Maria Queen of Childers

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Users are advised that this Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander material may contain culturally sensitive imagery and descriptions which may not normally be used in certain public or community contexts. Annotation and terminology which reflects the creator's attitude or that of the era in which the item was created may be considered inappropriate today. This material may also contain images, voices or names of deceased persons.

This blog is an introduction to the history of "Queen Maria" and to share associated collections from the John Oxley Library. This blog is not a definitive family history and does not support any native title claims. 

In the early 1900’s Maria "Queen of Childers" was an iconic Aboriginal woman living in the Childers community.  It is questionable, due to a range of feedback we have received, which Aboriginal group Maria was associated with. It could be either the Badtjala (Butchulla), Dundubara or Kabi Kabi groups. Regardless of her group, the place with which Maria is associated is the town of Childers.

Maria, Queen of Childers, 1917. Negative number 22517. Copy Prints - Aboriginals - Childers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Some people believe Maria was a Badtjala woman, this group is associated with K’gari (Fraser Island), Howard, Maryborough, Bauple, Rainbow Beach, and Cooloola.  Their neighbouring groups were the Gubbi Gubbi and Gureng Gureng

The town of Childers is associated with the Gubbi Gubbi group yet Maria, who was not a Gubbi Gubbi woman, was declared by European settlers as the “Queen” of the area. It's hard to clarify why this occurred. One explantation is from 1847 to 1853 the Gubbi Gubbi and Badtjala warriors fought together to drive the new European settlers from their land and an alliance between the two groups could have formed. Another explanation could be when the Protector of Aborigines for Southern Queensland, Archibald Meston, was rounding up Badtjala people to be sent to the Bogimbah Creek Mission on K’gari (Fraser Island) Maria could have hid in the Childers area and the European settles assumed she was associated with the Gubbi Gubbi group. By 1904 the population of Maria's people, the Badtjala, had been devastated on K’gari (Fraser Island) from 2,000 to 168. These remaining people were then removed north to Yarrabah mission or south to Durundur near Caboolture. Interestingly, around 20 people were left to 'find their own way'.

In pre-federation times, European colonial settlers presented breastplates (also called 'kingplates' or regalia) to perceived Aboriginal tribal leaders but more than likely the were given to recipients who were seen as useful or respected in the area. The kingplate was a metallic crescent-shaped plaque worn around the neck of Aboriginal “kings” in the community. It was a rarity for an Aboriginal woman to receive this acknowledgement. James Butler, a local solicitor, gifted Maria a kingplate that simply stated "Maria, Queen of Childers", which allowed her a certain status within the Childers community. Because of this rarity Maria appeared in lots of photographs during her life, something very useful to historians today.

 Maria, "Queen of Childers", Queensland, ca. 1908. 4831 Postcard Collection. Image number 4831-0001-0028. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The photograph above of Maria has been seen as controversial but it is a beautiful and powerful image of Maria, Queen of Childers and her breastplate. The caption reads:

This royal lady with a smile, Extends a dark lean hand, "You gibbet tickpense, me bin queen, Of all this bloomin land".

The caption could be interpreted negatively - that Maria was a beggar - however it could also be interpreted as Maria asking for a "sixpence" for the rent or purchase of her land. From a modern perspective, Maria could have been seeking acknowledgement of Aboriginal land rights in 1908, an issue that did not gain momentum until the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act. 

Maria, "Queen of Childers". Copy Prints - Aboriginals - Childers. Negative number 121554. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Maria lived in a shack by the Childers Court House and occasionally camped on Noakes Lookout near the Childers Hospital with other Aboriginal people. Even though Maria was declared a "Queen", she was not seen as a citizen of Australia at the time and could not access a pension or government support, she could also at any time be evicted and sent to a mission far from her country. Maria's life and trials are worthy of more research by Queensland historians.

It was reported that Maria had three children, Lucy, Cobbo and Woppi.  It was also reported that Maria may not have given birth to all the children but may have traditionally adopted them or she was actually the children's grandmother. Either way it did not matter as for all intents and purposes Maria was their mother.

Cobbo and Woppi were understood to be excellent horsemen and great runners, competing in local sports carnivals. Cobbo also played cricket, which could explain in the photograph below why Maria was photographed with the local Childers Cricket team.

