palmer River alluvial goldrush was coming to an end. It is known that Tom Atherton, Edmund Atherton’s son was also at Midlothian on Delta Downs in 1895. According to published letters of Tom’s wife Jane Byersley Atherton, Frank Bowman of Rutland Plains had been a family friend.

The Atherton Wommera Collection is a significant collection from a time when many of the northern tribes were coming into contact with settlers and miners for the first time. A collection of wommeras was purchased from Arthur Palmer in 2009 for the Kowanyama Collection featured in the previous July Issue 2. It is another very old example of wommeras from Cape York held at Kowanyama. Arthur is a great grandson of Sir Arthur Hunter Palmer one of the first Premiers/Colonial Secretaries of the new State of Queensland. The Palmer River carries his family name. Arthur conducted an assessment of the Kowanyama Collection in 2008 resulting in a Statement of National Significance. He was instrumental in an introduction to Chris Atherton that led to the acquisition of the Atherton family wommera collection.

Photograph by Bernadette Boscacci


An iconic collection for the Mitchell River Region and Far North Queensland Thanks to the Atherton Family and our generous donors.

18 Photographs by Bernadette Boscacci

THANK YOU SIMON AT HILLS HATS Heart-felt thanks to Simon known as The Hat Man at Hills Hats for the very generous donation to the Kowanyama Collection of three replica 1880’s police caps made in his factory in Wellington New Zealand. Simon has supplied the red woollen cloth for the bands on two of the caps making them replica caps worn by the Native Mounted Police. Kowanyama Project also thanks Brisbane Hatters for the introduction to Hills Hats. We appreciate our Wellington and Queen Street hatter friends for their interest in history and the valuable additions to Kowanyama Collections.

KOWANYAMA COLLECTION Completing an important part of Kowanyama’s History Kowanyama Collection has grown its historical collection with the purchase and donation of a number of important objects that help tell the story of the Native Police and early cattle station times on the west coast. We are excited to announce that with the addition of the donated Native Police caps, an 1800’s ammunition belt from the US, snake buckle belt from London, two snake buckle pieces from an early 1800’s battlefield in Russia, Snider bullet cases from Australia and old military and Police buttons similar to the ones that were used by the Native Mounted Police were bought from England, Canada and Australia are now in our own Kowanyama Culture and Research Centre as part of our own museum collection.


Photograph by Tom Hearn


Men’s bush camp welcomes Rhondie home Rhonderson (Rhondie) Koolatah is an Olkola man and is the eldest of five: Winifred, Travis, Dolasses and Liam. As a young child Rhondie was relocated from Kowanyama community and placed in an institution in the Southeast Queensland region. Due to the nature of his complex and multiple disabilities including blindness and cerebral palsy Rhondie was separated from family and country and institutionalized for many years. But his life changed when he returned to Cairns in 2014. It wasn’t long before Life Without Barriers discovered Rhondie’s Kowanyama connections they began to reconnect him with his mob. Regular visits make a big difference to the quality of Rhondie’s life. But this recent trip was very different. For the first time in his life Rhondie camped on his traditional country with his own mob. He was welcomed home with a special fire, a water blessing and Ochre ceremony. Rhondie spent long days sitting around the fire listening to the men make boomerangs and spears. He spent his first night in a swag under the stars. Rhondie’s return to country will always be a special moment for everyone involved.

Thanks to Life Without Barriers for facilitating Rhondie’s return and a special thanks to his carer Asher for going on this long journey with him, and Michael Yam for the touching welcome to country.


Bush TV www.bushtv.com.au www.campingoncountry.com.au Bush TV Enterprises is an Aboriginal media company registered with Supply Nation. Ernie Dingo is our Chairman

Photographs by Bernadette Boscacci

Des and Donna Gribbin travelled to Kowanyama from their home on the Sunshine Coast to visit old friends and students. Everyone enjoyed an album of photographs taken when they were teachers at Kowanyama in the 1980’s.

