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To be resilient
For me as a young generation coming through, I can feel our youth ... are very resilient to what our late ancestors have been through ... It’s a sort of skill that us as the next generation coming through have learnt over the years – to be resilient.
Nicholas Thompson, Gudang, 2014
Colonial authorities established Somerset on Gudang country in 1864. It was planned to be the administrative centre for the Torres Strait region, but this remote colony on the tip of Cape York became a violent place presided over by the infamous Jardine family. A missionary report noted that ‘Jardine ruled with a Terry rifle with 47 notches on its stock’.
William Kennett, an Englishman who briefly worked at Somerset, attempted to mediate the violence between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the colonists. He took great interest in local culture, collecting objects, taking photographs and learning the languages.
Despite Kennett’s work, people today only remember the ‘Jardine time’. It’s always beautiful here. Can’t live here though, that history too recent. Every time we visit, that history right there.
Aunty Maryann Mayor, Gudang Elder, 2014
William Kennett was one of two staff at the short-lived ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts’ mission at Somerset. In a letter to Augustus Wollaston Franks dated 29 January 1870, he claimed to have amassed what he believed to be a ‘complete’ collection, ‘comprising every weapon, article of dress, or ornament etc. used or manufactured by those natives’.
Upon his return to England, Kennett displayed these objects and photographs at the Manchester Missionary Exhibition of 1869–70. It was from here that Franks purchased the material, including this headband, for the British Museum.
Artist Colina Wymarra provides this insight into her work, Eyes of Innocence:
The story that my dad told me is when [Lieutenant] Cook sailed through the Torres Strait he put a flag on Possession Island. The Gudang are seafaring people and they often travel to the island and saw the 'cloth on a stick' stuck in the sand on the beach.
In their innocence, my people's innocence, they grabbed that and used it as a blanket and covering. 'Flag' was not a concept they knew of.
I painted the traditional Gudang woman as she covered herself and her baby in that cloth because they didn't know what that cloth was or what it meant or [has] come to mean centuries later.
Colina Wymarra, Gudang, 2014