Fighting grounds: Weipa 1898-1998
Long before the first European mariners sighted the western coast of Cape York, Aboriginal people migrated from Asia to populate the coast where the modern township of Weipa now stands. They were a sea people, drawing much of their sustenance from the molluscs and other seafood along the shoreline.
English Moravians Edwin and Thekla Brown had already been selected to staff the next mission to be established on the lawless and wild western coast of Cape York Peninsula, when James Ward died of malarial fever at Mapoon in January 1895.
When the Browns arrived in 1895, the Moravian missionary magazine Periodical Accounts recorded that, “after spending Christmas (1895) most enjoyably at Ramahyuk, where they obtained a very valuable insight into the working of an aboriginal station on Moravian lines, they returned to Melbourne.”
In April 1896, the Browns arrived at Mapoon where they were to stay for two years, preparing for the establishment of Weipa.
On June 10, 1898 Brown, his un-named assistant and a party of seven Aboriginal men from Mapoon, travelling by whaleboat, arrived at the site to establish the mission.
2018 marks the 120th anniversary of the establishment of Weipa.
“Seven of the Mapoon men, selected by Brown himself, went to help him and his assistant in founding the new station.
They left Mapoon on 6th June, travelling in small boats. They were five days on the way. There followed a series of disasters. Almost all the party suffered from illness. The Mapoon blacks removed from the influence of the station and their old teacher, lapsed into heathenish practices under the spell of native etiquette and some of them ran away. By the end of the year only half the house was finished. But patience and perseverance overcame difficulties. The seven were punished in the wise fatherly fashion of Mapoon, where it is quite understood that revenge is not punishment.”
Arthur Ward Miracle at Mapoon 1908: 224