Follow the link for more information. This article is about the community. For reputation management doorley pdf island on which the community is located, see Great Palm Island.
Palm Island is often termed a classic “tropical paradise” given its natural endowments, but it has had a troubled history since the European settlement of Australia. The community created by this history has been beset by many problems and has often been the discussion point of political and social commentators. Of significant sociological concern is a lack of jobs and housing. Since its creation as an Aboriginal reserve, Palm Island has been considered synonymous with Indigenous disadvantage and violence. In Manbarra beliefs the Palm Island group were formed in the Dreamtime from the broken up fragments of an ancestral spirit, Rainbow Serpent. The island was named by explorer James Cook in 1770 as he sailed up the eastern coast of Australia on his first voyage.
It is estimated that the population of the island at the time of Cook’s visit was about 200 Manbarra people. From the 1850s locals were recruitment targets to leave the island to be involved with bêche-de-mer and pearling enterprises with Europeans and Japanese. By the end of the 19th century the population had been reduced to about 50. In 1916 Queensland’s Chief Protector of Aborigines found Palm Island to be “the ideal place for a delightful holiday’ and that its remoteness also made it suitable for use as a penitentiary” for “individuals we desire to punish”.
In 1914 the Government established an Aboriginal settlement on the Hull River near Mission Beach on the Australian mainland. By the early 1920s, Palm Island had become the largest of the Government Aboriginal settlements. Administrators found its location attractive as Aboriginal people could be isolated, but Palm Island quickly gained a reputation amongst Aborigines as a penal settlement. On arrival, children were separated from their parents and then segregated by gender. Aborigines were forbidden to speak their language and from going into “white” zones.
Every day activity was highly controlled by administrators including nightly curfews and the vetting of mail. In the 1930s a local doctor highlighted malnutrition on the island, and demanded that the Government triple rations for the islanders and that children be provided with fruit juice, but the request was denied. A bell tower was built to dictate the running of the mission. Those who failed to line up had their food allocation cut. At nine each evening the bell would ring again signalling the shutting down of the island’s electricity. The bell tower still stands in the local square to this day, a relic of Palm’s history.
Aborigines were sent there mainly for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The administrators had complete and unaccountable control over the lives of residents, punishments included the shaving of the girls’ heads. Dear Lucy, Your letter gave me quite a shock, fancy you wanting to draw four pounds to buy a brooch, ring, bangle, work basket, tea set, etc, etc. On 26 October 1986 ownership of the island was transferred to a newly formed Palm Island Community Council under a Deed of Grant in Trust from the Queensland government. Self-appointed “president” of Palm Island, Jeremy Geia, symbolically declared independence from Australia in 2001. The “Peoples Democratic Republic of Palm Island” was an expression of grievances against the Australian and Queensland Governments for neglect of Palm Islanders.
In 2001 The Palm Island State Emergency Services Cadet Group was formed. Like the other Aboriginal Shire Councils that were created, this Act gave the Council full status as a Local Government on a par with other Councils in Queensland. On 3 February 1930, the Superintendent of the settlement shot and wounded two people, and set fire to several buildings, killing his two children. Later in the day, the Superintendent was shot dead. An official inquiry by the Queensland Attorney General followed. In July 1943 the US Navy built a Naval Air Station at Palm Island, with facilities to operate and overhaul Catalina flying boats and patrol boats.
A 1,000 man camp was constructed at the point. Concrete flying boat ramps to the ocean were built with a tarmac parking area for up to 12 flying boats. Moorings for 18 flying boats were provided in Challenger Bay, and 3 nose hangars were also built. Coral aggregate from coral reefs at low tide was used to manufacture concrete. A series of fuel tanks were constructed to hold 60,000 barrels of aviation fuel.
Steel rail lines were installed to launch the PBY Catalinas back into the water. By September 1943 the majority of the facilities were finished, and large numbers of operational and maintenance personnel began to arrive to commission the station. The Palm Island US Naval Air Station was fully operational from 25 October 1943, and could repair an average of four aircraft per day. The last personnel of the 55th Seabees left Palm Island on 8 November 1943. US Navy Patrol Squadron 101, Patrol Wing 10, with 8 PBY Catalinas as briefly stationed at Palm Island in December 1943, before relocating to Perth. US Navy Patrol Squadron VP-11 arrived at the station in late December 1943 where they were taken off combat duties. The squadron comprised 13 PBY-5 Catalinas, 46 officers and 99 enlisted men.
They carried out training and routine flights between Port Moresby, Samarai and Brisbane. The Naval Air Station closed in May 1944. The remains of the steel rails and submerged wrecks of a number of Catalinas can still be seen today. Live ammunition is occasionally found by locals. All Islanders were required to work 30 hours each week, and up until the 1960s no wages were paid for this work. The catalyst for the strike was the attempted deportation of Indigenous inmate Albie Geia who committed the offence of disobeying the European overseer. Seven families were banished from the Palm Island in 1957 for taking part in a strike organised to protest against the Dickensian working conditions imposed by the Queensland Government under the reserve system.
In a 2007 commemorative ceremony the Queensland Government apologised to the surviving wives of two of the strikers for the actions of the Government in the 1950s. In 1985 then Associate Professor of Sociology Paul Wilson published a criminological analysis of criminal statistics averaged over the period of January 1977 to May 1984. Wilson considered the Palm Island rates to be a gross underestimate, as the figures provided by the Legal Aid Office only counted cases that went to court, whereas the Queensland rates, provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, were based on reported incidents. Wilson attributed the extreme crime rates to historical, social, economic, housing and educational factors, and an “alcohol culture” that perceived not drinking to be antisocial.