Mona Mona people fight Qld government land grab

By Hamish Chitts

In the small community of Mona Mona, just north of Cairns, some 150 people met last December 9 with Linda Aplet, the director-general of the Queensland government’s Department of Communities. Aplet told the gathering that 1600 hectares of Mona Mona land would be reduced to a mere 100 ha, to be held in trust by Mona Mona people, while the bulk of the land would be made into a national park. The people of Mona Mona would no longer be able to live on their land and would be allowed to camp on the 100 ha only on weekends.

This decision was a complete surprise to residents, who angrily rejected this attempt as another in a long line of injustices visited upon them and their ancestors by the governments of Queensland and Australia. “We’re not going to be bullied any more. We’ve been bullied all our lives”, responded Mona Mona Action Group chairperson Gerald Hobbler.

In far north Queensland in 1913, large numbers of predominantly Djabugay people were rounded up and forcibly taken to the Seventh Day Adventist-run Mona Mona Mission. Reserves and missions were set up throughout Queensland under the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (1897). This act was a response to some new colonial-settlers’ uneasiness at the outright slaughter being perpetrated by other white settlers and the Queensland Native Police against Aboriginal people to clear land for white settlers.

Under the guise of protection, the act enabled the colonial authorities to remove Aboriginal people forcibly from land useful to the occupiers and place them in church- or government-run prisons. Until the 1970s, mission superintendents and their superiors had complete control over Aboriginal people’s lives, including where they lived, where they worked and who they could marry. At Mona Mona, the mission authorities used unpaid Aboriginal labour to cut and mill timber and farm the land.

In 1962, Mona Mona Mission was closed, and some of its residents were forcibly removed to Palm Island, which was used by the Queensland government as a penal colony for Aborigines who resisted the occupiers’ laws. From the late 1960s, some Djabugay people and former residents moved back to Mona Mona and built houses. Since that time, the people of Mona Mona have been completely neglected by the Queensland government, which for decades has failed to provide basic infrastructure like running water or electricity, not to mention assistance with housing.

On the Djabugay Community website, resident Judi Enoch said after the December 9 meeting: “I take offence to the fact that is suggested that we, Indigenous People, do not have the capacity to manage (our own) land. We have done this for generations. Mona Mona people are entitled to amenities like water, power, sewage and housing just as any other Australian. This is a social justice issue that these rights are being denied to us here in Mona Mona.” The community has said it won’t shift and drafted a resolution declaring: “As a result of the Mona Mona meeting dated December 9th 2008 ... it is clear that the Mona Mona people will not move from Mona Mona and that we outrightly reject the carve-up of Mona Mona lands. Further negotiations are required with government to ensure the preservation of the approximately 1600 hectares of Mona Mona reserve for cultural, historical and residential purposes under a Mona Mona trusteeship.”

On February 23, a meeting was held between the defiant Mona Mona Action Group and the Queensland government departments still keen to steal their land. Afterwards Glenis Grogan from the Mona Mona Action Group said of the government, “They came to the meeting to implement the decisions” made previously.

For more information or to offer support, visit the Facebook group Save the Town of Mona Mona or email ngoonbi@optusnet.com.au.