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Local musicians shine light on history

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TWO LOCAL musicians have released a song that shines a light on a dark part of their past, and many other people’s past.

EVAC is the new release by Manaia Muki, a collaboration between Ngaro/Gia/Guugu Yimithirr man Harold Bowen and South Sea Islander Adrian Thomas.

The story of EVAC is sung in both traditional language and English, speaking of the forcible relocation of the Cape Bedford Mission, during the Second World War, to Woorabinda.

Harold’s grandfather was a part of the forced removal; Harold’s father and mother wrote the song’s lyrics and Harold wrote the instrumentation.

The pair hope that EVAC can shine a light on the tragedy, which saw many people die.

“Harold’s great grandfather was forcibly removed from Airlie Beach, after helping to build Proserpine as an indentured server(slave) and taken to Cape Bedford,” Adrian, who lives in Cannonvale, said.

“EVAC is a familiar song to First Nations People, highlighting the intergenerational trauma and complex history many Ngaro/Gia survivors have gone through.”

The story starts during the height of World War II.

“On May 17, 1942, military closed the Hope Vale Mission, due to fears that the community might be colluding with Japanese pearlers,” Adrian said.

“Authorities also got word German born Lutheran Missionary Georg Schwarz was colluding with the Germans, they arrested him and placed him in an internment camp. 

“The Hope Valley Mission (later named Hope Vale) was, at the time, sought after land with pastoralists putting pressure on the government.

“There was also a high need for manual agricultural labour, down south, to feed the war movement.”

Arian said the forced relocation was a ‘disaster’.

“Over 250 Aboriginal people at the mission were evacuated and transported to either Woorabinda, south of Rockhampton, or Palm Island,” he said. 

“Woorabinda did not have the facilities to adequately house the large group of new arrivals – arriving at the reserve in winter, people lacked warm clothing and were only issued with a single blanket per person.

“Within six months of their arrival, 39 Cape Bedford people had died, 30 of them children.

“Hookworm was rife in the community, and outbreaks of gastroenteritis, mumps, influenza and pneumonia contributed to the deaths of many of the Cape Bedford children.”

Adrian said EVAC shined light on the tragedy, the poor conditions and transport that the Aboriginal people had to endure, and the Woorabinda conditions.

“May 17 is the memorial of the forced removal, and a time when we reflect on some of the darker aspects of our history,” he said.

Harold and Adrian would like to thank Whitsunday Regional Council for awarding them a grant to record and release the music.

Without their kind support, Harold’s story might not have been told.

EVAC is available on Spotify and Apple Music under Manaia Muki. 

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