Palm Island, also known as Great Palm Island, or by the Aboriginal name Bwgcolman, meaning ‘many tribes, one people’, is a tropical island with a resident community of about 5,000 people. The settlement is named Palm Island, Palm Island Settlement or Palm Community. The Island is situated 65 kilometres north-west of Townsville, on the east coast of Queensland, Australia, 800 kilometres north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It is the main island of the Greater Palm group, and consists of small bays, sandy beaches and steep forested mountains rising to a peak of 548 metres.
History of Palm Island
The Palm Island Group is home to the Traditional Owners, the Manbarra people – (Mun-burra) and the Indigenous Bwgcolman people and their descendants that were sent to the Palm Island mission from a number of communities around Queensland, Northern Territory and the Torres Strait. Palm Island was gazetted as an Aboriginal reserve in 1914 but it wasn’t until 1918 Aboriginal people were sent to the Island. Since 1918, representatives from over 70 tribes were displaced and sent to Palm Island.
In 2018 Palm Island commemorated the 100th anniversary of the forced placement of Aboriginal people on the Island. Hosted by the community and Council, a showcase of events was held between January and December to commemorate the past, present and future. One of the highlights of the commemorations was a new Guinness World Record for the largest corroboree ever held.
As part of the past commemorations, the IKC developed a Historical Exhibition outlining the significant history of this community. The Exhibition was housed in four shipping containers specially fitted out for the event and situated on the foreshore overlooking the jetty.
State Library of Queensland assisted Bwgcolman IKC, Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council and members of the 'Past' Organising Committee, alongside Queensland Museum, North Queensland office, who worked together to curate this exhibition with the installation of photos, videos and artefacts showcasing 100 years of life on Palm Island. Rare footage discovered by State Library’s Queensland Memory staff is now available online in State Library’s One Search catalogue.
In September 2018, State Library hosted an exhibition in kuril dhagun, titled Palm Island and our People, co-curated with members of the community to tell their history from their perspective.
To find out more information about the Exhibition, Palm Island and our People visit:https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/discover/exhibitions/palm-island-our-people
Photographs, stories and films provide visitors with the opportunity to learn the stories of endurance and self-determination in overcoming the complexities of the events that have shaped the community to what it is today.
The IKC is owned and operated by the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council (PIASC), providing a community space that builds community capacity through combining library services with a range of training, learning and information activities. These activities enable access to information knowledge and culture, developing the capacity of community members to participate in social and economic opportunities. The IKC has played a vital role as a historical information centre, connecting local community, and visitors with historical connections, with family history records.
In 2015, the IKC was relocated to its current location, the previous Council Administration Office.
Regina James, IKC Coordinator (pictured below), was appointed to the role in 2010 and is still working in the position today. Regina has transformed the IKC into a keeping place, striving to affirm and strengthen the Island’s unique history, as well as a vital source of local history information to assist with family history, preservation of artefacts and showcasing exhibitions.
Exploring the collection
If you’d like to explore some of State Library’s collection items relating to Palm Island, we have a few suggestions in the links below:
- Palm Island Voice is a community newsletter published monthly and available online.
- 31554 Alf Wilson photographs
529 digital photographs of contemporary community life on Palm Island, in Townsville, Cairns, Cooktown and regional Queensland. Photographs include sporting events, various races, historical reenactments, political events and community festivals. The collection includes 2006 protest photographs in Townsville and on Palm Island, when the then Premier, Peter Beattie, arrived to address the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision not to lay charges over the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee.
- 3387 Palm Island, the island of sunshine ca. 1952.
One reel of silent, colour 16mm film, approximately 60 minutes. The film was shot by Wal Deutscher and labelled Palm Island home move. The film shows footage of arriving at the island by boat and includes scenes of the harbour, street scenes, buildings, including the school and natural scenery. Also shows portraits of people and groups including school children, teachers, nurses, Scout groups, army cadets, men preparing for dances. Other activities shown include fishing, swimming, washing clothes in a stream, a football match, picking coconuts, construction of buildings, agriculture, beekeeping, dances and farming and reef life.
Celebrating 20 years of IKCs
In 2002, the first Indigenous Knowledge Centres (IKCs) were developed in partnership with then Aboriginal Community and Island Councils across Queensland. Seven IKCs were opened in 2002 with many more to follow over the years.
This year thirteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Shire and Regional Councils will celebrate the role their IKCs play in their communities; as libraries, meeting places, hubs and keeping places.