Culture and heritage

Ukerabagh Island

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Why is it an Aboriginal Place?

Ukerebagh Island is a former Aboriginal settlement and reserve.

Why is it important to Aboriginal People?

From the 1920s to the 1960s, Ukerebagh Island was home to Aboriginal people of the traditional Minjungbal Aboriginal Nation as well as other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had come to work in the Tweed area. The settlement created a sense of community for all Aboriginal people and provided an isolated environment in which children could be taught about their culture. Neville Bonner, who was the first Indigenous member of the Australian Parliament (from 1971 to 1983) was born on Ukerebagh Island in 1922.

The NSW Aborigines Protection Board declared the island an Aboriginal Reserve in 1927. As a reserve, the settlement was serviced with government rations and missionaries would also frequently visit. Not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people moved to Ukerebagh Island by choice, as some were herded there by the local police in an effort to keep them from nearby white settlements. When the Aboriginal Reserve was revoked in 1951, some families continued to live on the island up until the early 1970s. In the late 1970s, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people protested against proposed developments in the area, and succeeded in having Ukerebagh Island protected. In 1980 the area was gazetted as the Ukerebagh Island Nature Reserve.

Today local Aboriginal people continue to visit the island, and go there to teach young children about Aboriginal culture, history, and how to use the available resources.

What's on the ground?

On the eastern end of the island, evidence of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander settlement can be found. Cultural attachments to place can be seen, including the survival of the palm tree under which Neville Bonner was born. The same palm tree also marks a former temporary mission on the island. Remaining mango trees planted by former residents can still be found and are evidence of the settlement.

Nature of the environment

Ukerebagh Aboriginal Place is an island situated at the head of the Tweed River. Headlands across the river to the north, west and south-west are primarily developed for residential use; however, the second section of the Ukerebagh Nature Reserve is located on the south east headland. These two sections of nature reserve are home to mangrove and saltmarsh communities as well as some patches of littoral rainforest. With surrounding pressures on the environment of development, the conservation of the area is becoming increasingly important for the many bird species that found in the Tweed Heads area.

What's the land used for?

Ukerebagh Island Aboriginal Place, falling within the Ukerebagh Nature Reserve, is used for conservation purposes to protect its natural and cultural values. The area is also commonly accessed for recreational purposes such as fishing, boating, picnicking, camping (which is discouraged), and bush tucker education for Aboriginal children.

Land status

Ukerebagh Island was gazetted in 1980 as a part of the Ukerebagh Nature Reserve and it remains so today. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is responsible for its management.

Quotes

Claude McDermott Snr: 'Oh, see when people like us that got a history with it, when we go and that it'll just be lost, you know, no body will know the stories or how we used to feel or how we used to live back then, you know. 'Cause I remember when we was at Ukerebagh I remember, you know, a lot of good times.'

Senator Bonner described how he was born on Ukerebagh Island around 1922: 'It was on that island 53 years ago, under a palm tree that still stands and among the lantana bushes in the blacks' camp, that my mother gave birth to me on the ground on a government blanket.'

(Senator Bonner (Queensland) speaking in the Senate, 11th June 1975, Parliament of Australia, Hansard, p. 2569.)

Further information

NPWS 1999, Tweed Heads Historic Site and Ukerebagh Nature Reserve Plan of Management, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney

Page last updated: 21 May 2013