Friday, 18 May 2012

17 May 1942 - Furious, Terrible & Internment

On 17 May 1942 the British Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, asked the Admiralty to report on the transfer of HMS FURIOUS to the Royal Australian Navy.  The Admiralty reported the vessel could not be spared.  Furious, an aircraft carrier, had also been used as an aircraft carrier in WWI.
The deck of the Furious, 1918  Source

The Fremantle bound USS TAUTOG, (submarine), sank the Japanese submarine I-28, carrying a midget submarine, in the Caroline Islands.  I-28 was one of the flotillas of six submarines ordered to attack shipping in Sydney Harbour in May 1942.  One of the most successful submarines of WWII Tautog was credited with sinking 26 Japanese ships earning her the nickname "The Terrible T."

In May 1942, Allied forces established Cape York Peninsula as their base to repel the advancing Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Air strips were built at Iron Range (Lockhart River) and Cooktown, which also got a prisoner of war camp. 
Cape Bedford Mission (Hope Vale) the first mission on Cape York Peninsula, was initiated by Lutheran staff from Cooper Creek (South Australia) in the 1880s, and was the home base of many local aborigines. George Schwarz, a German-born Lutheran pastor had arrived at the mission in 1887, and  Schwarz and his wife owned a farm nearby at Eight Mile, which produced food for the mission population, with assistance by the Aboriginal men.
Because Pastor Schwarz was of German descent, and the mission also had connections with Japanese luggers, Army Intelligence regarded the mission as a potential security problem. Local people also claimed the mission Aborigines were disloyal, which didn’t help.  
At dawn on 17 May 1942 the army and local police arrived with a convoy of trucks to arrest Pastor Schwarz and remove the Aboriginal people. They removed 254 Aborigines, mainly Guugu Yimidhirr people from the Eight Mile and Spring Hill, taking them to Cooktown, then onward to Cairns. The elderly were sent to Palm Island, and 200 or more were dispatched to Woorabinda near Rockhampton.  The people found Woorabinda cold and inhospitable, and twenty-eight people died in the first month.  By March 1943, 60 had lost their lives. Within weeks of their removal, construction of a RAAF airfield was underway at Schwarz’s Eight Mile farm. You can read more about it here.
In 1949 a group of missionaries returned to Hope Vale, but not much was left of the old site after years of war, neglect, a cyclone, and white ant attacks. As well as building the airstrip the army had used some of the buildings for target practice.  A new mission was built on the Endeavour River, 25 km from the old mission on land that had been owned by the Cooktown Plantations company.  Eventually the surviving Guugu Yimidhirr people, were ‘allowed to return’ , by their own means, as no transport was organised. 

The population of the Guugu Yimidhirr people at Hopevale today is about 800.  Guugu Yimithirr is also the name of the language of the  Guugu Yimidhirr people.  It is one of the more famous Australian languages because it is the source of the word kangaroo.  You can read more about the language here.

Deb xx

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