Today, our group had the unique opportunity to visit the town of Yarrabah. Located southeast of Cairns, Yarrabah is approximately an hour’s drive on winding roads. The area is beautiful with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Yarrabah is an Aboriginal community that was established as a mission station for some of Australia’s Aboriginal people in June 1892. Our group met with a few community members and then visited Yarrabah’s medical center, Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service.
John Brown Gribble was an Anglican missionary who settled the community to reach out to the local Gunggandji and Yidindji people. Mission stations for Australian Aboriginals are similar to Native American reservations in the United States. A key part of the Yarrabah mission was to introduce European culture to the Aboriginal people. Instead of living with their parents, local Aboriginal children often lived in Yarrabah’s dormitories. In 1897, the state government of Queensland passed the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act. This act allowed the Queensland government to forcibly move Aboriginal people to mission stations like Yarrabah under the guise of protection. The act led to more Aboriginal children being removed from their parents and placed in Yarrabah’s dormitories. Living in the dormitories could be a hard life. Lucy, one community member who met with our group, shared some of her mother’s experiences from growing up in a dormitory. Lucy’s mom did manual labor, was often hungry, and was rarely able to see her parents. With hardships such as this, it seemed likely that the Aboriginal community would abhor how they were treated. Yet, another community member who spoke with our group, Vince, emphasized that the mission station was a part of history; it cannot be changed. Therefore, the community doesn’t dwell on the past but instead uses it to build character.
Vince’s remarks on overcoming history were quite remarkable considering the struggles that Yarrabah continues to face. From an 89 square kilometer mission station to a 360 square kilometer community, Yarrabah has grown significantly. The population of the community is over 3,000 Aboriginals from six different clans. (You must be an Aboriginal person to buy property in Yarrabah.) However, 80% of the community is unemployed. The Aboriginals have trouble finding jobs because there is no public transportation to Cairns (the nearest major city) or anywhere else, for that matter. In addition, racism towards Aboriginals is still a problem that limits employment opportunities for the people of Yarrabah.
Poverty is a major problem for Yarrabah. Earlier this year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics named Yarrabah as the poorest area of Queensland (Kim, 2013). The poverty of Yarrabah impacts the entire community. It is often a part of the issues that those working at the medical center encounter each day. Steve Isbister, Blake Fagan, Milton Mossman, and Paul Neal talked with our group at Yarrabah’s medical center. We learned that chronic diseases such as diabetes and suicide are prevalent in the community. Teen pregnancy is another concern in Yarrabah. The community is young, with 53% of the population under the age of 25. However, kids don’t have anywhere to go or activities to keep them occupied during their free time. Community members like Vince and Lucy realize that Yarrabah needs better infrastructure to improve the lives of its youth. There is hope that a drop in center for teenagers will be started in the future.
Visiting Yarrabah allowed our group to see the social aspect of sustainability. We noticed ways in which the community failed to be socially sustainable. The lack of opportunities that the community’s young people have when they reach adulthood as well as the medical issues that are common are not sustainable for the livelihood of the people of Yarrabah. The grocery store located in Yarrabah also showed us how something could be not very sustainable. The store is owned and mainly operated by people that are not a part of the Yarrabah community. Therefore, the money spent there goes to people outside of the community. In addition, the grocery store had a variety of processed foods, but only a small fresh produce selection with some questionable looking fruit and vegetables. The minimal access to healthy foods is not sustainable for people’s health.
There were also instances of social sustainability in Yarrabah. By only allowing aboriginal people to purchase land, the community can be a place for aboriginals to learn about their history and confront the stereotypes and difficulties of being an aboriginal in Australia. There is also the hope of people like Lucy and Vince who want to see Yarrabah become a place where young people can grow to be successful. This wish offers the hope that Yarrabah will become more sustainable in the future.
Kim, S. (2013, March 28). Yarrabah named Qld’s poorest local government area. ABC NEWS Queensland. Retrieved June 11, 2013 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-28/yarrabah-named-qlds-poorest-local-government-area/4599900
National Archives of Australia. (2011). Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld). Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved June 11, 2013 from http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-sdid-54.html
Queensland Government. (2013, March 26). Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service (Yarrabah). Queensland Health. Retrieved June 11, 2013 from http://www.health.qld.gov.au/cairns_hinterland/html/yarrabah.asp
Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council. Community Profile. Retrieved June 11, 2013 from http://www.yarrabah.qld.gov.au/community-profile
Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council. History. Retrieved June 11, 2013 from http://www.yarrabah.qld.gov.au/history