The First Residents

Since moving to the beautiful paradise known as Central Queensland last October and calling Mackay home, I have been interested in exploring the local and surrounding areas.

I have been pleasantly surprised with the vast diversity that the region has to offer and in the neighbouring Whitsundays.

Having spent 29 of my 31 years living in country NSW (aka The Bush) I guess I appreciate more the fact that I can be at one of many amazing beaches within a matter of minutes.

It’s not uncommon for me to grab my fishing rod and head to the sand, take the footy for a kick, go for a run or even just chill out.

Heading inland for a short hike in the rainforest to swim at the waterfall at Finch Hatton Gorge is another natural delight along with the drive north to marvel at the tropical wonderlands of the Whitsundays.

All terrains naturally glorified to resemble postcards and advertise to the world what amazing geographical wonders “The Lucky Country” has to offer (…when it’s not Cyclone Season).

During a recent drive north along the Bruce Highway to Airlie Beach for a fishing trip with my housemate Aaron, we got talking about a small town just outside of Mackay called Leap, or “The Leap” as some locals may call it.

There isn’t much there really, just a few houses and a pub. Outside the pub is a large statue of a dark woman holding a baby rugged up in a blanket.

Initially I had no idea what the woman was holding and Aaron informed me of the small child and of the story behind the whole thing.

The woman was from 1 of the 6 Aboriginal tribes in the area known as the first settlers and the story went way back to the late 1800′s.

Those who know me are aware of the love I have for history and having a mother with an Aboriginal father further fuelled my curiosity and desire to research the true story behind Leap.

Most historical documents I discovered online were a little hazy on the events that shaped this small community but the outcome was all the same. I take it political verses local stories were somewhat mixed and altered or even confused over the last 140 plus years.

The following information was produced by mackayhistory.org – it is the history of Leap – “The First Residents”.

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Before White Settlement in the Mackay District there were at least 6 main Aboriginal tribal groupings in region.

George Bridgman who established the first Aboriginal Reserve on land between Bakers Creek and Sandy Creek in 1871 was the first to describe the tribal groups around the Mackay Area.

The Yuipera’s territory was in the town area, the Kungulburra were established between Port Mackay and Broadsound; Toolginburra were located west of the coastal strip in land over the Connors Range and the Googaburra were the tribe that inhabited the Islands off the coast.

An early group of Mackay Tribal Aborigines late 1800s. (Mackay Historical Society Archive No. 85-327)

Later research namely by the late Norman Tindale in the middle part of the 1900’s,  described the groups as the following Juipera, Wiri, Biria, Jangga, Barna and Barada; which are the names they are commonly recognised by today.

The boundaries tended to follow natural features such as rivers and mountain ranges, things that were easy to recognise, as it was to invite swift and fatal retribution for crossing the boundaries.

The Juipera people were the most dominant in the area around Mackay City on the coast from St. Helens to Cape Palmerston and inland to the Connor’s Range.

It was estimated that in 1860 each of the tribes would have numbered about 500 persons made up of several families.

After 40,000 years, the precise number that a tribal area could support had been established and was strictly observed.

It is not known how the boundaries were established, however early researchers point out that only enough country was claimed to support the tribe.

In rich areas such as rainforest or coastal lowlands, the tribal areas were smaller than in the open country of the inland. Social mixing of the tribes was not common.

After white settlement, most Europeans failed to recognise tribal boundaries and hunting rights. Dispossession of the land resulted in physical hardship and spiritual confusion.

Faced with the grim prospect of starvation or warfare, many tribes turned to the white man’s herds to replenish food supplies.

Resulting conflict and disease decimated the population Mount Mandurana now known more commonly as “The Leap” located about 20km’s north of Mackay was the scene of a sad tale of the conflict between the early white settlers and the Aboriginals.

There have been many conflicting stories of what happened but the story goes somewhat like this:-

Early in 1867, John Greenwood Barnes was speared in the arm after an aboriginal attack.  Barnes resided at Cremorne, which was a ceremonial ground for the Juipera, and it appears he was harassed on many occasions, not surprisingly for trespassing on sacred ground.

Due to the attack on Barnes, a contingent on Native Mounted Police (NMP) were active in the ‘dispersal’ of many Aborigines on the North Side of the Pioneer River.

According to folklore a local aboriginal woman with her baby in her arms leapt from the western escarpment of Mt. Mandurana to her death, trying to escape the pursuing NMP, however the baby survived.

There are conflicting versions of the story in that the woman was thrown over the cliff by the NMP, or she committed suicide as the child was a half-caste child and she was a victim of domestic violence.

We may however never know the real story.

The child was adopted by the family of James Ready, an early settler of the area and was baptised ‘Johanna’ on 22 July 1867. Johanna married an Englishman George Howes and had three children.

It is unknown exactly what happened to Johanna but it appears she died on 25 December 1897 and was buried in the Mackay Cemetery.

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