In 1891 the Presbyterian Church established a mission at Mapoon, on the western side of Cape York, just north of Aurukun. Presbyterian missionaries were declared Protectors of Reserves under supervision and received subsidies from the Queensland Department of Native Affairs.
The initial impetus to close Mapoon mission came from a 1953 meeting between the Presbyterian Church and the Queensland Government when the Aboriginal and Foreign Missions Committee ‘was advised that no further aid would be forthcoming for Mapoon unless the Church’ rehabilitated the mission buildings and made the mission ‘more self-supporting by her industries’.
When deposits of the aluminium ore bauxite were discovered in the 1950s by mining companies Comalco and Alcan, the pressure to rationalise missions grew. Between 1954 and 1963, the Presbyterian Church proposed closing the Mapoon mission, attributing the decision to a lack of water supplies, poor soils for agriculture with no prospect of alternative industries on the land.
Arrangements were made to merge Mapoon and Weipa missions and by 1960 the decision was made to transfer people to Bamaga and Cape York, where the Government had been building the replacement community to be known as New Mapoon.
On 14 November 1963, Director of Native Affairs Patrick Killoran instructed the Officer-in-Charge of Police on Thursday Island to remove 23 residents from Mapoon to Bamaga. There was a campaign of passive resistance from the remaining Aboriginal men. Police forcibly removed the men because at that stage they had no legislated right of appeal against the removal order. Aboriginal people weren’t even allowed to vote in Queensland until 1965.
Traditional owners of the lands did what they could to keep the Mapoon community intact, but within 6 months the remaining 71 residents left Mapoon. The Queensland Government then forced Mapoon to close, burning down the settlement’s church and surrounding homes.
Both the Presbyterian Church administration and the Queensland Government refused to listen to the people’s requests to keep operating the mission or to move it to a place of the people’s choosing. Soon after the mission’s closure, former residents began lobbying to reopen Mapoon, with several families returning in 1974.
The Marpuna Community Aboriginal Corporation was established in the 1980s to rebuild the community for permanent resettlement and government recognition that Mapoon is the land of the First Peoples. A Deed of Grant of Land in Trust was granted on 26 April 1989 for ‘Aboriginal Reserve Purposes’ under the Queensland Land Act, handing over 1,839 sq. km of land to the Mapoon people from the Queensland Government. The land is now administered by trustees in partnership with the Mapoon Aboriginal Council.
In 1989 the Uniting Church in Australia’s (UCA) Assembly Standing Committee adopted a resolution to rejoice with the Mapoon community who after 25 years of forced resettlement were returning to their land and township. Former Uniting Church President Sir Ronald Wilson apologised to the Mapoon community in 1990 for the UCA predecessor church’s failure to do more to stop such a flagrant human rights abuse.
Local government elections in Queensland supported the formation of the Mapoon Aboriginal Council in 2000, administering over the lands alongside trustees appointed by the Queensland Government. The Mapoon Aboriginal Council is working to develop Mapoon into a more sustainable community with the employment and training opportunities for local Indigenous people.
Why is the Uniting Church having a national appeal for Mapoon?
Building a new church in Mapoon is an important act of reconciliation in the spirit of our covenanting relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).
We are calling on members to give to this appeal and strengthen our spiritual bond with the First Peoples of this nation.
The Uniting Church in Australia is committed to pastorally supporting the communities of Mapoon and working with them to address the injustices they have faced.
The Mapoon community needs a restored centre for Christ’s healing ministry, and we can only fulfill this goal with your generous gifts.
Our 14th Triennial Assembly meeting in Perth adopted a resolution to officially launch and support the Mapoon Appeal.
A Mapoon resident at the time of eviction, Jean Jimmy shared her story of dispossession and stolen wages under the orders of Patrick Killoran, Director of Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland. (this program contains the voices of Aboriginal people who’ve passed away)
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly Resolutions
ASC 1989 Resolution 89.13 Mapoon Community
ASC July 2001 Minute 01.22 Mapoon Appeal