The first Europeans known to have walked on Australian soil were Dutch sailors. In 1605, they steered the Duyfken into the Gulf of Carpentaria and landed at Cape Keerweer on western Cape York, south of Aurukun. Their plans to build a city there did not eventuate, and the area is still much as it was all those years ago.
In 1904, the Presbyterian church established the Archer River Mission station on the western Cape, and over the next few decades, Aboriginal people were moved to the mission from a very large area of surrounding country. The mission is long gone, but the town of Aurukun remains on its site. It’s home to about 1900 people, from five indigenous clan groups. Aurukun shire includes much of the traditional country of the Wik, Wik Way and Kugu people.
The Shire was created in 1978, with the Aurukun Shire Council granted a 50-year land lease. It is stunning country, about 100 kilometres south of Weipa and about the same distance from the main Cape York Peninsula road.
Mid-way through last year, Derek Walpo became mayor of Aurukun Shire. Mr Walpo had been a health worker in the community before entering local government. He knows it will take hard work and a long-term view to put Aurukun on the road to a brighter future. There have been law and order problems in recent times, and Mr Walpo’s support for a continued ban on alcohol in the community won’t please all his constituents. Mayor Walpo believes it’s the right decision, and says people who smuggle alcohol into Aurukun face heavy penalties.
He says training and job creation is crucial – real training that leads to real jobs for indigenous people. Mr Walpo is hopeful moves to develop bauxite mining will create jobs. Bauxite mining rights in the area were first granted in 1975 but have never been exercised. The Queensland Government and Aurukun Shire Council hope mining rights will be awarded by the end of this year.
Listen to my interview with Mayor Derek Walpo.