SEEKING A VOICE: Woppaburra Elders and families at the official NAIDOC event on Monday on North Keppel Island.
SEEKING A VOICE: Woppaburra Elders and families at the official NAIDOC event on Monday on North Keppel Island. Malcolm Wells

OPINION: NAIDOC exhibition gives chance to reflect

By Malcolm Wells

FOR the past three years I have attended the march and flag-raising ceremony in Yeppoon to mark the beginning of NAIDOC Week.

This year I was invited to join a group of Woppaburra Elders and other descendants at the opening of an exhibition on Konomie (North Keppel Island).

The exhibition was designed to complement the theme of this year's NAIDOC - voice, treaty and truth.

The day began on the beach with a Welcome to Country from some Woppaburra women Elders, followed by a flag-raising ceremony and a minute's silence to remember their ancestors.

We moved up to Bluff Hill, with a stunning view across the bay to the mainland, for the unveiling of a sculpture by Woppaburra artist Lin Jordan.

The humpback whale, or mugga mugga, is the totem of the Woppaburra people, and Lin's impressive whale tail sculpture honours that connection with one of the most popular visitors to our coast.

We also viewed a moving exhibition of photos and stories of the Woppaburra First Nation people who inhabited these islands before colonists arrived.

The old photos, many transformed from black and white to colour, provide a poignant insight into the life and times of these people.

They suffered more than 40 years of colonial settlement before the last 16 survivors were forced from their homeland altogether in 1902.

They were put on a train at Emu Park and taken away, never to return.

Woppaburra descendant Christine Doherty, who put the exhibition together, told me that while she wanted people to remember the past, the idea behind this year's theme was that we should all work together for a shared future.

There is the hope that when the truth of past times is shared and acknowledged, reconciliation can heal the rifts.

In my work with Landcare, we also believe that only by working together can we get ahead, and we are working with several organisations to bring about much-needed change to our environment.

It was therefore great to see all the different organisations that worked together to help bring this great event about. The hosts, North Keppel Island Environmental Education Centre (NKIEEC) and Queensland Parks and Wildlife, were major contributors, and the CQUniversity office of the Vice-Chancellor and Office of Indigenous Engagement played a big part.

The Coast Guard was also involved in the event.

Not only did I spend Monday there, on Tuesday, when the NKIEEC vessel Gundoo Spirit took community members over, I returned to the island with Marilyn and five people from Landcare. All were moved by the exhibition, and those who had never been to the island before were struck by the beauty of the place.

I have visited three of the Keppel Islands more than 20 times and it is my hope to visit more of them.

It is easy to see why the Woppaburra love and cherish the islands, and I only hope we don't destroy any of them with rampant commercialism and overdevelopment.