The Bloomfield River Mission was established on land belonging to the Kuku-Yalanji people.
The first recorded European to visit the Bloomfield River was British Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Frederick Bedwell, who accompanied Captain Phillip Parker King on board the HMS Mermaid on a hydrological survey of the east coast of Australia. In June 1819 HMS Mermaid anchored in Weary Bay.
Mr. Bedwell was sent to examine the opening, which was called Blomfield's Rivulet. Near the entrance upon the bank of the inlet several huts were noticed, and near them Mr Bedwell found a canoe; which, being hollowed out of the trunk of a tree, was of very different construction to any he had before seen; its length was twenty-one feet … an outrigger, projecting about two feet, was neatly attached to one side, which prevented its liability to overset, and at each end was a projection, from fifteen to twenty inches long, on which the natives carry their fire or sit.
The next Europeans to visit the Bloomfield River were William Hann and his party. In 1872, William Hann was commissioned by the Queensland Government to explore Cape York to assess its mineral and land resources. On their return the party reached the coast at Weary Bay and then followed the Bloomfield River upstream. Hann was responsible for naming the Palmer, Tate and Daintree rivers.
One of Hann’s party discovered gold on the Palmer River. After hearing of the discovery, James Mulligan led an expedition to the Palmer River in 1873. Mulligan reported that the sandbars of the river glittered with gold, which started a huge gold rush to the district. By late
In 1874, Cooktown was established and within four months Cooktown and the Palmer River Gold field had a population of about 3000 people, many of those Chinese immigrants. By 1880, the population of Cooktown had grown to about 7000.
Conflict between Europeans and local Aboriginal people began almost immediately. In October 1873, 93 miners led by Goldfields Commissioner Howard St George and Engineer A.C. MacMillan set out from the Endeavour River to blaze a track to the Palmer River. There were several skirmishes along the way, culminating in a pitched battle between about 150 Aboriginal warriors and the expedition members at their camp near the Normanby River.
In 1874, the Native Police were sent to explore the country inland from Trinity Bay and Weary Bay to find another road to the Palmer River. They followed the Bloomfield River upstream but were unable to penetrate the thick scrub.
In 1875, a prospecting party on the Bloomfield River was attacked and driven back to Cooktown by Aborigines.
The first pastoralists in the Bloomfield River district were George Hislop and Frederick Bauer.
Bauer established the Bloomfield River Sugar Company on the north side of the river with imported Malay labour and the town of Ayton was established around the sugar mill.
The Kuku Yalanji people continued to resist the invasion of their lands by the miners, pastoralists and timber getters. Frontier violence in the region was a frequent occurrence during the 1870s, resulting in hundreds of casualties.
During the 1880s in North Queensland, there was a gradual change in government policy of taking the country by lethal force if necessary. Instead, Aborigines were removed from their country and on to missions where they would not trouble settlers and provide a cheap source of labour.
This policy change resulted in a decision to establish two Aboriginal reserves in the Cooktown district, one at Cape Bedford, and one at Bloomfield River.
In 1885, Lutheran missionary Johann Flierl was travelling to New Guinea to establish a mission when he was unexpectedly delayed in Cooktown. While there he negotiated with the Queensland government to establish a mission close to Cooktown at Cape Bedford on the land which had previously been gazetted as an Aboriginal reserve in 1881. At the same time, he also negotiated the establishment of a mission at the Bloomfield River on a 640 acre site just east of the Bloomfield Falls reserved for the Aborigines by the Queensland Government in August 1886. In addition to the 640 acres, 50 square miles of land was reserved as a hunting ground for Aboriginal people in March 1889.
Frederick Bauer was appointed the interim superintendent of the mission in 1886. In 1887 he was replaced by the Lutheran missionary Carl H. Meyer who had previously been at the Cape Bedford Mission. Meyer was dismissed in 1890 and replaced by Sebastian Hoerlein who arrived in 1891. Another missionary, Johann Bogner, arrived in 1892 and worked with Hoerlein until Bogner and his wife left in 1895 due to her ill health.
From its inception the mission struggled to become firmly established. In 1887, the police magistrate from Cooktown visited the mission and reported that about 80 people were living there, consisting mainly of aged males, females and children. The average population of the mission from 1887 to 1900 was only fifty five. The population varied over time as the Aborigines would come and go from the mission as they pleased.
This feature of the mission has been explained by Christopher Anderson, who found that the Mission was mostly used by the Wujal Wujal Warra ‘mob’ of the Bloomfield River area on whose land the mission stood. They incorporated the resources available at the mission into their social and economic patterns. The mission provided a reliable source of food and tobacco, and material culture items such as farm tools and blankets. The mission was also used as a ‘caring centre’ where they could leave the elderly, ill and young. However, over time the Kuku-Yalanji found other sites of more utility. The mission superintendent Carl Meyer lamented that, ’it is painful and disappointing to be continually revealing the gospel message and find it meeting deaf ears everywhere.’
In 1901, the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Synod made the decision to withdraw from the mission and in 1902, Northern Protector Walter Roth closed the mission and the reserve status of the land was revoked. The Aboriginal people who had been on the mission remained in the area and established a number of small camps.
In 1945, the Cooktown Protector of Aboriginals reported that there was a camp on the south side of the river, a camp on the north side of the river, and another one upstream. He reported that the people camped there seemed to be fairly well off, having an abundant supply of food. However, he raised concerns about the large number of children living there and not attending school.
In 1957, thirty of the fifty one students at the school were Aboriginal.
The Department of Native Affairs approached the Lutheran Church to re-establish the mission at Bloomfield River and provided them with a £2500 grant to fund housing, transportation and communications. An area of 260 acres which included part of the old reserve was gazetted as an Aboriginal reserve in May 1958. In the 1960s, the mission comprised three main villages: Bottom Camp, Thompson’s Creek Camp and the Outpost, and a separate area where the superintendent lived.
During the 1960s, a girls’ hostel was built at the back of the superintendent’s house with assistance from Aboriginal carpenters from the Hope Vale Mission.
In 1964, land where the old mission had been (about six kilometres upstream from the current mission) was proclaimed an Aboriginal reserve. The land was cleared for growing crops. A manager’s house, a boy’s dormitory, a mess hut and saw bench were constructed on this site.
Subsequently all the camps were consolidated into this one.
On 16 February 1980, the Bloomfield River Mission was officially renamed Wujal Wujal.
On 30 March 1985, the Wujal Wujal community elected five councillors to constitute an autonomous Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Council established under the Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984. The Act conferred local government type powers and responsibilities upon Aboriginal councils for the first time.
Deed of Grant in Trust
In a then ground-breaking recognition of Aboriginal land rights, the council area, previously an Aboriginal reserve held by the Queensland Government, was transferred on 29 October 1987 to the trusteeship of the Council under a Deed of Grant in Trust.
On 1 January 2005, pursuant to the Local Government (Community Government Areas) Act 2004 (CGA), Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Council became the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council.
The CGA prescribed a transition to compliance with the Local Government Act 1993.
The transition concluded with the full commencement of the Local Government Act 2009 on 1 July 2009.
The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people have a registered Native Title claim over the Wujal Wujal area.
According to the 2011 Census there are 270 people in Wujal Wujal, with 137 being female (50.7) and 133 being male (49.3%). Wujal Wujal has 252 people that identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, making up almost 93.7% of the local population.
The Bloomfield River Mission was established on land belonging to the Kuku-Yalanji people
Wujal Wujal is in the heart of Australia’s World Heritage listed Wet Tropics