Culture: Palm Island

Culture: Palm Island

Culture: Palm Island

Off Townsville coast, in Australia, lies tropical Palm Island which is largely occupied by one of the biggest Aboriginal groups of people in Queensland. Despite the fact that it is about 64 kilometers away from Townsville characterized by features such as serene forested hills, gorgeous sandy beaches and bays, Palm Island became a home where traditional communities struggled to discover a peaceful society. The island was originally occupied by the people of Manbara. By 1914, the Palm Island was created as a settlement for punishment for the indigenous people from over forty language groups and tribes. Currently, the island is occupied by over 2500 people (Lacey, 2009:3). This paper will thus discuss the cultural attributes of Palm Island.

People were relocated from over sixty tribes of Queensland by the government, each tribe from its language to the Palm Island since 1918 forward. The director of Oodgeroo Unit of QUT, Hart Victor, remembered that most of his elders were relocated to Palm Island during the Second World War from Cape York. He stated that his elders did not return to their homes and that they established new families on Palm Island and accessed to their indigenous lands of Cape York was then impossible. Palm Island is encompassed with mixed populations, customs, traditions and languages. It still intensely identifies with indigenous homelands. The governments feel the moral obligation to supply the island with decent shelter to the Islanders (Lehmann, 2016:1)

Sports is part and parcel of the Palm Island community activities. For the first time, among women and men boxing characteristics that was prominent in 2006, eleven youth in Palm Island represented Queensland at boxing championships nationally. The rugby league team at local level are Barracudas and an indelible rugby ex-player is known as Vern Daisy. The inaugural Basketball completion- 3 on 3 was held in June 2003 and this attracted more than 300 locals. Most sports activities are energetically managed through the Palm Island Community and Youth Center (PICYC), and the facility of the Queensland Police Citizens Youth Welfare Association. In February 2005, the Center was opened by the former Premier Peter Beattie over robust objections from the community that highly hated Queensland Police following death in custody in 2004 November as well as the response of the police to the ultimate riot.

Lehmann (2016:1) points out that a lawyer from Brisbane known as Boe Andrew who was the representative for the community council in the death in custody investigation in Palm Island had multiple visits to the island. In his visit the lawyer pointed to some facts to provide systemic and institutional disregard sense endured by the Palm Islanders. According to him, this entails the fact that alcohol triggered violence in an ordinary occurrence, and that islanders had lost hope and power in their future. However, Brill (2015: 19) contends that after the conflict between the Palm Island Council and the State Government over who would lead the facility, the circumstance has now become promising and cooperative. The center is now utilized for its planned purpose of the engagement of the community and the youth through education and sport. The youth and adults largely use the facility including boxing training gym, traditional dancing, traditional and conventional games, indoor soccer of 5 on 5, indoor volleyball, ballroom dancing, as well as aerobics for women.

According to Watson (2010), the PICYC is perceived to be the best success story, particularly referring to the controversial challenges following the riot and the death in custody in 2004. This Center has the Palm Island community as the staff members who teach the youth life and traditional skills including cooking and weaving in a comfortable and safe environment. The Center exudes an ambience of traditional culture and respect which tries building the self-esteem and confidence for children. Another sporting activity that the Center hosts is projects of community growth, facilities and services like radio service, vacation and after school care, an internet café, cooking classes for TAFE, drumming groups, monthly discos, bingo and family movie nights among others. The center employs nine local paid staffs and a volunteer.

In addition, Palm Islander often have a celebratory mood. In July 2011, for instance, the island had an ‘all day kids’ and craft entertainment where many people in the island shared their dreams with Michael Bromage an ABC Open Producer. The town mall had many spectators for the dancers of the Lockhart River who had won the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival and was applauded by the Islanders (Fernbach: 2011:1).

Furthermore, looking back at the island’s history, one can tell that the island was planned for settlement, particularly for people in punishment. In fact these people were left to struggle for themselves while other surrounding places succeeded. As pointed out by the lawyer, the council of the island is mandated with administration of public housing, education and roads which is in contrast from other communities’ way of having the state government responsible for administration of the aforementioned programs. More often than not, the community’s council does not have essential support and resources to fulfil its responsibility meaning that it is bound to fail to deliver.

Moreover, according to Lacey (2009:5), indigenous artwork is a central part of the Palm Island’s culture. The traditional art entails telling a story about dreamtime and is a manner to express what the elderly people and ancestors had expressed for many years. Two buildings that were put up in the island laid down the opportunity for the Public Works Department to create employment in the local construction industry as well as incorporate the culture of Palm Islanders in the buildings in a distinct and unique manner (Lacey, 2009:4). In that case, the construction of these two important buildings reflects the attainable goals of the community and the government when they are working together, especially after the death in custody incidence back then that split them apart. This also demonstrates the hope, good change reconciliation and collaboration aspects. Additionally, it can be observed that the past culture of the island did not embrace consultation between the community and the government. In the current Palm Island, traditional communities and the government engagement is apparent.

In conclusion, Palm Island started off when it was fragile without facilities, sense of belonging and resources and now it is a resilient cultural society. Since the earlier communities had similar stories of landing in the island, they established a sense of connection and created new families, culture and a sense of belonging. This united the community such that they demonstrated even in violence for the death of one of their own in the police custody. This is an indelible incidence that killed the hope and power of the community, but its strong belief and culture of activities such as unity, sporting activities, celebrations, public works (the construction of two beautiful buildings), traditional artwork, and the exquisite natural scenery of the community rehabilitated the island to being a place rich in community spirit and productive indigenous knowledge.


Brill, J. A. 2015, Palm Island: A Sideways Slip in Time: A Historic Fantasy. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing.

Fernbach, N. 2011, Cultural Celebrations Continue on Palm Island. Accessed: 25th April 2016 <>

Lacey, A. 2009, Palm Island, Accessed on 25th April 2016 <>.

Lehmann, S. 2016, Lessons from Palm Island. Accessed: 25th April 2016 <>

Watson, J. 2010, Palm Island–Through a Long Lens. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.