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Harold Blair AM
– opera singer, teacher and activist
Harold Blair grew up at the Purga Mission where listening to
the gramophone is attributed to his love of music and
singing. His very fine tenor was becoming noticed and when
in 1944 world famous soprano Marjorie Lawrence visited
Brisbane, she gave Harold an audition. Harold Blair was only
twenty years old. He went on to study at the Melbourne
Conservatorium and this launched his global singing career.
On returning to Australia, he became a teacher and started the Harold Blair
Aboriginal Children’s Project with the aim of helping young people. In 1949,
Harold Blair made an historical speech regarding his Aboriginality and pride. He
died at the age of 51 and his ashes are scattered at Deebing Creek with a
memorial at the cemetery stating “Go, our beloved, be free in the land from
whence you came.”
Harold Blair’s Speech in Ipswich 1949
“I’m very proud of being the first Aboriginal to gain a music diploma. I am very
proud of my race and I know that, by going on as a singer and becoming, as I
hope, a world artist, I can in some small way help my race. They have never
had a really fair deal, but this is one city that has given the Aboriginal a chance.
The Aboriginal who has lived near Ipswich has always done well.
It is my desire to influence the people of Australia to give the Aborigines a
chance. He deserves it. He owns this country. We do not mind you coming
here – the white man has brought new ideas into this country, but the
Aboriginal who has always been friendly has never been taught how to apply
these. It is not too late to do something for the Aboriginals. They must be
given a chance for equality and higher education.”
Neville Bonner
– politician and activist and Australia’s first Aboriginal
Member of Parliament
Neville Bonner’s mother grew up on the Deebing Creek Mission and although
she moved away from the area before Neville was born, he came back to
Ipswich as a young man in 1960. Despite a childhood of poverty and little
education, Neville had already achieved respect for his work ethic and
management ability. In Ipswich he joined the local branch of OPAL – One
People of Australia League where he soon rose to the position of state
president. Politics beckoned and the 1967 Referendum on Aboriginal matters saw
Neville handing out how to vote cards for the Liberal Party. He ended up joining
the party and at this time he was working for Moreton Shire Council as a bridge
carpenter. When the Senate elections came around in 1970, he nominated for
the third spot on the ticket. Although not successful initially, the following year
a casual senate vacancy saw him make history when appointed to the Senate
where he remained for 12 years. In 1979, Neville Bonner was chosen as Australian
of the Year. After leaving politics he was appointed to the board of the ABC and
became involved in a range of organisations including the Ipswich Women’s
Shelter and World Vision. In 1999, he was named the Ipswich Citizen of the Year
and sadly died later that year from lung cancer.
When asked about the legacy of his historic election to the Senate, Neville
Bonner replied, “It proved to the community that, given an opportunity, there’s
no end to where an Aboriginal person can go.”
Alex Henry and Sam Anderson
– cricketers
In the early part of the twentieth century, the Deebing Creek Mission boasted
an excellent cricket team that produced two cricketers of national significance;
Alec Henry and Sam Anderson. Alec Henry was a fast bowler who represented
Queensland in the Sheffield Shield competition in March 1902. In a match
against England in the 1903-4 tour, his speed “like a flash out of a gun” earned
the respect of the opposition. Unfortunately the Protector of Aborigines at
the time decided that Mr Henry should be removed from Deebing Creek and
he was sent to Baranbah and later to Yarrabah. Alex Henry died of tuberculosis
in 1909 at the young age of 29.
Sam Anderson played as an accomplished all-rounder and was selected for
Queensland Country in 1906 and 1911. He moved to New South Wales where
he earned the moniker “The Prince of Darkness”. Sam Andersen had a long and
respected cricketing career and is probably best remembered for bowling Don
Bradman for a duck at a game in Lismore in 1928.
Robert Anderson
– sprinter
Robert Anderson was a very talented athlete who also grew up at the Deebing
Creek Mission. He competed in the Commonwealth Celebration in 1901
winning a race of 118.5 yards (108.4 metres) in only 11.6 seconds. In 1904, he beat
world record holder Arthur Postle, “the Crimson Flash”, at the Charters Towers
100, and claimed the prize of £100 which was a huge amount of money at the
time. Despite the disapproval of the Protector of Aborigines regarding
professionalism in sport for Aborigines, Robert Anderson continued to
compete around the country. Robert Anderson’s tribal name was Goupong
and a park near Redbank Plaza Shopping Centre is named in his honour.
Ron Richards
– boxer
A former resident of the Purga Mission (formerly the Deebing Creek Mission)
Ron Richards became a highly respected boxer honing his trade in the tough
arena of the fighting tent. His career from 1928 to 1945 included 140 bouts with
more than 60 knockout victories. He claimed numerous titles including the
British Empire middleweight and the Australia middleweight, light heavyweight
and heavyweight crowns. Ron Richards’s career was celebrated by his
descendents and wider community at the Purga Mission on 8 May 2010 on
what would have been his 100th birthday. A memorial plaque was unveiled in
his honour.
On 12 December 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding
and an historic Indigenous Land Use Agreement was
signed between the Ipswich City Council and the Jagera,
Yuggera and Ugarapul people. The agreement fully
recognises the original owners and inhabitants of the land.
In 2000, the Ipswich based Nunukul Watamaa Aboriginal
dance troupe was selected to perform at the opening
of the Sydney Olympic Games.
Council’s Community Development Branch received a
National Local Government Commendation Award in
2006 for their “Living in Harmony” project and in 2007
for the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Employment
Expo “Create your own Deadly Destiny”.
From 1842 when the Ipswich area was first opened for settlement,
through to the 1850s, there were frequent violent clashes
between the Aboriginal people and the new settlers.
In 1892, Aboriginal clans camped at what is now Queens Park
in Ipswich and at Purga.
The Aboriginal Protection Association was formed by Reverend
Peter Robertson and local business figures William Foote,
George Thorn and John Greenham with philanthropic and
economic motives.
Around 1887, the Aboriginal Protection Association began working
on establishing a mission at Deebing Creek.
Deebing Creek Mission moved to Purga in 1915 and
continued until June 1948.
Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dance Troop