Locational context

There are two distinct groups of First Nation peoples in Australia: Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people.

It is important to understand some of the context for each location where JCU has campuses and study centres. It is also important when visiting these places to be aware of the Traditional Owner Groups and other stakeholders such as Historical Owners, who must be shown protocol.


The Cairns region is home to three Aboriginal Traditional Owner groups. The Yirrijandji (pronounced Irikandji) are the Traditional Owners of the land from Cairns north to Port Douglas. They are also known as the Saltwater people. The Gimuy-Yidinji (prounounced Goomeye Yidinjee) are the Traditional Owners of the land from Cairns south, including Trinity Inlet. The Djabugay (prounouced Japurkai) or Rainforest people are the Traditional Owners of the lands from Cairns up to Kuranda. (They have a strong influence on Cairns because of the Tjapurkai Aboriginal Cultural Centre and the positive impact it has through tourism, and their ability to share their knowledge and wisdom with JCU and the community.)

The Cairns campus is located at the base of the Smithfield Range, 15km north of the Cairns CBD. The campus has a creek passing through it, Atika Creek, named at a ceremony in November 2010. ‘Atika’ means ‘spear’ in Yirray, the language of the Yirrijandji People.

Today there is tension within the Traditional Owner groups about land ‘boundaries’, therefore all three groups should be acknowledged, both in Welcome to Country and Acknowledgment of Country.

Cairns has a large population of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


The Traditional Owners of the Mackay region are the Yuibera (pronounced you-berra).

JCU’s Mackay Education and Research Centre (MERC) is located at the Mackay Base Hospital, close to the south side of the Pioneer River. The centre accommodates the teaching of our Social Work degree and provides a larger facility for medical and dental clinical placements. The Health and Medicine Faculty, in partnership with the Mater Mackay, offers a Bachelor of Nursing Science (Pre- Registration), and is also located near the Pioneer River, on the north side.

Mackay is named after Captain John Mackay who came in search of fertile lands for his cattle in 1860. He later became an employer of “kanakas” as the sugar cane industry grew. However in later years his descendants have worked cooperatively with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander people of the district.

The Yuibera went from 4,500 to 73 known survivors, in the early 1900s. These surviving people were placed in one of the first reserves in Queensland that extended from Bakers Creek to Sandy Creek, some 15 minutes from the heart of the City of Mackay

The Yuibera acknowledge the Torres Strait Islanders and South Sea Islanders when giving a Welcome to Country. You may even see the flags of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands on display when in Mackay, representing the South Sea Islanders.

When in Mackay, one wants to acknowledge, as well as the Yuibera, the large population of Torres Strait Islanders and South Sea Islanders.

Mount Isa

Mount Isa’s Traditional Owner Group is the Kalkadoon people.

The Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health (MICRRH) is a participating University Department of Rural Health (UDRH) and in 2001 MICRRH became incorporated into JCU and today sits within JCU’s Division of Tropical Health and Medicine.

In 2011, the Mount Isa Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Reference Group formed, consisting of Elders, community members and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. Their purpose is to support JCU to deliver services to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in a culturally appropriate manner and to improve how JCU engages with communities.

The Kalkadoon tribe led a subsistence lifestyle on the land the white settlers looked at as nothing but poor grazing land with the odd mineral deposit. As settlers and prospectors pressed further into their lands the Kalkadoon tribe members set out on one of Australia's most successful guerrilla wars in a fight for their lands. Their success continued until at Battle Mountain in 1884, with what some historians have called a rush of blood, the tribe attacked a fortified position in large numbers and suffered terrible losses. The weakened state of the tribe made their land more vulnerable to the settlers and soon much of the land was lost. Armed patrols chasing the surviving Kalkadoon tribe members made times hard in the area for the following decades.

To read more about Mount Isa’s history, please visit JCU’s Mount Isa Study Centre website.

Thursday Island

The traditional name for Thursday Island is Waibene (pronounced whyben). The Traditional Owners of this and surrounding islands are the Kaurareg (pronounced car-ra-reg).

JCU Thursday Island‘s Study Centre opened in 2003 for locals in this remote region of Australia to obtain a nursing or education qualification. The centre is based on Thursday Island which is one of 275 islands that make up the Torres Strait.

Communities live on 18 of the islands and on two mainland communities on the northern tip of Queensland. The Torres Strait Islands extend from this northern tip of Queensland, northwards where it comes close to Papua New Guinea. The islands have been inhabited for at least 2,500 years, and possibly much longer.

Scottish geographer Alexander Dalyrmple named the strait in 1769 after Luis Vaz de Torres, a Spaniard who was on the first recorded European navigation of the strait, 1605.

Thursday Island is the administrative and business centre of the Torres Strait and can be reached by flying from Cairns into Horn Island and then taking a short ferry trip to Thursday Island. Thursday Island’s population is a diverse mix of cultures, due largely to its geography and history. Both the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments have offices based there and local enterprises include art, pearl and souvenir retailers, and seafood outlets.

Depending on where your business is within the Torres Strait, one must determine the Traditional Owners for that Island and The Torres Strait Regional Authority have a comprehensive Cultural Protocols Guide.

The Torres Strait Islander Regional Council and the prescribed Body Corporates (Native Title Delegates) are the key stakeholders to determine access to visits and cultural protocols.

The majority of Torres Strait Islanders live on the mainland and the two main settlements are Cairns and Townsville.


The two Traditional Owner groups in Townsville are the Wulgurukaba and Bindal peoples.

Archaeological findings from the Bindal and Wulgurukaba peoples have been dated at over 10,000 years old. An important symbol for the Bindal people is the shooting star. They believe that wherever the star fell, or the direction the star fell meant there was either danger coming or someone from that direction was in need of help or in danger. Wulgurukaba means “canoe people”. An important symbol of the Wulgurukaba people is the carpet Snake. The Traditional Owners of Magnetic Island are the Wulgurukaba.

JCU Townsville’s campus is located at the base of Mt Stuart. There are a number of sacred sites, places used for significant ceremonial purposes including birthing and burial, around the campus. The campus also has two creeks passing through it, Goondaloo Creek and Wadda Mooli Creek. Both creeks were named at a ceremony held on 21 April 2010.