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Elders protest decision to evict cemetery caretaker

NOT HAPPY: Ipswich’s Yuggera people feel their traditions are being ignored by the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships who want the caretaker of a sacred cemetery removed from the site.
NOT HAPPY: Ipswich’s Yuggera people feel their traditions are being ignored by the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships who want the caretaker of a sacred cemetery removed from the site. David Nielsen

ATTEMPTS to justify the removal of a cemetery caretaker from a sacred Aboriginal site has fuelled tensions between Ipswich's three tribes.

In the QT late last month the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP) said current caretaker Tom Wilmott was to be evicted from his camp at the Deebing Creek cemetery because the makeshift accommodation on site was unsafe.

DATSIP advised Mr Wilmott he was trespassing on the site and gave him until April 12 to vacate the site.

Elders of the Yuggera and Ugarapul last week responded with a letter to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Curtis Pitt to complain about the "disrespectful treatment towards Mr Wilmott".

In the letter they advised they would escalate protests if the department continued to try to remove Mr Wilmott from the site.

"Deebing Creek is sacred and precious to the Yuggera Nation and Mr Wilmott is the appointed custodian of this resting place of our old people," the elders said in the letter to the Minister.

"It is the sleeping place of the 'Last King of Laidley' Jackie Harvey who is interred in an unmarked grave somewhere on the site. He rests there with the other old ones.

"In the past there has been desecration and vandalism of the site so the Yuggera Elders chose Mr Wilmott as a caretaker to protect and guard the place.

"But once again Yuggera traditions are being ignored by DATSIP and our elders are treated with contempt by the staff of your department."

In the letter the elders said members of the Yuggera people had witnessed poor treatment of Mr Wilmott and attempts had been made to move him against his will.

"We consider it to be disrespectful and demeaning to a respected elder of our nation," the letter states.

"Minister your department is callously making decisions about our traditions that our people don't understand.

"For a department that is supposed to focus on building 'partnerships' with communities the message that we, the Yuggera Nation has received has been very different."

The elders ask for Mr Wilmott to remain on as the sole caretaker for the site and be paid a small amount for performing the role.

Last month DATSIP Director-General Clare O'Connor said the department was working with the Jagera Traditional Owners as the recognised Aboriginal party for cultural heritage purposes to assist with management of the old Deebing Creek Mission site grounds.

She said recent events on the site, including the arrest of another man residing there led her to act to ensure the safety and well-being of Mr Wilmott and the department was trying to secure alternative accommodation for him.

Topics:  aboriginal and torres strait islanders cemetery deebing creek


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