Childers 1910 cricket team. Negative number 155911. Copy Prints - Cricket - Childers. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Maria, "Queen of Childers"

Left: Copy Prints - Aboriginals - Childers. Negative number 171120, John Oxley. Library, State Library of Queensland.
Right: Copy Prints - Aboriginals - Childers. Negative number 49492, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Maria "Queen of Childers" is still very much of interest to the public. Below is a photograph of her at the Childers train station. The photograph was shared on the Cherbourg Aboriginal Community Facebook group. 

Facebook post by Colleen Paton shared on the Cherbourg Aboriginal Community Facebook group May 2017.

The photograph used in the post may relate to a cattle stealing case where Maria was asked to attend a court trial as a witness, mentioned in Horses and Riders of Yesterday, Maryborough Chronicle, 13th March 1945 on page 2, quoting:

Maria (Queen of Childers), who was no mean horse woman.  Maria was once a chief witness in a cattle stealing case and when the Sergeant of Police put her on the train at Childers, the train shunted and Maria jumped off, and nothing would persuade her to get on the train again. She remarked. "Me be there at Bundaberg to-morrow. Yarraman (Aboriginal Wakka Wakka word for horse), he take him me." She was there all right.

Horses and Riders of Yesterday, Maryborough Chronicle, 13th March 1945, pg 2

This was amazing horsemanship as the journey was around 50 kilometres and undertaken during the night over rough terrain.

Maria's death was reported as "Queen Maria" dead in the Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser on 29 March1917, page 3. It was rare for an Aboriginal woman to have an obituary printed in the papers at the time. The article states that Maria passed away on 26 March 1917 at the Childers Hospital, at least 70 years old, and also mentions Maria’s meeting with the iconic escaped convict ”Durrumboi" (James Davis 1808-1889) when she was a young girl living with her tribe on the Noosa River. The obituary reads: 

To residents of Isis, as well as visitors from the neighbouring towns, ”Queen Maria of Childers” for such was the proud designation she laid claims to on her much-prized and highly-burnished name plate, has for years been a familiar figure about the streets of Childers, and not a few will be sorry to learn that the cheery old aboriginal woman has passed to the happy hunting grounds. She claimed to have known ”Durrumboi” an escaped convict, when she was only a piccaninny with her tribe, on the Noosa River, and at the time of her death Maria must have exceeded in length of years the allotted span of threescore and ten, although until quite recently remarkably active. She was of abstemious habits, eschewing “fire water”altogether, but was an ardent devotee of the soothing weed, of which she was always sure of a pipeful from one or other of her many white friends. For some months past the old “Queen” had been rapidly failing, and the end came quietly on Sunday last from a general break-up of the system – “Isis Recorder”.

Maria has a grave stone at Apple Tree Creek Cemetery, photograph below.

Cemetery Stone and resting place of "Queen" Maria . Photo contributed by Brian Thomson to the website Family History Search

This material contains Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander content, and has been made available in accordance with State Library of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections Commitments.



Newspaper articles

  • SOME PHOTOGRAPH NOTES FROM QUEENSLAND. (1910, December 31). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 31.
  • "QUEEN MARIA" DEAD. (1917, March 29). The Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1892 - 1917), p. 3. 
  • OUTDOOR AUSTRALIA (1911, August 2). The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912), p. 33. 
  • MUDGEE (1910, April 21). Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 - 1954), p. 17. 
  • HORSES AND RIDERS OF YESTERDAY (1945, March 13). Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 - 1947), p. 2.

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Wonderful to read so much about "Queen" Maria. Exciting that so many images of her exist!

Lovely to read of the history of our State.

My grandmother spent alot of time with her but that all I know

Imran N Toni isn't this who Mt Maria north of Rosedale is named after?

Imran N Toni
no sorry brother that gurang country my peoples

Funny that, my great grandfather Jim Williams was born at Murray's Creek at the foot of that mountain and he spoke in Gooreng Gooreng. I heard someone from Bundaberg named it that after her, I'll recheck my sources.

My beautiful great great great grandmother 🌺🌹🌸🌷🌻🌼

Tania Lee Schafer - Author
Vikki GDoctor she was beautiful and the issue of her as a witness demonstrated her as a strong female role-model.

