I think I mentioned that on Friday (15th) I was going to Palm Island for the 50th Anniversary of the strike. I know most people are completely unfamiliar with Palm Island, let alone with the strike of '57, so first, a bit of background...
Palm Island lies off the Queensland coast, and in the early 1900s it became a 'reserve' for Aboriginal people. Individuals and families from all over Queensland were sent there as punishment, usually for being disruptive or disobedient. Children were separated from their parents and forced to live in dormitories, everyone was forced to work for no wages, rations were paltry, and every movement was dictated by the white Superintendent of the Island.
In 1957, the people were tired of being jerked around. A few events can be credited with inspiring the strike, but it was really just a response to the ridiculous racism on the island and in Australia as a whole. So the people went on strike. Seven men were identified as the leaders, so they and their families were arrested in the middle of the night, loaded onto a boat, and taken off the island. And even though no major changes occurred as a result of the strike, the feeling was different on the island, according to a lot of people. Plus, all this occurred just before a huge civil rights push in the 60's and 70's in Australia, so things really did change pretty quickly.
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Strike, Palm Island hosted a weekend of festivities. A dormitory reunion was held for the children (now old people) who were separated from their parents. There was music, dancing, food, and fun. It was rainy and freezing, but that didn't stop anyone from celebrating!
Here is everyone, gathered in the PCYC hall, the only building big enough to fit so very many people.
The DescenDance troupe, a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island dancers from all over Australia, started off the performance. They are constantly off on world tours--immediately after leaving Palm Island, they headed over to Africa, and next they'll be touring the former Soviet states. They're a big deal. Plus, their (white) manager is vegan, so we had some interesting conversation about vegan travel on the ferry boat across.
They encouraged the kids, and anyone who wanted, to dance along with them.
Half the performers that danced at this event are actually from Palm Island. After every dance finished, the applause was deafening, and people yelled "Deadly!"
The kids on Palm Island were gorgeous, and all had show bags full of little toys to play with all day.
Lots of dogs wandered around, inside and outside. This guy leaned on my leg and let me pat him for a good hour.
Aunty Kate, an elder from Palm, got up to sing a song.
Olympic gold-medalist Cathy Freeman, whose mum is from Palm Island, introduced her new Cathy Freeman Foundation. Someone donated bicycles, and they will be given as prizes to the school student with the best attendance record (one for each of two schools).
To finish off the day, there was a play written by the daughter of one of the strike leaders. For Willie Thaiday, this scene depicts the straw that broke the camel's back. The Palm Island Matron cut his daughter's hair because it was too unruly. Willy argued with Roy, the superintendent, and was thrown in jail and fed only bread and water for two weeks.
After the strike, the men and their families were rounded up by the police and taken to Townsville, and then shipped to distant reserves all over Queensland.
I'll be going back to Palm, hopefully on a sunny weekend. I would like to see more of the island, meet people (and catch up with people I met during the trial), and just spend some time there. Palm Island has a pretty bad reputation, but what I've seen of it so far has been nothing but wonderful.