Des and Donna generously left behind a valued photo collection for everyone to enjoy. Digital copies of the photographs will become a part of Kowanyama Culture and Research Centre Archive. They spent their time seeking out their old students and friends. Des was interested to find that his student Alfie Yam was now Mayor Michael Yam. Big thank you to Des and Donna for your valuable addition to the community’s photographic collection. Another friend of Des and Donna, Mark Weaver taught at Kowanyama at the same time. Mark is Ngethn o’ Media manager. Mark has worked tirelessly since last year in the development of a website https://woventracks.com/home Two social media sites support Kowanyama Project that includes the companion Facebook page . http://www.facebook/Woventracks . Mark also has a keen interest in helping to develop interesting and relevant cultural materials for Kowanyama School cultural studies that supports the maintenance of traditional knowledge as part of a broader community cultural program. Mark is a valued member of a core team of volunteers who made Ngethn o’ happen, and also organised a number of documentaries about Kowanyama for a successful movie night during Ngethn o’. Mark later travelled to record the Kowanyama weavers with the big basket that was displayed on the Strand in Townsville.

Keep posted on the Woven tracks and Kowanyama Project Facebook pages for more news.


Moringa damper Photographs by Lara Wieland

Faylene Jimmy part of Out There Kowanyama activities during Ngethn o’ made up a damper with finely chopped moringa leaf. Cooked in a camp oven on the coals it came out perfectly. It works just as well and tastes good cooked as an ashes damper. Good healthy food with moringa leaf straight off the tree provided by nature at no cost.

HEALTHY PEOPLE HEALTHY COUNTRY HEALTHY CULTURE Apunipima joins in Apunipima staff set up next to Lara and Ron’s healthy food stall that provided food throughout the Ngethn o’ program. Apunipima staff included skilled dieticians who felt it was important to join in. As an Indigenous service organisation it is committed to helping Cape York community health and wellbeing and has been engaged in past events at Kowanyama i.e. the 2008 Baby Festival and two on country events, Oriners 2002 Family and Youth Program and the Awin Udnum Program 2012-14. These community-based events all aspired to key objectives under the idea that the physical, mental and spiritual health of First Nations are closely linked to family, culture and country. All of these Kowanyama Programs, and there were many others, recognised that the service agencies must all work together in assisting communities. To many elders and community leaders this was the only way for a healthy community.


Kunjen Elder Alma Wason named the 2012 program Awin Udnum which means “the right path or way”.


TEN SHIELDS PROJECT KICKS OFF A collaboration between RISE, Kowanyama Council and Kowanyama Culture and Research Centre to prepare for an exhibition in Cairns next year has kicked off this month with men involved in the bushbased production of traditional ochred shields. The project is a part of a collaboration of traditional and contemporary artists. Contemporary works in clay, photographs and other artworks will be produced in an art program coordinated by RISE and facilitated by Tania Major Consultancies and Viv Sinnamon through Kowanyama Cultural Centre. Interested artists and craftsmen are welcome to be part of this exciting project. Our shield workshop is the bush. Come and be part of keeping culture strong and developing modern artistic talent.

Olkola man, Craig Goggleye with the first shield of the program

Big basket heads for Cairns Our big basket is travelling from Townsville after having successful showings at Strand Ephemera and Bernadette Boscacci’s, Travelling by Thread Exhibition. It will rest for a bit in Cairns where there is a possibility it will appear at CIAF 2020. Keep posted.


Bush Cooking

Photographs by Lara Wieland

Thanks to Mayor Michael Yam, Simon Luke and the boys who helped Ron and Michael with the bush tucker. Our weavers enjoyed the fish and goanna


OY YOY EH? Someone got a flat. Lucky Gordon was passing by when our visiting artists got a flat. Photographs by Bernadette Boscacci

Maxanne and the crew were on hand to keep everyone company while Gordon got the tyre changed and our friends were on their way back to Townsville

GORDON TO THE RESCUE It all happened for the Ngethn o’ crew on their way home. Out on the road near Dunbar after having loaded the big basket on to the truck and got it all covered and tied down, the truck got a flat tyre. Luckily for Bernadette and our visiting artists, Maxanne and family turned up. Gordon who had enjoyed the week with Ngethn o’ and was in the car hopped out. The wheel was changed and Bernie in her trusty Meteor Hire truck was safely on her way to Townsville. It was their road angel’s birthday. Bernadette had just enough time to put the finishing touches to the big basket before it was installed at the end of the month for Strand Ephemera and organise our Kowanyama weaver’s travel and accommodation for a visit to Townsville. Gordon at the Life Without Barriers Stall at Ngethn o’ Kowanyama weavers later were with their new creation to explain traditional weaving techniques with the public on the Strand in Townsville. Nina was needed in Townsville to help with a Djiru cassowary creation for Strand Ephemera and Janelle had a long drive ahead of her back to Woorabinda. Our Ngethn o’ Team would like to thank Gordon, Maxanne Brumby and family for being so helpful.


