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state library of queensland

Palm Island & Our People

Bwgcolman Dancers at the Palm Island and Our People Exhibition Launch

Palm Island & Our People

This exhibition is in the past.
22 September 2018 - 22 April 2019
kuril dhagun

The inspiring history of Palm Island is celebrated in a fascinating showcase of images, memorabilia and digital stories. 

The showcase provides an opportunity to commemorate the past 100 years and to celebrate a new future for the Palm Island people, focussing on the themes past, present and future.

State Library acknowledges the significant contribution of the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council and the Bwgcolman Indigenous Knowledge Centre in the development of this exhibition. 

Palm Island  & Our People digital story

In 2018, the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council celebrates 100 years of island occupation. This digital story was produced as part of the 2018 State Library of Queensland exhibition 'Palm Island & Our People', and explores the origins of Bwgcolman, how Palm Island has evolved since it became a government reserve, how the community reflects diverse cultural identities, how it has commemorated its centenary and its hopes for the future.

MMS ID 99183606317802061

Photographer: Alf Wilson Acc: 31493, Palm Island Centenary Commemoration Photographs 2018, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Palm Island Centenary Commemoration Photographs 2018, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Acc: 10183, Dancers performing at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival, 2009, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland   Lilian Willis Snr, performing at the 2009 Laura Dance Festival with members of the Gulumba Dance Group from Townsville and Palm Island. Photo by Sarah Scragg
A group of small children and a few adults performing in an Aboriginal Dance Festival.

About the showcase

The showcase is both a commemoration and celebration, with the 2018 centenary providing a unique opportunity to reflect on the past through retelling and sharing stories of endurance, resilience and self-determination. The showcase and associated public programs allows Palm Island stories and truths to be shared with the broader Queensland community and visitors from far and wide. Journeys through the difficult and complex history from the establishment of the Palm Island Reserve under the ‘Protection Act’, the opening of Fantome Island as a lazaret, the establishment of the dormitories, and the strike of 1957.

Read more about Community History, Queensland Legislation and the Protection Act 

Explore the importance of keeping culture alive to the Bwgcolman people, through dance, language and how football, boxing and netball have become extremely popular sports and a source of community connectedness. Contemporary Palm Island culture is highlighted, focusing on the community events held throughout 2018, including the Deadly Didge ‘n Dance Festival. Tributes and acknowledgement are paid to important Palm Island figures who have contributed significantly to improving life and conditions on the island, including Alf Palmer, Iris Clay and Harry Johnson.

Crowds gathered on the beach at Palm Island, Queensland
An old sepia toned image of buildings and a beach, with text reading 'Aboriginal Lock Hospital, Fantome Island (from Gardens).'
Palm Island
Photo from 1916 depicting a group of Indigenous women and children standing in long old fashioned dresses, squinting into the camera in bright sunlight.
Palm Island
A group of children sat on the ground in front of a building with a roof made of dried straw
Black and white image of single beds in two rows against a wall.
Decorated Aboriginal men dancing on Palm Island, ca. 1933
Black and white portrait from 1932 of an Aboriginal woman looking into the camera.
Matron Collins and Sister Gumley, two women dressed in white nun outfits, stand in front of a clinic building
View of sunset from Palm Island, ca. 1949. Black and white image of a high contrast beach with a small child looking out into the water. Palm fronts are in the foreground and boats float on the ocean.
Palm Island Football Team, date unknown Copy Print Collection, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 127689

Community launch

The exhibition opened on 22 September 2018 to record crowds which was the icing on the cake of an action packed visit from Palm Island Elders, dignitaries and dancers.

Watch the official launch on the kuril dhagun Facebook page or read more on Indigenous voices blog.

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Bwgcolman Dancers perform in front of the glass walls of the State Library in full traditional dress.

Nunukul Yuggera Dancers, Palm Island and Our People exhibition launch, 22 September 2018. Photo: Joe Ruckli 

Showcase information


22 Sep 2018 – 22 Apr 2019


kuril dhagun, level 1, State Library, Stanley Place, South Bank



Contact us

kuril dhagun

(07)3842 9824

Video tour of the Palm Island and Our People Exhibition 

Additional resources

Learning notes

To support exhibitions and events, State Library creates learning notes with teaching and learning activities linked directly to the Australian Curriculum. These notes are designed to enhance your onsite experience.

Palm Island learning notes yrs 1-5

DOCX · 743 KB

Palm Island learning notes years 6-9

PDF · 225 KB

Palm Island learning notes yrs 10-12

PDF · 228 KB

Palm Island Activity Sheet

PDF · 1 MB

Palm Island exhibition opening at the State Library fo Queensland.
Indigenous languages map of Queensland
This resource map aims to raise awareness of the diversity of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and identify resources within State Library collections to support language research and community language revival
View map
Palm Island, the island of sunshine_still
Palm Island, the island of sunshine
Wal Deutscher, Palm Island, the island of sunshine, ca. 1952, Acc: 3387, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland (video 1hour 2 minutes)
Watch video

Palm Island Voice

The Palm Island Voice informs the local community of local, council and organisations news and activities together with social events which are taking place on Palm Island.

Digitised and available online State Library.

Palm Island Voice, issue 261, Thursday 20 September 2018

PDF · 5 MB

Palm Island Voice, issue 262, Thursday 4 October 2018

PDF · 3 MB

Palm Island Voice, issue 263, Thursday 18 October 2018

PDF · 3 MB