An Instagram-friendly sign 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 after a historical event in which it is believed an Aboriginal woman carrying her three-year-old child leapt off a cliff to evade 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.
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, who declined to comment, to promote the region’s history.
Deb Netuschil is the great-great granddaughter of Johanna Hazeldean, the baby who survived the leap off the mountain.
Ms Netuschil 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.”
Ms Netuschil 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 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.
“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.
“Black pain has long been entertainment for whitefellas in this country.”
Dr Bond 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 [Instagram].
“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.
“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 wouldn’t support it.”
Ms Netuschill said her family supported the name.
“Sometimes you’ve actually got to acknowledge the history and that includes our black history, our bad time,” she said.
“For our family [the name] has helped keep the story alive.”
Frame to be removed
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.”