Love & respect ❤️🌠

Georgetown-Aubrey Troy
To what I know from a descendant of this lady she was Kabi Kabi woman and not a Badtjala (Butchulla) woman, was here descendants involved in this story

Tania Lee Schafer - Author
Georgetown-Aubrey Troy Yes I sent the blog story to Alan Holmes - Towcha Technology, Maria’s great, great grandson. I believe there is some cross-over to her group identity, as she may have been Butchulla and married into Kabi-Kabi or due to the issues happening in Kgari, she settled in Childers to keep out of the reach of the protector. It really hard to clarify tribal connections, so I placed her down as Badtjala (Butchulla) - Kabi (Kabi Kabi) to identify all parties, Which I do for myself, as a Bunjalung -Mother and Mulinjali - father person. To honour both groups. Sorry if I offended anyone... Tania

I loved reading the article on the state library so good to see so much history was captured ❤

George on her name plate on her grave it says Queen Maria of the Butchulla tribe Proclaimed Aboriginal " Queen of Childers" died 26th March 1917. I believe I am her great great grand daughter.

Awesome photo

Please note that Image 121554 in this article is of Kitty Delaney (Jackie Delaney's wife) and not Maria, Queen of Childers.

I was concerned about this comment, in case the information was incorrect. However, comment deleted from Cherbourg Community Facebook. Thus, assuming the image on further review was deemed correct.

Tania Lee Schafer I too have been loving the pieces you have been sharing ... Amazing people and amazing stories... important stories to tell.... thanks for your efforts 👣❤

Another great photo and more fascinating provenance
I THINK I've seen both in the National Museum A.C.T.,
& - even if I'm mistaken, & I've just seen similar concerning the very same person, - i
HAVE also seen reported that those signs
about the necks and torsoes of prominent-in-history Indigenous men and women,
were meaningless to original caretakers of the continent, & were entirely the 'province' of colonists, white historians and so forth
Maybe someone who really does know [not saying whoever said that wasn't a 'genuine' source!] can add more and reliable info to my only-a-gub
attempted contribution

concerning NOT the very same person,
that should've said -

Suzie Simpson - REPLY ON FACEBOOK (15 hrs)
Thanks lots, Tania Lee Schafer

Tania Lee Schafer
Seems like more information of the group identity is coming up from Melbourne. Someone has mention that Maria was the daughter of Pulluwuy from the Dundubara / Dundaburras group.
So I am unsure of how to mention the group that Maria came from... any advice is welcomed 🙂
The Goodwood State School states that the 'Dundaburras' populated the Burrum and Isis/Gregory River area, and like their neighbours the 'Batjalas' from near Pialba, formed part of the great Kabi-Kabi tribe which extended from the Elliot River to the north of Bribie Island, inland to the mountain range and included Fraser Island.
On this site there is more information on Maria.

The Maria of Childers blog story was advertised via Cherbourg Aboriginal Community Facebook site on the 22/11/2021. In one day this facebook site had received 280 likes/loves, 45 comments, 69 shared and one complaint, which will be answered asap.

Not all descendants of Towcha believe that she was also Maria. My father and aunty who is deceased are grand children of Alfred Blackman. They did not believe they were the same person. Both believe she is Gooreng hence they are Gooreng and my aunty believed that she died at waroo station. This was passed onto them by there family.

Thanks Kim, this adds to the information on this interesting lady's history. There are so many people commenting on her and the history is increasing. Hopefully one day all the relatives and interested parties will get together in a reunion to clarify her place in history.

Stop putting out the fly in blacks native title falacy, that Queen Maria my great great grandmother was a Batjala/Butchulla person. She belonged to the Dundubara tribe, do some proper research, stop being slack, getting information from Native title BS artists. Stop being disrespectful towards my family and our ancestors.

Apologies if disrespect is taken, none was meant. Unfortunately Native title information is not accessible through online or published resources to clarify any claims of family connections to Maria Queen of Childers. As an outside researcher I will never be able to do proper research as family permission is required from all people claiming a relationship to Maria, and then a lot of time to cypher through a majority of archival records, and then there is a financial burden to copy and access resources, which I do not have. My objective is to introduce to Australians that Aboriginal people have a history in Australia, especially through photographs within our collections and to get collection engagement occurring, so let me thank you for your comments, as this enriches our knowledge. One day hopefully someone, like yourself will write a book on Queen Maria of Childers...

Some speculation exists that Towcha is also a well known aboriginal woman of the Bundaberg area known as “Maria Queen of Childers” however given that baptismal records suggest Towcha died sometime before 18 Aug 1865 and Queen Maria died in 1917 this would not be possible.