MITCHELL RIVER DELTA SHIELDS FIND A HOME IN CANBERRA In the 1930’s an Anthropologist, Ursula McConnel spent time with the people of Aurukun. On her way along the east coast McConnel visited Yarrabah Mission where she met three men who were from the Mitchell River region. The men, Claud, Malcolm and George Wilson made their visitor four shields. The shields are now held in Canberra at the National Museum and one of the four is held in the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. AIATSIS was established in 1964. It adopted the shield as its logo and can be seen on many books and other Institute publications. In 2014 AIATSIS celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and a fifty-cent coin was minted to celebrate with the shield on the coin. A few people at Kowanyama have just recently seen the fifty-cent piece and have been asking about it. In 2016 the Ochred Shields Project in collaboration with Cape York Arts exhibited the works of Steven Patterson. Photograph by Viv Sinnamon Three shields were exhibited at the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair. The shields received a lot of interest and two of the shields were successfully sold to buyers from Melbourne and Canberra. One of the two shields was purchased by AIATSIS staff who attended CIAF. Steven’s Yirrk Thangakl Mel thiw (Baldy Owl) Clan now stands proudly next to the original logo shield in the foyer of AIATSIS. Pat Williamson, an Indigenous curator at AIATSIS is working on an exhibition of both the shields in Canberra and has been working with the Kowanyama Cultural and Research Centre on a description of the exhibit for Steven and his shield.


Steven Patterson speaking to the media CIAF 2016

2019 Shields Project underway Gaven Goggleye and Billy Backhoe Jr and Ivan Mosquito at Tarrch mvnengk (Mr Pond Place) working on shields after cutting wood at Pelvnpvl (Wilson Hole) with Viv Sinnamon and Elder Edwin David AKA Kanga. The group kick started the Shield Project which will continue working in small groups into June 2020.

Photographs by Viv Sinnamon



Photograph by Stephan Korb: St Maur France

NHAR CANNON’S ANNIVERSARY 1919 to 2019 In 1918 an iron cannon was taken from the sand ridge at the Man o war bird story place at Nhar by Thomas Simpson of Lochnagar. The following year it was sent to the Queensland Museum in Brisbane by Reverend Matthews where it was kept until its successful repatriation in 2018. This year at the opening of Ngethn o’ in Kowanyama, the cannon was on public view for the first time. The little iron cannon was pride of place in the temporary gallery’s cultural and historical exhibition. After 100 years away, it is back.

The cannon represented a time when early sailing boats were a mystery to the Gulf of Carpentaria coastal tribes as they sailed along the western Cape York coast. No one really knows how the cannon got to Nhar or exactly when the strange hard heavy object became a part of a ceremony at Nhar in Yirrk Thangakl Rain Clan country. The ceremony was held to help the population of the black ocean birds Min Nhar breed up successfully. Minh Nhar is also known as the frigate bird.

2019 28


Photograph Australian Board of Missions

KOWANYAMA’S ANNIVERSARY 1919 to 2019 It is 100 years since Reverend R Matthews completed the move from the Old Mission site at Trubanamen to the new Mitchell River Mission on Magnificent Creek, which later became known as Kowanyama. The shift had begun earlier in 1915 when the freshwater watercourse and lagoons became salty. This might have been from damage caused by the drays crossing the boggy lower end of the watercourse to collect supplies by boat from Thursday Island at Bowman’s Landing. The rutting may have allowed the tide to break through into the freshwater part of Trubanamen.

Many of the old stations were not happy with the loss of cattle country in 1903 when the Mitchell River Reserve was declared and the Anglican Mission was established in 1905. Records are still to be recovered that confirm some stations were considering a petition to Government that the Mission was not using all the reserved land and to open more reserve land for cattle. The Mission was accused of not stopping cattle spearing on pastoral leases neighbouring Trubanamen. In those days the reserve included the Coastal Spring pocket north to the south bank at Topsy.



