The Atherton Tableland and the coastal region inland from Cairns was first opened for white settlement about 1880, and after 1890 began to carry a large settled white population engaged in dairy-and-general-farming on the plateau, and sugar-cane farming on the coast. Although large areas remain of uncleared, rough mountain terrain, in large measure the natives have been led to abandon their nomadic habits and their dependence on hunting. Many of them have been compulsorily segregated on mission and government settlements at Yarrabah, Monamona and Palm Island.
Tindale and Birdsell (1942) p.1
As the people were forced to retreat to the inaccessible areas they lost the use of their full range of habitats. A local Police Commissioner was to report in 1879 that 'the natives (were) literally starving'. This deprivation no doubt precipitated the desperate actions that by all accounts led to a frontier warfare situation in many districts.
Sparse as European settlement was, speakers of Dyirbal were not treated kindly. Tribes were probably reduced to less than 20% of their pre-contact numbers within 20 years. European diseases to which the aborigines had no immunity, such as measles and influenza, were responsible for many deaths, but the major factor in decline in number was wholesale murder by the settlers.
Dixon (1972) p.35
"I was working near the 'Stables' in the scrub at Evelyn. Two policemen came out to me where I was working. They were concerned about the Aborigines. They had been to the big camp at Cressbrook at Evelyn, but had found no one there. The Sergeant asked me to guide them to where the Aborigines camped up in the scrub. This I did. But when we arrived we saw that the whole camp had died, forty or fifty of them, all dead from the Spanish flu."
Les Harrison quoted in Toohey (1990) p18
Ngadjonji elders say their tribe was decimated in numbers by miners and the Native Mounted Police Force before the turn of the century. The Native Mounted Police Force has been described by historian H. Reynolds as "the most violent organisation in Australian History." The Weekend Australian 11-12 March 1989 .
That such decimation occurred can be attested by the statement of William Day, a young Englishman of some education who was a collector of natural specimens for the Australian Museum and lived on the Russell River mining field (Boonji/Topaz) in 1891.
In June 1891, he sent Ramsay (Curator Aust. Museum) "two skulls of Bungee (Russell River) blacks....the last of their tribe as they all got shot,' and wished to know: "What is a perfect skeleton worth of a Russell River black?" Day also tried to meet a request for more specimen skulls, even though, as he informed Ramsay in November 1891, getting them was proving extremely hazardous; 'I do not know when I can get you more black curios as the blacks killed a miner and all are on the war path or whatever you call it in Australia." ( See Massacre for a Ngadjonji story of these events)
Loos (1992) p5
...it was the rainforest of the Atherton and Evelyn Tablelands that proved most important in the history of Aborigine-European relations in North Queensland. From 1884 to 1888, conflict became intense and the settlers' losses of animals and crops were unbearable. Aboriginal resistance in the rainforest found Queensland frontier policy wanting. In desperation, the selectors near Atherton urged the government to try to conciliate the rainforest Aborigines. In early 1889, a police constable with Aboriginal interpreters, after two months' efforts, made contact with the resisting rainforest Aborigines. He got them to agree to a truce; the Europeans would stop attacking the Aborigines and would supply them with food if the Aborigines ceased to attack.
Loos (1993) p17
Up to 1897, the Queensland Government's policy had been dispossession of Aborigines of their land by force. From 1897 the policy of protection by segregation was adopted.
Loos, (1993) p.29
The Ngadjonji elders thought this may be a band of Ngadjonji and Mamu in one of their camps c. 1921.
Under the provisions of the 1897 'Restriction of the Sale of Opium and Protection of Aboriginals Act' and subsequent Acts operative until 1971, aborigines could be committed to a reserve and detained there against their will, husbands could be separated from wives and children from mothers.
The 1901 Amendment Act gave the Protector of Aborigines the power to control the wages and property of Aborigines and half-castes placed under the control of the Act..... In March 1904, a regulation required that all except threepence or sixpence of the weekly wages of female Aborigines and half-castes be paid to a Protector, normally a police officer. The remainder was to be banked and held in trust for the Aborigines. In 1919, it was ruled that 75% of a single man's wage, and 30-50%of a married man's wage, and 80% of the wages of a boy under 18 had to be paid to the Protector. Aboriginal workers had to apply to the Protector if they wanted to use their own money.
Loos (1992) p26
If one wanted to get an Aboriginal or his wife to work for him, he simply went to the local police with an Aboriginal of his choice who was willing to work for him, signed him up to work for an agreed wage for an agreed period, and thereafter paid the wage, which was very low, to the police monthly, they were supposed to bank it for the worker, and dole out pocket money occasionally.......
They were terrified of being sent to mission stations, and for some reason (sic) Palm Island was regarded as the ultimate hell.
Short (1988) p.63
By the turn of the century some Ngadjonji men were employed on the land, felling the timber and clearing the forest for pastures and farming, fencing and working with stock. Ngadjonji women were often employed by a family to help with domestic chores and the milking. In the 1920's and 30's and again in the 1950's and 60's a tourist display was held in the Malanda Jungle, exhibiting the local skill of tree climbing and some cultural traditions.
(Photograph courtesy of Eacham Historical Society) Ngadjonji Tom Mitchell and Tom Fuller with other timbercutters c. 1920.
During this century up until the 1950's, Ngadjonji people were sent compulsorily to missions at Yarrabah (Cairns), Monamona (near Kuranda), Palm Island (off Townsville) and Woorabinda (Rockhampton). The World Council of Churches admitted in 1980 that although the missions protected some aboriginals from further murderous reprisals they had also largely destroyed the culture, by discouraging language, tribal tradition and, in some instances, family ties.
Less than a handful of families stayed in the Malanda area and some people who were sent away came back here. There are few surviving speakers of Ngadjon.
For the past thirty odd years members of the tribe, and in particular the late Mrs Molly Raymont, have worked with various academics to record some of the tribe's enormous knowledge of the forest and some of their language. In 1997 the Malanda Aboriginal Reserve was presented to the Ngadjonji by the Queensland Government.
The late Molly Raymont
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