In the early 1960s, the land where the Mapoon Presbyterian Mission was located was found to contain large quantities of bauxite, a valuable mineral. As a result, residents of the Mission were pressured to relocate to allow the land to be mined. In 1962, 162 people lived in the Mission and by July 1963, only around 60 residents remained (Queensland Government, 2015).
On 15 November 1963, a group of armed police officers forcibly removed the last 23 Indigenous residents from the Mission (Queensland Government, 2015). The Mission was then dismantled and set alight, destroying existing homes and small businesses and preventing residents from returning. The residents were relocated to Bamaga, approximately 200km north of the Mission.
The Mapoon Mission was first established in 1891 by Moravian Church missionaries. Many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and taken to the Mission to be assimilated in the Presbyterian school (Queensland Government, 2015). The Mission was significantly underfunded throughout its history, which caused health problems, housing shortages and sanitation issues (Queensland Government, 2015).
Throughout the early 1900s, many Indigenous people lived at the Mapoon Mission. Despite the harsh conditions of the Mission, Indigenous people were able to pass their traditions and cultural practices through the generations. One resident, Rachel Peter, explained her connection to the Mission stating: ‘I was born here, my father was born here, my mother, my great grandparents. This is our tribal land. I hope we will never leave this place…’ (Solidarity, 2008). According to Historian Geoff Wharton, the Mission was ‘a place of refuge’ where residents practised aspects of their ‘traditional lifestyles’ (Armbruster, SBS, 2013).
In the 1960s, at the start of the mining boom, the Mission’s land was found to contain bauxite. Around the same time this discovery was made, funding to the Mission was withdrawn to encourage the residents to relocate. The Indigenous residents were not consulted about the closure of the Mission (Armbruster, SBS, 2013). While a number of residents voluntarily relocated, others campaigned strongly against their forcible removal from their traditional land.
Following the closure of the Mission in 1964, former residents, led by Jean Jimmy, lobbied for the original Mission to be reopened. She remembers the destruction of the Mission as a ‘real cruelty [because] it was a very beautiful place…’ (Armbruster, SBS, 2013).
In 1991, the Presbyterian Church issued a formal apology to the Indigenous people impacted by the destruction of the Mission (Armbruster, SBS, 2013). In 2000, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie issued an apology in Parliament and gave the community local government council status (SBS). This allowed the Mapoon community to elect councillors and form an autonomous Mapoon Aboriginal Council under The Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984 (Qld), giving residents greater control over local matters. Since attaining local government status, the Mapoon community has grown and some of the original residents returned decades after their forced removal (Solidarity, 2008).
In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the Mission, Mayor Peter Guivarra emphasised that ‘more should be done [especially for] the older people, the ones removed’ from the Mission (Armbruster, SBS, 2013). Many Mission residents never received compensation for their removal and are still waiting for justice (Solidarity, 2008).