30 Photograph by Viv Sinnamon

An unexpected find. There have been reports for some time now that there might be a Mitchell River shield in the museum at the Information Centre in Ravenshoe. An opportunity came up to check out the rumours. People were interested to know if there was a Mitchell River shield so far from home.

Photographs by Viv Sinnamon

While on the Atherton Tablelands following Ngethn o,’ Viv Sinnamon was kindly taken on a trip with Lara and Ron and two of our Kowanyama boys Jake Malachi and Jeremiah Michael to Ravenshoe to see the shield. The shield was found in a case with some very old rainforest baskets loaned by the Johnston family and described as the “small shield.” Viv Sinnamon Assisting Curator of Kowanyama Collection explained, “Beside the wide rainforest shields it looks small in comparison but in fact for a Mitchell River shield it is a regular sized fighting shield. There is a larger west coast shield amongst the MR shields of the Matthews Collection in the QLD Museum. Shields made by Jerry Mission (1987) and Jack Bruno (1977) have the same design”. See our photo of some of the boys visiting the Old Café Gallery at Kowanyama during Ngethn o’. There is little known of the history of the shield. It is hoped that more information can be discovered on who collected the shield and when. Both the shape of the shield and the ochred design of red and white suggests the shield is a very old Yir Yoront example. Photograph by Lara Wieland


Compiled by Viv Sinnamon

The Cape York and Normanton Telegraph Line The Cape York Telegraph Line was a telegraph line that was completed in 1887 and stretched from Laura to Thursday Island with feeder lines to Somerset, Walsh River and Palmerville. Another connection was being made between Cardwell through Etheridge and Normanton and the Norman Heads. Around 1912 a telephone line connected Vanrook and Stirling Stations to Normanton. One of the important events in the frontier history of Cape York Peninsula was the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line. The northern section ran through very rough country when the tribes of Cape York Peninsula were resisting miners, explorers and pastoralists entering and settling on their traditional lands. The telegraph survey expedition was only the fourth overland expedition made in the region.

The construction of the line was to be a big job that began with a surveying expedition in 1883, led by John Bradfield. It would take more than two years to complete. The actual construction work cleared a corridor about forty metres wide, with specially made galvanised iron poles used to hold the line. The line opened in 1887 stretching from Laura to Thursday Island and linked Brisbane with Queensland’s northern outposts as well as the rest of the world. Gangs of telegraph linesmen maintained the line when it was finished. In 1870, a telegraph repeating station for an overland line to the Gulf was built at Etheridge, later to be known as Georgetown. By 1871, 393 miles of telegraph line was being completed between Cardwell and Normanton to Norman River Heads (Karumba) Soon after Bowman was speared in September 1910, a telephone line was put in between Normanton and Stirling Station. In places between Vanrook and Delta Downs Stations the old ironwood and beefwood posts can still be seen with insulators. Some were replaced later with iron poles in the same area. Gradually the wooden posts are disappearing with fires and road works although the bent galvanised poles can still be seen on the flats near Vanrook. The service was the newly invented telephone system that replaced the old telegraph message system that used morse code. The search continues for the details of the Normanton to Vanrook line. We look forward to reader’s comments.

This article by the editor has used some information from a Wikipedia article that was partially based on "Queensland Places – Musgrave Telegraph Station" written by Brian Randall and published on 21 May 2015 by the John Oxley Library under CC-BY 4.0 AU licence (accessed on 16 February 2017


Kowanyama Project welcomes comments on details of this line.

ITCHY FEET, GOLD FEVER AND MALARIA Robert Sefton’s Story Image from Northmost Australia: Logan Jack 1921

Compiled by Viv Sinnamon

In 1886 John Embley the Queensland Government surveyor mapped the lower Mitchell River region providing the groundwork for the occupation of Cape York Peninsula by cattle men and miners. One of those land divisions was called Sefton. In 1998 Kowanyama Council bought Sefton Station from the Finch family. It was a remote small holding that became part of Koolatah Station settled by the Hughes family from Nockatunga in 1911. Copies of Embley’s field notes were used in mapping the DOGIT boundaries for the transfer of the DOGIT lands during Native Title processes.

