Developers threaten First Nations people’s burial site at Deebing Creek

November 7, 2022
Deebing Creek protest. Photo: Still taken from NITV video on Deebing Creek Justice — Jarjumbah Protection Site/Facebook

Bulldozers entered the former Deebing Creek Aboriginal Mission on Ipswich’s southern outskirts on October 26. They were halted two days later when protesters held a smoking ceremony on the site.

Deebing Creek Aboriginal Mission has been occupied for three years by Traditional Owners to prevent developer AV Jennings from building hundreds of new homes on the 30 hectares of land, including a massacre site, that has never been publicly documented.

Gamilaraay man Deekay told Green Left that the community is seeking evidence for an alleged massacre at the Deebing Creek site. He has been occupying the site since early 2019 while running a campaign to protect it.

The Queensland government does not recognise that any massacre took place.

“For many generations, they have always passed on the stories of the massacres that occurred through all the different families, the different tribal language groups, the different nations and the story hasn’t changed.

“But the fight has.”

Deekay said there are “a lot of records” of people dying on site, but there “no record of the number of burials”.

“There are a lot of unmarked graves.”

In recent years, Yuggera Ugarapul Traditional Owners commissioned archaeologist Wayne Brennan to conduct ground-penetrating radar analysis in search of unmarked graves.

Brennan’s report found underground “anomalies” on the site where a white school teacher and many children are said to be buried. It determined these “could be due to an excavation taking place and then subsequently refilled”.

“They didn’t die of natural causes, they were murdered. We have evidence of that,” Deekay said. “The 1974 floods here, [in Brisbane] exposed a lot of the bones from the burial sites. They had to put them [the bones] back.”

In the mid 1980s, Greg Norman wanted to buy the parcel of the land to a build a golf course. “Maybe he didn’t know about the massacre, as it was never registered. We cannot go further without an anthropological dig.”

Mission created

Deebing Creek was started as a mission after Myora Mission, on Stradbroke Island, was closed down after “some of the nuns beat some of the children and, as a result, some died”.

“So they closed down that orphanage and the children were indentured into the mission at Deebing Creek.

“More people came into the mission under the Aboriginal Protection Act. Some of the local [residents] put in a complaint and they got the Mission moved to Purga [on the outskirts of Ipswich].”

But the land remained an Aboriginal Reserve.

“In the local language we call that place, Toolmoor. If you go into Ipswich, they have Tulmoor Place — different spelling,” Deekay said.

“There are some wild stories of how the Salvation Army put a Reverend Fuller in charge of the mob at Deebing Creek. He came from the Boer War. They had all the youth working, doing the agricultural labouring. They were sent to the reform schools, doing domestic labour and farm work. Basically, it was slave labour.

“The kids came to the Deebing Creek Mission from all over Queensland,” including from local tribes in Ipswich and the surrounding clans.

“Mob was brought to this area from Torres Strait Islands, as far north as the Cape and as far south as Northern New South Wales.

“These mobs were from different nations.

“There were also South Sea Islanders and Cantonese families there. It was part of the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act.

The developer AV Jennings is not planning to build on the former heritage-listed mission, nor on a First Nations cemetery, which was finally recognised after a campaign by First Nations people in the 1970s, led by Uncle Les Davidson.

However, it is planning to build in the surrounding bushland in which the unmarked remains of the ancestors of Yuggera, Gomeroi, Kamilaroi, Durumbal and other people who were forcibly brought there between 1892 and 1915.

Deebing Springs forms part of the Ripley Valley priority development area, listed by the Queensland government as “one of the largest urban growth areas in Australia”.

Deekay said that there is a bigger picture when it comes to First Nations' customary obligations.

Under its Native Title Act, the Queensland government forced two of the tribes to make a joint application. “When you merge two tribal societies with their own sets of lore, even if it’s the same customary lore within the language group, there is still a distinction.

“You might have a Saltwater Yugurra and a Freshwater Yugurra. When you merge two lores, both have to be in proportion. And that is not happening.”

He said they are trying different approaches, including occupying land and through legal means, “because some of the [forcibly removed] tribes still can’t get their lore recognised” in Deebing Creek.

Some tribes cannot use the Native Title Act, because they were forcibly taken to Deebing Creek from all over Queensland and NSW. It is not their country, Deekay said, meaning that their ancestors cannot apply under the Native Title Act for rights, even if they died and were buried there.

Complex situation

“It’s a complex situation. We are relying on international principles that every free nation has the right to claim for their dead in foreign territory.

“We are trying to get a set of principles stating that every tribe that has a connection to that place, whether by a direct loss or their story, is part of that history and should have a formal say.”

Deekay and others are trying to identify which nations are involved from the bones. They believe 50 different nations went through Deebing Creek.

Once that has been carried out, they want to rebury the bones on the appropriate Country. The Native Title Act can then be used to make a claim for the Ipswich local clans.

He is concerned that “The government is trying to keep it to local tribes only and not talk about the Cantonese families.

“I’ve got Cantonese blood. That was my family on the mission. Not an immediate [ancestor], but I’m from that same family last name.

“That’s why I’m standing on the principle that we must not be left in this spiritual vacuum.

“We are working with Professor David Lambert, who sequenced the ancient DNA for Mungo Man. There’s a slim chance they are going to be dealing with a massacre of all the mobs, because of the different tribes involved.

“We need to have all the tribes consulted. We are trying to form a Repatriation Committee [to get the bones of all the ancestors identified and properly buried on their own country] from all the different parties.

“Just on the site where we are, the oral histories will tell you there are 64 kids buried there.

“I have been here over 1000 days. We are protecting our old people. We are not hurting anybody. There’s no respect for our people.

“Justice needs to be done.”

[Deebing Creek Traditional Owners are asking activists to come to the site to stop further desecration. Follow Deebing Creek Justice — Jarjumbah Protection Site on Facebook.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.