The spirit of Mapoon’s old people could be felt as the community opened its long-awaited church last Thursday.
In an emotional ceremony, community leaders spoke of the long battle to have a church built in Mapoon after the state government ripped down the last one in 1963 when it forced all residents to leave the Mission.
“There are many Elders who have left us that fought for many years to make this happen,” said the esteemed Edna Mark, who cut the ribbon to open the building on behalf of the Western Cape Communities Trust, which funded the Mapoon Memorial Church.
“The church is just a building but what happens inside is the most important thing.
“It’s about bringing families together.”
Ms Mark, a Traditional Owner of the Warranggu clan group from the Skardon River area, was removed from Cape York as a child.
“I grew up in Stanthorpe … I was taken from my family, my mother and father, when I was four years old,” she said.
But when she returned to the Cape, Ms Mark said she had an immediate connection to her Country.
“You just knew it was home.”
As the chair of the WCCCA’s northern sub-regional trust, Ms Mark said there was a lot of support from Traditional Owners across the Western Cape to fund the Mapoon church.
“This is something that everyone wanted because they knew the history,” she said.
“I remember before the WCCCA (was formed) we went to the government to ask them if they would build a church at Mapoon and they said no.
“It was one of the reasons the WCCCA was established as a charity, so that we could fund projects like this.”
Mapoon mayor Aileen Addo said the opening of the church would allow the community to finish its healing process.
She moved to Mapoon in 2004 and said building a church was the number one priority of the Elders.
“It is a shame it has taken this long but we got there in the end and it is a really positive thing for Mapoon,” Cr Addo said.
At the same time the church was being opened, many members of the Cape York community were mourning the death of a Mapoon Elder, Aunty Olive Mooka (nee Woodley), who was farewelled with a funeral in Innisfail.
“Our old people, even though they are gone, are with us today,” Cr Addo said at the opening.
“I stand here and I can feel their presence. This church was built in their memory.”
The church was given an opening blessing by Reverend Craig Mischewski and Pastor Semi Ratucoka, who will bring regular services to Mapoon.
The first Christmas Day service at the church will be held this Saturday by Pastor Semi at 10am.
The state government was represented at the opening by Mapoon Ministerial Champion Mark Furner, who said he felt privileged to be part of the historic moment.
In 2001, then Premier Peter Beattie offered a formal apology to the people of Mapoon for both removing them from the community and burning down their homes.
The late Aunty Jean Jimmy said: “It was real cruelty, burning down our houses, it was a very beautiful place, I could say.
“They didn’t give us any reason why they burnt down our homes (but) anyone could think that they burnt down our homes so that nobody would ever return.”
Former Mapoon mayor Peter Guivarra recalled: “A lot of those houses were private houses, built by the people themselves.
“A lot of the men were ringers, crocodile shooters and they processed the skins and, from that money, they bought the materials and built their own houses.”
Visitors to the church will not be able to ignore the history of Mapoon, with pictures hanging on the walls, reminding those of the community’s storied past.
Out front, a bell hangs high.
Symbolically, one side of the bell is polished, while the other remains scarred from fire.
The bell is believed to have been salved from the former Mapoon church.
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 21 December 2021.