In 1876, Robert Sefton found gold at Coen River after leading a party of prospectors into Cape York. He built a log fort there for protection from local tribes and prospected for gold in the surrounding country. In 1878 a gold rush to Coen followed Sefton’s arrival in Cooktown with 140 ounces of gold.

Robert Sefton was born in 1849 on a boat from England bound for Sydney. His family later moved to New Zealand. After a short time on the NZ goldfields at Wakea River young Sefton headed to the Gympie Goldfields in the new state of Queensland. He did well. In Gympie he got the taste for travel and a good dose of gold fever. He headed north to the goldfields of North Queensland and joined the Palmer River goldrush. Sefton continued further north to seek his fortune. The tribes were resisting the miners. Sefton headed to the North Palmer and onto the Normanby River. later he received a Government reward for finding a new goldfield on the Hodgkinson River. When the gold gave out Sefton re-equipped himself and headed north to Coen. The party was not welcomed by the local tribes. A blockhouse was needed to save their lives. Sefton headed off back to Cooktown with malaria. After another try on the Coen River he travelled to a successful gold find at Lukinville. Sefton’s party did well but then his horse plant was stolen. He struggled for nine days to a station owned by McKenzie. The Scotsman was later speared by local tribesmen. Sefton visited the Etheridge region and took up a Cape York station very briefly. His wanderings took him to Townsville and Brisbane where he took a boat to Singapore. Sefton heard reports of gold in North Borneo and after speaking with Dutch and British authorities he headed for the Segama River once again in search of gold. Travel was difficult and he lost his boat and all his provisions. Regulations covering mining opportunities were much stricter than in Australia so after trying his luck in Malaysia he returned to Australia. Sefton had the travel bug and later travels found him in British Columbia, New York and England. Robert Sefton returned Western Australia where he travelled the new mine fields of Coolgardie. Not satisfied he headed off by camel to what is now Wiluna. Always hungry for better finds Sefton travelled New Guinea for a time and took a boat back to North Western Australia where he worked for a Sydney copper syndicate. He found huge ridges of copper-bearing outcrops and moved on again. His camp was burned out on his way back to Derby and he lost many of his diaries. Luck was not his friend. Hearing of another gold strike in South Australia he headed south. Sefton’s travels continued until his death in 1920 leaving a small piece of land bearing his name…Sefton Holding. The editor has adapted information from the source: Undated: A LIFE OF ADVENTURE: MR. ROBERT SEFTON'S CAREER. Seeking gold in many lands. By James Thomson


Photograph by Fairlie Sandilands Kowanyama weavers, L-R Francine Gilbert, Chrissie Aidan, Johnathon Thurston, Boyd Aidan, Priscilla Major and Hazel Barr

WEAVING GROUP MEET JOHNATHON THURSTON IN TOWNSVILLE Johnathan Dean Thurston AM (born 25 April 1983) is an Australian former professional rugby league footballer who played in the National Rugby League. Thurston was an Australian international, Queensland State of Origin and Indigenous All Stars representative. He played as a halfback or five-eighth and was a noted goal-kicker. In 2015, he became the first ever four-time Dally M Medallist for the NRL season's best player, and later that year became the first ever three-time winner of the Golden Boot Award for the World's best player. Johnathon is thought of as one of the best players in NRL. Pilot and business man, Peter Collings launched West Wing Aviation in January 2000 and in 2015 joined NRL star Johnathan Thurston to purchase and re-launch Skytrans airlines. Peter and Johnathan are both Queenslanders and love regional and remote Queensland and generously support philanthropic work in their region. In 2018, Thurston founded and launched the Johnathan Thurston Academy (JT Academy) of which is he now the Managing Director. The JT Academy provides a forum, which encourages Australian youth to access the educational and vocational resources needed to secure meaningful employment. Skytrans was a valued sponsor of Ngethn o’. Kowanyama thanks Airport Manager, David Durst, Rebecca Hyde and Johnathon Thurston of Skytrans for their valued support of both the Algngga and Ngethn o’ cultural events. Kowanyama thanks


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