Restoring gravesites a window to past and pathway to future for Indigenous rangers

Restoring gravesites a window to past and pathway to future for Indigenous rangers

Restoring gravesites a window to past and pathway to future for Indigenous rangers

Updated 11 October 2016, 15:19 AEDT

Indigenous rangers preserve history in far north Queensland while forging a pathway for the future.

Community and Society:Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander):ALLEnvironment:Land Management:ALLCommunity and Society:History:ALLAustralia:QLD:Cairns 4870indigenous, land, sea, rangers, jabalbina, wujal wujal, graves, colin doughbuoy, traditional ownerABCCharlie McKillopRestoring gravesites a window to past and pathway to future for Indigenous rangersIndigenous rangers preserve history in far north Queensland while forging a pathway for the future.

By his own admission, Colin Doughbuoy was a "bit of a party man" when he was growing up in Cooktown in far north Queensland.

But when he returned to his traditional home, in the tiny, remote Indigenous community of Wujal Wujal, things finally started to fall into place.

Wujal Wujal may be only 50 kilometres down the track, but the move was a catalyst for major change.

Today, the proud Kuku Yalanji man and traditional owner is working on country with the Jabalbinna Land and Sea Rangers, restoring and protecting dozens of bush graves he found using clues from local elders.

The gravesites, including those of his own great, great grandparents, had become overgrown with weeds, damaged by feral pigs and at risk of being lost to the community forever.

"It is a very special place. My mum told me a lot and my aunties and uncles told me a lot," Mr Doughbuoy said.

"Before that, before I ever started as a ranger, I was a young party man, been out here and there partying, never even thought of anything like this."

Mr Doughbuoy said he hoped his actions would leave a lasting legacy and keep the memory alive for his own children, and hopefully, future grandchildren.

"I'm very happy to be back home, back on country," he said.

"Every day, I'm glad to be out working and teaching the rest of the ranger crew.

"I've been taking them out on country and showing them what my uncles have showed me, and I'm very happy to have the younger people beside me. I wish I could get more of them."

Bush graves offer window to the past

About 24 of the original 34 graves have now been restored, with rocks carefully arranged around their perimeters within a cleared area.

The area also has been fenced and is maintained by the rangers.

A plaque has been erected, bearing each person's full name in English and traditional language.

The official re-opening was attended by Mr Doughbuoy's mother and grandmother.

Even though Mr Doughbuoy did not meet his forebearers, he felt close to them as he followed in their footsteps caring for the country on which they once lived, worked and died.

"They had a great life here. How to hunt, how to keep the land clean," he said.

"They were the true warriors, proper traditional owners of this country.

"I'm just like the third or fourth generation and I'm very happy to be part of those old fellas. I don't know how to put it but yeah, very happy."

Mr Doughbuoy said he had pieced together many of the stories about his great, great grandfather's life at Wujal Wujal.

His ancestor died at a nearby tin mining lease, Zig Zag, and was carried by makeshift stretcher to a burial place established close to the old settlement.

"When they had their funeral, they'd bring their body up and bury them here," he said, pointing to the top of a small hill surrounded by large eucalypts.

"There's an old track they used to walk them up and back in the day, they didn't have a coffin box.

"They buried them in old hessian bags, potato bags or whatever they could bury them in … pretty shallow graves."

internationalColin Doughbuoy caring for country at Wujal Wujal in far north QueenslandColin Doughbuoy is proud to be working on Kuku Yalanji country in the footsteps of his elders.