The Aurukun Mission (known then as the Archer River Mission Station) was established on 4 August 1904 for the Presbyterian Church of Australia by the Reverend Arthur and Mrs Mary Richter, two Moravian missionaries.  It was managed under the provisions of the Queensland Aborigines Act 1905 where Aboriginal people were relocated from a large surrounding area, many against their will, to the mission settlement.

Much earlier the coastal people played a role in preventing the Dutch explorers of the seventeenth century from landing at Cape Keerweer.  The Cape takes its name from a Dutch word meaning to "turn back". This was because hundreds of armed warriors engaged in skirmishes that forced the Dutch to retreat.

When an Australian superintendent arrived in 1924 Aurukun comprised 20 or so messmate bark huts with beaten-ant bed floors, with most Aborigines living out in the bush. An elementary school was conducted in the church hall.

With the coming of the missionaries, children were confined to dormitories to isolate them from the influence of their people. However many people remained outside the mission up until the 1950s, ensuring the culture remained strong.

When a purpose-built school was opened in 1964 the average enrolment had increased from 40 children to 140. By then most of the houses were raised timber constructions with two or three rooms and a small veranda.

In the 1950s the bauxite deposits known for some years at Aurukun and Weipa were assessed for mining potential. The Weipa site was chosen, but in a contentious 1975 decision the Bjelke-Petersen State government authorised mining at Aurukun and placed the community under direct state control.

In 1978, the Queensland government decided to take over control of both the Aurukun and Mornington Island Reserves. Both communities were against this and protested, seeking the help of the Federal government.

After lengthy negotiations, legislation for self-management of the two reserves was introduced into federal parliament and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Queensland Reserves and Communities Self-Management) Act was passed on 7 April 1978.

Further negotiations took place between State and Federal Ministers and on 22 May 1978, the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act came into force giving a 50 year lease to the Shire of Aurukun to be trustee for the land within the boundaries. Aurukun and Mornington Shire remain the only Aboriginal communities in Queensland constituted as local authorities.

The elected shire council administers an area of 7500 square km. The shire extends southwards from near Weipa to the Holroyd River, the Uniting Church (successor to the Presbyterian) having ceded any rights it may have acquired. Native Title was acquired in 2004.

The people

According to the 2011 Census there are 1,295 people in Aurukun. 1200 (92.1%) identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

The majority of Aurukun residents are Wik and Wik Way people, the traditional owners of the lands between Pormpuraaw and Weipa in Western Cape York Peninsula. The Wik are comprised of numerous clans who speak a variety of dialects.

The traditional language is predominantly Wik Mungkan with a mixture of other dialects including Wik Ngathan. English is also spoken.

aurukun history 1

Aurukun women

The majority of Aurukun residents are Wik and Wik Way people, the traditional owners of the lands between Pormpuraaw and Weipa in Western Cape York Peninsula

aurukun history 2

Aboriginal land

The Aurukun Mission was established in 1904. Native Title was granted exactly 100 years later.