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The Voice Referendum: From The Garma Festival To More Inclusive Australian Communities – Promoting a Respected Place For All Australians?

By Denis Bright

Expect a boost in polling support for the Yes case in the forthcoming referendum after the public relations triumph of the Garma Festival. All Australians welcome images of people having fun together in the traditions of over 65,000 years of Dreamtime Heritage. Prime Minister Albanese joined in the celebrations. His minders took care not to over-politicize the festive occasion. The call for a Yes Result came from a happy audience of assembled participants.

Political reality is always tempered by the poor record of support for referendum questions which do not enjoy bipartisan support, as with the referendum for an Australian Republic in 1998.

This article offers mere anecdotes on just how a Yes Result can build a common sense of place for all Australians in both the Ipswich District and in North West Queensland (NWQ).

Readers can use similar research tools to unlock the history of colonial settlement in their localities. Perhaps these selected localities will represent a local challenge to the Yes campaign if neoconservative leaders are able to tap old prejudices in communities with their share of Aussie battlers. I have a feeling that the positive vibes from the Garma festival will actually counteract some initial local skepticism. Only time will tell if Great Expectations can be delivered in time for a favourable result.

The Yes Referendum: Bringing the Ipswich District Back To The Dreamtime Spirit?

Within thirty years of the end of convict settlement in the Moreton Bay District in the early 1870s, Ipswich had already become a thriving township beside the Bremer River. Steamboats carried freight and passengers to link up with the expanding rail connections from Ipswich to Toowoomba and beyond. River traffic only declined after the opening of the first railway from Ipswich to Brisbane in 1876. It is difficult to believe that so much new urban landscape could be delivered in less than forty years of post-convict settlement.


Image from ICC Historical Series


During convict times, limestone quarried in Ipswich was converted into lime for transport by river to cement public buildings in Brisbane. The Commissariat Store Building (1829) is still near the Queen’s Wharf Redevelopment Project.

Less certain are the critical details of interactions between the convicts and their guards with aboriginal people from the Turrbal people in Brisbane and the Jaggera people in Ipswich.

Prompted by Adam Liaw’s recent documentary series on SBS television, I was shocked to find out about the extent of the Frontier Wards in South East Queensland as graziers occupied indigenous lands after the termination of the convict period in the 1840s. Some details from the documentary are available from SBS television in the Who The Bloody Hell Are We? series.

Until the post-2000 era, it was quite common for Australian history classes to commence with a discussion of the impact of convict transportation on Australian identity without reference to the place of aboriginal people in the social mix.

This cultural vacuum produced a nostalgia for the colonial period in which the new settlers from distant lands were seen as agents of a new progressive civilization which sought new political heroes to represent working people in the colonial parliament and local councils.

In Ipswich itself, aboriginal people moved from the new townscape to the urban fringes as well as places like Deebing Creek Mission and the Purga Mission under the management of local religious leaders.

As a totem to colonial occupation a monument to Queensland’s Samuel Blackall (1809-71) was erected at a major intersection in the Ipswich CBD before being moved to a remote spot when it became a nuisance or traffic flows and a cultural eyesore.

Sketchy details of this historical blind spot in our colonial history can be gleaned from ChatGPT based on its feedback from media monitoring by OpenAI in the absence of an easily accessible local history of the Frontier Wars in the Moreton District.

This local history is also researched by eminent scholars like Libby Connors including Warrior: A Legendary Leader’s Dramatic Life and Violent Death on the Colonial Frontier, The Secret War: A True History of Queensland’s Native Police as well as Dust Dreams and Drought: A History of Queensland. Libby Connors edited and reissued Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland.

In the background the promotion Warrior for Allen and Unwin, the sometimes-violent history of colonial occupation of aboriginal lands is covered through a perspective on the life of Dundalli (c1820-55) who faced a public execution in front of the site of the current Brisbane GPO on 5 January 1855. This had once been the site of a women’s prison:

In the 1840s, white settlement in the north was under attack. European settlers were in awe of Aboriginal physical fitness and fighting prowess, and a series of deadly raids on homesteads made even the townspeople of Brisbane anxious.

Young warrior Dundalli was renowned for his size and strength, and his elders gave him the task of leading the resistance against the Europeans’ ever-increasing incursions on their traditional lands. Their response was embedded in Aboriginal law and Dundalli became one of their greatest lawmen. With his band of warriors, he had the settlers in thrall for twelve years, evading capture again and again, until he was finally arrested and publicly executed.

Warrior is the extraordinary story of one of Australia’s little-known heroes, one of many Aboriginal men to die protecting their country. It is also a fresh and compelling portrait of life in the early days of white settlement of Brisbane and South East Queensland.

