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Rockingham Bay, Queensland

Bandjin, Djiru, Girramay, Gugu Badhun, Gulnay, Jirrbal, Nywaigi, Warrgamay, Warungnu country

Guerilla warfare

There was like guerilla warfare that was going on along the coast here and the islands ... but not many people know about ’em ... They think it’s in the past, you know, like 150 years is a long time ... It’s nothing, 150 years.

Leonard Andy, Djiru Traditional Owner, 2012

A waterway lined with trees on both sides. The surface of the waterway looks rocky; the bank on the left is very rocky.
Bandjin, Djiru, Girramay, Gugu Badhun, Gulnay, Jirrbal, Nywaigi, Warrgamay, Warungnu country, Rockingham Bay, Queensland. Tourism and Events Queensland.

The rainforest peoples of far north coastal Queensland fought a guerilla war against colonists in the 1860s. Lives and cultures were violently disrupted, in an episode of history that continues to reverberate among local communities.

wooden shield
Shield collected from Rockingham Bay by John Ewen Davidson in 1866–68, 99.8 x 42.5 cm. British Museum Oc.7696.

Scottish-born John Ewen Davidson collected the shield (opposite) and the sword club and basket on show in Encounters after he came to Rockingham Bay in 1866 to establish a sugar plantation. He began as a shocked observer of the violence of the occupation, yet within six months he was part of it.

Aboriginal people living in the area today have ancestors who died in these conflicts and they continue to struggle with a history in which whole families and clans perished. For people today, these objects remain tied to that painful moment in their history.

I could never understand how a person with Christian values could do that type of thing. Bring that fella back. I would like to have a talk with him.

Ernie Grant, Jirrbal Elder, 2012

Artists from the region still recreate and re-imagine traditional objects, invigorating their continuing culture.

Old objects

In 1872 Davidson presented to the British Museum 12 objects from northern Queensland, including this shield and the sword club and basket.

Davidson had arrived in Australia in 1865, and for two years unsuccessfully tried to establish a sugar plantation at Bellenden Plains, in the Rockingham Bay region. When Davidson collected these items, it was a time of escalating conflict between settlers – aided by the Queensland Native Police force – and Aboriginal people.

New objects

A photo of six painted clay sculptures with a black background
Bagu figures, by artists from the Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, Cardwell. Bandjin, Djiru, Girramay, Gugu Badhun, Gulnay, Jirrbal, Nywaigi, Warrgamay, and Warungnu peoples. National Museum of Australia. Photos: George Serras. From left:
Bagu figure 2010 by John Murray and Ninney Murray, 36 x 18 x 6cm.
Bagu figure 2011 by Nina Andy, 35 x 15 x 6 cm.
Bagu figure 2012 by George Beeron, 45 x 18 x 6.5cm.
Bagu figure 2012 by Nancy Cowan, 62 x 25 x 7.5cm.
Bagu figure 2011 by Nancy Beeron, 44 x 21 x 7.5cm.
Bagu figure 2011 by Eileen Tep, 25.5 x 9 x 6.5cm.

Bagu are only found in the rainforest region of far north Queensland. Part of traditional fire-making equipment, they were treasured items for life in the rainforest. Bagu have inspired local artists to make new sculptural forms using both contemporary and traditional materials. These bagu figures evoke the makers’ ancestors.

Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre
Artists at work in Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre in Cardwell, north Queensland. National Museum of Australia.
Leonard Andy. Terese and Claude Beeron.
(Left) Leonard Andy, Djiru Traditional Owner. (Right) Theresa Beeron, Jirrbal and Girramay Traditional Owner with Claude Beeron, Girramay Elder. National Museum of Australia.
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