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First Nations

Explore the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through the photographs, manuscripts, oral histories and digital stories collections of the John Oxley Library.

State Library of Queensland commitments statement 

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

Read more about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material accessed on the State Library of Queensland website

30 years Mabo v Queensland, 1992 – 2022

In May 1982 Eddie Koiki Mabo, Reverend David Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Sale began legal action against the State of Queensland recognising the Meriam people as the traditional owners of the Murray Island group in the Torres Strait. These five Meriam people continued their struggle for recognition in the High Court of Australia for 10 long years. In 1992, they won the legal case that marked the first formal recognition of Indigenous land rights in Australia. State Library of Queensland holds several collections relating to the Mabo family and the case 'Mabo versus Queensland'.
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5 men stand on a boat in front of an island

Hamish Cairns Palm Island Photographs 2008-2013

This extensive collection records different aspects of life on Palm Island including the boxing team in training and in relaxation, the 2008 Palm Island rodeo, scenes of the island and portraits of the residents. Also included are photos taken during the making of the documentary film 'Tall Man' which dealt with the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee in 2004, followed by social unrest on Palm Island. [Acc 28089]
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Young man training with boxing gloves, Palm Island

Glass Plate Negatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

This rare collection of glass plate negatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities includes images of Barambah, Darnley Island, Mapoon, Saibai Island, Taroom, Yam Island, Yarrabah and York Island. Many of the glass plate negatives are unidentified. [Acc 30020]
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School children exercising on Mabuiag Island, Queensland

Michael Aird photographs 1980 - 2000

This collection of digital images represents part of Michael’s work from the 1980 - 2000s. Included are images relating to the exhibition Everybody is Important in response to the Australian Government’s 2007 “Intervention” into Aboriginal communities in northern and central Australia. In a 2015 Fireworks Gallery exhibition Up Close, Michael expanded on the Everybody is Important series adding images from across Queensland. They are mostly portraits of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and include people from Brisbane, South East Queensland, Woorabinda, Townsville and the Torres Strait. A selection of international images sit with this collection. [Acc 30300]
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Jagera Jarjum dancers walk onto the stage at the Woodford Folk Festival, Queensland, 1997.

32280 Craig Holmes Kowanyama photographs

In 1974 Craig spent a year working at the Kowanyama Mission when he was a young man. His interest in photography resulted in a large collection of black and white photographs of the Kowanyama Aboriginal community. His images showed aspects of culture, social events, horse racing and the Kowanyama rodeo. Returning in 1990 he visited on two more occasions. As many as 200 of the photographs are digitised and available online. [Acc 32280]
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Council members, Kowanyama, July 1972 - June 1973.

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival Photographs 2009

This collection of 79 photographs records the importance and cultural highlight of the Laura Festival to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is the premier celebration of Aboriginal culture held in Cape York. Held every two years the Festival celebrates the culture of Aboriginal people of Cape York Peninsula through song, dance ceremony and performance. Queensland photographer Sarah Scragg accompanied State Library of Queensland representatives to document the festival events for the collections of the John Oxley Library.
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two aboriginal dancers at the Laura festival

Jo-Anne Driessens photographs 1997 – 2000

This collection of digital images, prints and album entitled Cherbourg Today 1998, documents everyday life, people, places and events around Queensland in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Jo-Anne Driessens was born in Brisbane in 1970 and adopted into a white family. An interest in photography led her to finding and documenting her blood family during during the early 1990’s. She completed a Cadetship in Photography in 1999. [Acc 30299]
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Members of the Cherbourg Golden Oldies, Queensland, 2001

Bloomfield River and District Photographs 1880-1886

The Bloomfield River mission was established on land belonging to the Kuku-Yalanji people. This collection includes images of the Bloomfield River, local people and industry established from 1880 – 1886 in the district. A selection of digital images are available. [APE-61]
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Aboriginal families from the Bloomfield River Mission, ca. 1884

Pearl Divers, Torres Strait 1920

Two gelatin silver print photographs, each with the full signature of the photographer, Thomas McMahon, bearing his handwritten descriptions. He states the pearlers oil their bodies before diving & wear rubber covered goggles, remaining under water for a very long time and are very smart at their work of collecting pearls & pearl shell & other marine products. [Acc 29819]
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Pearl Divers, Torres Strait 1920

Reverend James Tait Scott Torres Strait Islands Papers 1870s-1890s

The album contains approximately 52 letters by Eliza and the Reverend James Tait Scott to Eliza's parents, Mr and Mrs Mitchell. They were sent from various locations including Murray Island, Thursday Island, Darnley Island, Cooktown and more. [Acc 29018]
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29018-2 Reverend James Tait Scott Torres Strait Islands Papers

Invasion Day rally photographs, 2018

'Invasion Day' march held in Brisbane on Australia Day in 2018 reflects the rally in front of Parliament House, with participants proceeding along George Street, across Victoria Bridge, ending in Musgrave Park, West End. Participation in 2018 rose largely due to the #changethedate movement and increased scrutiny surrounding the meaning of Australia Day. The images by documentary photographer Hamish Cairns represent the response in Brisbane.
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Invasion Day rally
Tom Locky drawing Margaret Lawrie Collection
Margaret Lawrie Collection
This significant collection consists of material collected and recorded by Margaret Lawrie during her visits to the Torres Strait Islands from 1964 - 1973. The collection was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Australian Register in 2008. [Acc TR 1791]
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A map of Australia with black and green lines showing Aboriginal communities
Tindale Genealogical Collection 1928-1960
In 1928 Norman Tindale commenced his research, visiting Aboriginal people living on government missions and documenting their family genealogies. Records include his visits to the missions established in Queensland. [Acc 7489]
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More information 

Learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and groups in Queensland available through State Library’s Interactive Queenslander Languages Map.

Access more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander online resources in the guide below.

Understanding First Nations collections of the John Oxley Library: Accessing resources online

State Library of Queensland resources and other related material involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content.

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