‘An enduring record of one of our greatest heroes.’ – Sam Watson, activist and writer

‘Deeply considered and powerfully told, this book recovers the entangled history of Aboriginal people and settlers in colonial Queensland, a history which is also Australia’s story writ large.’ – Associate Professor Grace Karskens, University of NSW.

The current Voice referendum will generate an interest in this period in Australian history to unlock some of the current blind spots in our cultural history to fund new drama productions, documentaries and films from the interest generated in the constitutional exercises even if a Yes vote does not prevail in Queensland.

Sagas of natural disasters and social upheavals during the colonial period need to be broadened by an Aboriginal perspective of our history in time for the 150th Anniversary of the Commonwealth of Australia in the perspectives of over 65,000 years of settlement of this continent. Aboriginal people did not even get a mention in the Australian constitution as approved by both houses of the British Parliament upon advice from leaders of the federation movement who were chosen by an all-male electoral constituency on a very limited franchise. While support for the 1898 constitutional referendum was carried in Queensland, it was not endorsed in parts of Brisbane and Ipswich.

A Comparative Look at NWQ in the Kalkadoon Country of the Queensland Frontier

Australians in more remote communities like North West Queensland (NWQ) should have a particular affinity with indigenous history after the excesses of the Frontier Wars in the frontiers of settlement in Queensland.

Here the Frontier Wars were ferocious. The Kalkadoon people engaged in guerrilla warfare against both European settlers who were usually supported by the Queensland Native Police. Playwrights and movie makers could have a field day in covering these conflicts. Kalkadoon warriors put up fierce resistance at the Battle of Battle Mountain near the present-day town of Cloncurry in May 1884. Their leaders were captured and often executed.

These events in the Frontier Wars have been researched by specialist writers including Robert C Morris, Noel Loos, Barry L. Kimber and Ray Evans. Future playwright and movie makers can also research diaries and government sponsored reports in this occupation era.

The Great War (1914-18) brought a boom in commodity exports. Before deep mining commenced at Mt. Isa in the 1920s, remote mining settlements operated in the Cloncurry District which attracted rail connections and even local tramways through the spinifex country. The details of these quite remote localities were covered by ABC Rural Reporters in 2022.

Today, many of these deserted mining settlements are on grazing properties which tourists find difficult to access when the weather is usually perfect in the cooler months.

There are similar historic ruins in the Lawn Hill-Doomadgee Districts.

Today, many of these deserted mining settlements are on grazing properties which tourists find difficult to access when the weather is usually perfect in the cooler months.

There are similar historic ruins in the Lawn Hill-Doomadgee Districts.

Settlement of the Savannah Outback was a challenge to people from all backgrounds including, Chinese immigrants.

During the interwar period, (1918-39), French Australian botanist Albert de Lestang (1884-1959) was commissioned by the Queensland Government to experiment with the cultivation of tropical plants and fruits along Lawn Hill Creek at Adel’s Grove. These efforts supplied botanic gardens in Brisbane and overseas with exotic plants. The botanist’s life-time work was destroyed by fire during the early 1950s as recalled in the Newsletter from the Friends of Myall Park Botanic Garden in 2009 which is readily available on a routine Google search:

For a man who wanted so much to share his information and passion, his whole lifetime of effort was to end in great tragedy. In early 1950, while he was away, a man-made fire destroyed everything – all buildings, cleaning and packing equipment, records and almost the entire garden except for the orchard. It is said the fire was deliberately lit. He tried to resume and rebuild but with more setbacks he had to give up. Here is the extract from his letter to David Gordon, Nurseryman in Glenmorgan, Queensland, 18 September,1952:

“The priceless botanical collection of over 2000 varieties have been abandoned, the garden overrun by saplings, kunai grass and sword tussocks; what the fire has left of the fence is wrecked, yards gone, home site bare of buildings but the flimsy shack I live in. What still stands of the onetime glorious gardens is the fruit plantation I try to maintain for a living.

Have cut all experimental works for lack of equipment and labour, too old and weak to carry on alone, failure to find one to take over from me at death. Since the place is destined to revert to wilderness is better now than later.

To rebuild, fence and equip would cost thousands, with no one in sight to take over would be lunacy. Soil and water are still here, if you wish you may have them on request for the wherewithal to keep going.”

(Albert de Lestang died in the state-government run nursing home in Charters Towers aged 75 in November 1959).

While local tourism to NWQ should be encouraged, there are so many blind spots in coverage of both the indigenous and early colonial periods of occupation. Mt Isa Mines were associated with major industrial disputes as the local workforce became highly unionized.

