Europeans first arrived in Queensland in the 1600s with Dutch, Portuguese and French navigators exploring the northeastern region, and then in 1770 Captain James Cook took possession of the east coast. By 1825, the area that is modern-day Brisbane’s central business district (CBD) was established as a penal colony for the more intractable convicts. Despite fierce Aboriginal resistance, the area was later settled (Queensland’s early white settlers indulged in one of the greatest land grabs of all time) and in 1859 the state became a separate colony independent of New South Wales (NSW). Since that time, Queensland has experienced dynamic growth and progress, aided by the discovery of gold and other minerals in the 1860s and ’70s, and successful sugar-cane production. Today it is the fastest-growing state in Australia.
By the turn of the 19th century, the Aboriginal peoples who had survived the bloody settlement of Queensland had been comprehensively run off their lands, and the white authorities had set up ever-shrinking reserves to contain the survivors. A few of these were run according to well-meaning, if misguided, missionary ideals, but the majority were strife-ridden places where people from different areas and cultures were thrown unhappily together as virtual prisoners.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that control of the reserves was transferred to their residents and the reserves became known as ‘communities’. However, these freehold grants, known as Deeds of Grant in Trust, are subject to a right of access for prospecting, exploration or mining.
Over the last few years there has been a tremendous surge in interest in Aboriginal Australia from local and international visitors, which has led to increased government funding for Indigenous tourism initiatives. As such, today there are great opportunities for contact with Aborigines. In addition to the beautiful rock-art sites at various locations, you can encounter living Aboriginal culture at the Yarrabah community south of Cairns, and the Hopevale community north of Cooktown. There are Aborigine-led tours at Mossman Gorge, Malanda Falls and around Kuranda. The Gab Titui Culture Centre on Thursday Island is a unique development by Torres Straits communities, and at the Tjapukai Cultural Park near Cairns, an award-winning Aboriginal dance group performs most days for tourists. There are even opportunities to attend workshops in Brisbane with Aboriginal artists, and the annual Dreaming festival, held as part of the Woodford Folk Festival, is a colourful showcase of Indigenous arts from across the country.
Perhaps the most exciting event, however, is the Laura Festival held every second year in June on the Cape York Peninsula.