The installation of an Instagram-friendly frame with signage stating “I took the leap” at a historical site where an Aboriginal woman pursued by police jumped to her death has caused concern among traditional owners.
The Leap is a mountain outside Mackay named for a historical event in which it is widely believed an Aboriginal woman carrying her three-year-old child leapt off a cliff to evade capture by the Queensland Native Police in the 1860s.
The woman was killed but her daughter survived and has descendants still living in Mackay.
The area is now considered to be the site of a massacre, where native police ‘dispersed’ the local Aboriginal population using violent means.
Yuibera traditional owners say they were not consulted on a new frame with signage at the top of the peak which they see as “taking the Mickey” out of the site’s dark history.
After being contacted, the Department of Environment and Science said the signage would be removed.
Photos have been posted on Instagram and other social media sites in front of the frame. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
The frame appeared sometime over Christmas at the top of a hiking trail at the mountain’s peak.
It was not authorised by the council and was placed there by a tour guide to promote the region’s history.
The tour guide did not wish to comment to the ABC.
Deb Netuschil is the great-great granddaughter of Johanna Hazeldean, the baby who survived the leap off the mountain.
She said her family found the frame “really disrespectful”.
“That’s a place of sorry business for us because of the history and because of what happened,” she said.
“We were one of our lineage to survive, but there is a lot of our mob that that didn’t.
“That’s where our line stopped. That’s where the massacres happened.”
Deb Netuschill, a descendant of the child who survived, said her family found the sign “insensitive” and “disrespectful”. (ABC Tropical North: Rachel Riga)
She said she understood hikers wished to climb the mountain, but the story of her ancestors had to be respected.
“When I saw that I felt it was really disrespectful and … quite insensitive to our family,” she said.
“I think everyone [in my family] felt the same.
“Even if people’s intentions might have been good they actually have offended people by doing that.
“This is the start of … a time in our history where there was loss of our culture and our language, our culture, our people, our way of life.
“I can understand in another instance where it might be ‘I took the leap’, I understand that it’s something you’ve achieved.
“But to erect something without putting too much thought into it, I think [there is] insensitivity around that and disrespect.”
‘There is nothing that is sacred’
Munanjahli woman and professor at the University of Queensland, Chelsea Bond, said the frame was “appalling” and reflected a wider practice of “disdain” towards Aboriginal historical sites including Uluru and Devil’s Marbles.
“There is a pattern of behaviour here of non-Indigenous Australia of going to our sacred sites and disrespecting them,” she said.
“These acts are reflective of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia and the distain it seems non-Indigenous Australia has for Indigenous peoples.
“Black pain has long been entertainment for whitefellas in this country.”
The Department of Environment and Science has confirmed the frame was put up without authority and will be removed. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
She said she had been taught the history of The Leap as a child and felt “sorry and sick” every time she visited the area.
“It just seems like when it comes to Indigenous people’s history, land, our family, there’s nothing that is sacred, and it just shocks me that someone would think that this would be appropriate or even that we have to say ‘it’s not appropriate’,” she said.
“I can’t imagine how it feels for the family and descendants to know that people are not only dishonouring that place but are mocking the tragedy that took place there, all for a photo, all for the ‘Gram.
“I just can’t understand how people could be so inhumane.
“If this had been a site where a white woman … had leapt to her death, they simply wouldn’t be doing this.
The Leap name should stay
Dr Bond said she did not agree with removing The Leap as the place name altogether as it was important to commemorate Aboriginal history.
“There’s been some interesting conversations around place names … that reflect a dark history,” she said.
“I’m not one for changing names that reflect that history because it tells us about who we are and where we’ve come from.
A statue of the woman who jumped off the mountain with her swaddled baby is at the bottom of the peak. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
“It’s important to understand the story of that place for generations to come because it tells us about who we are as a nation and it also tells us about the strength of Aboriginal people in terms of what we’ve survived.
“Unless the families themselves are calling for a change of that name, I certainly I wouldn’t support it.”
Ms Netuschill agreed her family supported keeping the name.
“Sometimes you’ve actually got to acknowledge the history and that includes our black history, our bad time,” she said.
“Because it happened and we can’t sugar-coat that or overlook that.
“For our family [the name] has helped keep the story alive.”
Frame to be removed
After climbing the mountain, one non-indigenous Mackay resident who did not wish to be named said she too felt the frame was inappropriate.
“I felt it was … disrespectful to Aboriginal people past and present and showed a callous disregard to the sad history associated with The Leap,” she said.
“I would also like to understand why the pristine beauty of this lovely slice of coastal rainforest isn’t sufficiently beautiful without a gimmicky ‘been there done that’ selfie frame.”
Ms Netuschil said she accepted people wanted to hike the mountain but it had to be treated respectfully. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
After being alerted of the frame’s existence by Ms Netuschil and her family, the Department of Environment and Science said the frame would be removed this week.
A spokesperson said the sign was placed there without Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services authority.
“QPWS respects the [Yuibera] people and agrees the signage is offensive,” the spokesperson said.
“As well as the insensitive nature of the sign, it is an offence to put any signage on a national park without authority.
“QPWS removes any unauthorised signage from national parks.”
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