The 1957 Palm Island strike

In June, 1957, seven Indigenous men and their families on Palm Island were arrested at gunpoint in the dead of night.

Their so-called crime?

They were the courageous leaders of a strike by Aboriginal people on the island demanding to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality.

In 1914 the Queensland Government had established what they called an “Aboriginal Settlement” on Palm Island.

It was common for Indigenous activists and resistors, deemed “troublemakers” by the authorities, to be sent there in effective exile.

This was especially the case for those who resisted the punitive and racist “Protection Acts” – intrusive laws which denied autonomy and self-determination to Indigenous people.

In the decades leading up to the strike Indigenous peoples from over 40 different language and clan groups were removed to the island.

The strike was in opposition to the appalling working conditions on the island, and unpaid wages.

It was also a protest against the authoritarian and racist management of the settlement.

Indigenous people on the island were forced to attend a roll call (and risked imprisonment if they did not turn up), had to adhere to a 10pm curfew, were forced to salute when white people passed by, and had to carry white tourists on their backs across the water.

The catalyst for the strike was when Albie Geia was threatened with deportation from the island after being accused of disobeying an overseer. He refused to leave, and the community rallied around him.

Geira and six others led the community in a strike. The strike leaders came to be known as “The Magnificent Seven”. They were: Geia, William Thaiday, Eric Lymburner, Sonny Sibley, Bill Congoo, George Watson and Gordon Tapau.

The strike was declared on 10 June, 1957. It was observed across the island and lasted five days.

It was an unprecedented act of collective resistance. It is often referred to as Strike 57.

The strike was only ended after dawn raids led to the arrest of the “Magnificent Seven”, and their forced removal from Palm Island with their families.

Today, we remember the incredible courage of the Magnificent Seven, and all of the Palm Island strikers – a proud moment in the ongoing movement by First Nations peoples against racism and for justice.

 

The First Nations Workers Alliance campaigns against racism and for justice today. Get involved at: https://fnwa.org.au/

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