Historian and social critic Humphrey McQueen (dob 29 March 1936) shocked earlier generations with his critical analyses of secrecy in Australian history, This secrecy lives on today in recent events like the AUKUS deals, port vessels by submarines carrying nuclear weapons, deployment of B-52 bombers in the NT, expansion of the Pine Gap Defence Spy Base and the latest releases from the US Department of Defense on support for high security manufacturing processes and the expansion of base facilities in Northern Australia.

Whatever might prevail in the short-term, the odds are always on future openness unless the threshold of the eve of destruction is reached by some accidental strategic incident. So in the hope of Voice First and Treaty later, a tribute to Yunupingu (1948-2023):



Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.


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  1. Lorraine

    Another unspoken truth is that the early colonisers and their subsequent generations knew of the deliberate and unconscionable violence towards Aboriginal people. These acts were justified on the basis of racism, and greed for land. Racism, because designating certain people lower on the social strata and the coloniser as a superior being helped somewhat to soothe the indefensible acts that were an attempt at genocide.
    The journals of early settlers, letters, newspaper articles, and scientific papers, make it clear that the colonisers and their governments knew of these actions.

    The referendum is actually asking coloniser Australians (who make up 97% of the population and will have the deciding numbers) if they want to endorse their race based constitution, or if they want to make changes for a more positive future.

    A no vote is endorsing the indefensible acts of colonialism, whereas a yes vote seeks to start a new more inclusive future.

  2. Win Jeavons

    Yes, yes , yes , please YES !

  3. Terence Mills

    Sad that Jacinta Nampijinpa Price declined to accept the invitation to attend Garma . She is, after all, a NT senator with Aboriginal heritage on her Mum’s side and putting aside politics she does represent all Territorians not just those who agree with her views.

    On the Garma festival, I was speaking with two ‘grey nomads’ who had been thinking of heading up to Garma in their campervan until they found that attendance would cost them $2,750 each as an entrance fee.

    Garma General Admission Passes 2023

    ADULT – $2,750.00,

    Corporate pass $5,000

    TAFE – UNI – Student 18+ – $1,850.00

    Primary or High School Student – $1,650.00

    CHILD – $0.00

  4. Carly

    Garma is a great event- hopefully it will bring impetus for the YES vote to succeed.
    There needs to be a new way of doing things – the same old ways have not been working.

  5. Eddy

    Terence, re those entry costs to Garma, why so much? inflation? or a glimpse into the future?

  6. Leila

    Australians need more popular songs to raise interest in our long history of Indigenous Culture

  7. Stella

    Denis, Thanks for an interesting and well researched article on the untold indigenous history.

  8. Tessa_M

    Younger people seem to be with the Voice. Let’s talk to the others gently as this article does

  9. James Robo

    Thanks Denis for the well researched article.

  10. Even Stphen

    Keep campaigning everyone! Our national identity is on the line as a fair-minded society.

  11. Indigo

    In a world where understanding and embracing Indigenous history and culture is paramount for a more inclusive future, the Garma Festival has emerged as a shining beacon of hope. The festival’s ability to bring people together from all walks of life to celebrate over 65,000 years of Dreamtime Heritage is nothing short of remarkable. The positive images of Prime Minister Albanese participating in the festivities, without over-politicising the occasion, signify a step towards building a common sense of place for all Australians. As the Voice Referendum gains momentum, the uplifting spirit of the Garma Festival is expected to boost support for the Yes case, encouraging a more respectful and inclusive space for Indigenous communities in Australia.

  12. Burleigh Waters

    Great article Denis!!!

    Love the idea of bring Dreamtime back to Ipswich!!! Excited to vote yes this year and be part of a positive and symbolic step for our nation!!!

  13. Anon.E. Mouse

    Terrence, maybe Jacinta didn’t feel welcome?
    The Welcome to Country is not a given apparently.

  14. Terence Mills

    The no campaign made an admission today that they don’t want anybody to talk about. The NO campaign concede that they want to see Aboriginal people recognised in our Constitution as the first peoples of Australia BUT they don’t want those same people to have a constitutionally entrenched Voice. So, they will reject the whole referendum question.

    This morning South Australian senator Kerrynne Liddle [the only Indigenous MP in the Liberals] has backed Peter Dutton’s contentious call to block the Voice to parliament and defeat the referendum.

    When asked on ABC RN Breakfast, by Hamish McDonald, if the referendum is defeated would the coalition still support recognising the Aboriginal people in the Constitution (i.e. without a voice). Her answer was Yes : when asked would the coalition then support another referendum to recognise the Aboriginal people in the constitution (i.e. the only way to change the Constitution) her answer was Yeeess !

    Two referendums…………..I don’t think so – you can’t have it both ways !

    Support the referendum !!

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