On the 26th of January, Reconciliation Queensland hosted a zoom seminar and discussion on the history and future of the Aboriginal Shire of Cherbourg with community leaders and Elders.
By guest writer Jeaun Lewis
Cherbourg, which is located on the land of the Wakka Wakka people, was established as Barambah in 1901 alongside an industrial school where Aboriginal peoples were forcibly sent to perform manual labour and be re-educated.
Aunty Lesley Williams, one of the speakers for the event, discussed the history of Cherbourg as an industrial school, the ways to government devalued the labour of the Indigenous Australian workers, what it was like growing up in Cherbourg and her experience of life after becoming a community leader.
“Food rations were given out every Monday morning, dried fruit food rations, which was flour, tea, sugar, rice, sweet peas, green peas, salt, washing powder and treacle. And twice a week raw meat was given out, so that was for working 35 hours,” Aunty Lesley said.
“Once a fortnight they would receive their so-called wages. So the Cherbourg government were able to get away with paying them less money for their wages. So (there was) a head carpenter where I recognised the name and I recognised the family. Uncle had eight kids and he received £7.10 shillings for working for a fortnight….. $15 for the fortnight.”
The seminar also included a talk from Councillor Bronwyn Murray from the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council, discussing the ways that life has changed for the Indigenous community in Cherbourg, as well as the community’s continued fight for greater independence.
“The Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council to date, basically hit the ground running,” Councillor Murray said.
“Our most important agenda is around community safety, sewage and waste, as well as a lot of other stuff in council. We also came in with a crack in our water tank, and that is the water supply to the community.”
Great progress has been made in Cherbourg, with work moving forward on giving the township access to clean drinking water after the building of the Bjelke-Petersen Dam in 1988 restricted the amount of water that flowed to the area.
Efforts have also been made on raising the standard of living for the community, with the hosting of events like the Cherbourg Reconciliation Fun Run and support for families of those who have taken their own lives.
The Ration Shed Museum, which tells the story of Cherbourg, continues to be a major tourism drawcard for the township.