The Hidden History of the Islands in the Bay

Through serendipity, I was invited by a local Brisbane-ite to accompany her to visit her mother, a fount of local knowledge. Nothing unusual about that except for the fact that her mother is Indigenous and lives on an island in Moreton Bay, near Brisbane.

We took a ferry from the Redland Marina on a sunny spring day, to the main islands of the region. Journeying by ferry is highly symbolic to me, reminiscent of the sacred journeys of the gods and goddesses from mythology who voyaged between worlds, and of course I’m always reminded of the wonderful story of the ferryman who transported travellers across the river Styx from life to the otherworld. But enough of such musings! I looked around the ferry at my fellow travellers; they seemed to be mostly locals with their shopping trolleys, small dogs who shaked with fear on the owners’ laps and even noticed a woman with a bag of (live) chickens! They seemed to be returning from the mainland with their supplies. Their conversations were loud, uninhibited and jovial, but turned serious when with the discussion of ongoing construction on the island. The last time I had taken a ferry trip was in Sydney, to Dangar Island on the Hawkesbury. This was to be a very different journey to that previous one.

We stopped firstly at Karragara island then quickly sped off to Macleay and then our destination, Lamb island where we were warmly welcomed by the local wise woman and elder.

Over a cuppa, I learnt about the Indigenous history of the four islands.

Karragara was the island where gay Indigenous men lived, Macleay was where corroborees (ceremonies)were held. Russell, the largest island was the place of mourning the dead and performing burial rites whereas Lamb, where I was standing, was the place of birthing and women’s business. Did I imagine the nurturing feel to the place when I first arrived? Later after our enlightening meeting, we took the return ferry but stopped off briefly at Russell island.What a different quality of feeling! There was a sharp, morose aspect to it.

After returning home, I continued to reseach the islands. Much mention is made of the colonial occupation and the renaming of the islands with only some mention of the original occupants, the Quandamooka peoples. But this is modern day Australia; we are still insecure and downright uncomfortable with the Indigenous history of this land which contains the oldest continuing culture in the world. What a shame we can’t be more proud of it! But then we would have to own up to the hidden history, with its terrors and treasures.

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