About 400 people have attended a memorial and tree planting service in Cairns to remember eight children who died in a home in far north Queensland a year ago.
Saturday marked one year since the four boys and four girls were allegedly murdered by a woman, who was the mother to seven of the children and an aunt to the eighth, at a home at Manoora.
The incident, several days before Christmas, sent shockwaves throughout the community and the world.
The home in Murray Street has since been demolished.
Family members, residents and politicians gathered at 11:00am for a memorial service and to see eight frangipani trees planted on the site.
Frangipani trees represent ‘a beauty coming forward’
Bishop Saibo Mabo led the memorial service and performed a cleansing ceremony.
“For some of us, [we] still feel the sadness of the children’s lives being taken away so early,” he said.
“For some of us, we probably have anger in our hearts for the tragic loss of the children.
“We know the children are in God’s hands … so we now move on, trusting that God is the God of family, who will give us the blessings of comfort, and God will offer forgiveness and peace for those who are still hurting or angry about the taking away of the lives of the children.”
Torres Strait Mayor Pedro Stephen told those gathered that the day was “about connection”.
“As I [arrived] here, I jumped out of my car and saw the frangipani trees – the species that were chosen,” he said.
“I can’t help but to look at that tree and congratulate those who have chosen that … because in the Torres Strait we are at one with the environment and our … identity comes from the environment around us.
“Frangipanis … are the only plant that leaves can fall off, but the flower still blooms.
“I believe as we gather here today in the marking of this place, a terrible loss can be interpreted.
“But what is really happening around us in our environment, a beauty is coming forth, that is challenging each and every one of us that we are responsible to tend to that beauty that is right before us.”
Planting trees ‘a sign of life’
Aunt Thomaseena Jawai said it had been “one of the hardest, toughest things anyone could go through” that “you wished upon no-one”.
“It has been a hard one, however in saying that, it has made us stronger,” she said.
“It all went downhill from last year but we’ve since picked ourselves up and you’ve got to give glory back to God that we’re still alive and the significance of planting trees as a sign of life.
“I haven’t been back for a while because I live in Bamaga – to come back here, it was hard – just even driving here.
“However, jumping out of the car, with four children of my own, straight away they had the memories of playing footy in the park with the boys, how they climbed the trees – stupid things they did when they weren’t allowed to.
“Running away and hiding under the tree and eating lollies when they weren’t supposed to – a lot of good memories.”
A public community event was also held at a local park on Saturday.
Cairns pastor James Gela from the Keriba Yadyl Torres Strait Islander Corporation has been helping the families through their ordeal.
He said he was celebrating his mother’s 90th birthday at Thursday Island when he heard the devastating news last year.
“When you look at that contrast – mum’s celebrating her 90th birthday, and you have children here that haven’t even experienced life yet,” he said.
The woman has been charged with their murders.
The matter is due to return to court mid next year.