|Native name: |
|Location||Gulf of Carpentaria|
|Area||1,002 km2 (387 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||150 m (490 ft)|
|Local Government Area||Shire of Mornington|
|Pop. density||1/km2 (3/sq mi)|
|Ethnic groups||Aboriginal Australians|
Mornington Island, also known as Kunhanhaa, is an island in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Shire of Mornington, Queensland, Australia. It is the northernmost and largest of 22 islands that form the Wellesley Islands group. The largest town, Gununa, is in the southwestern part of the island. The Manowar and Rocky Islands Important Bird Area lies about 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the northwest of Mornington.
Geography and demography
The population was estimated to be 1,143 in 2016 and the majority of the citizens live in the township of Gununa. Mornington Island is included in the Shire of Mornington local government area. The majority of the islanders are Aboriginal.
Lardil, who prefer to be known as Kunhanaamendaa (meaning people of Kunhanhaa), is the predominant nation on Mornington Island and they are the traditional owners of the land and surrounding seas. Kaiadilt people arrived more recently (1947–8) after being relocated from nearby Bentinck Island by the government after it was badly damaged by a cyclone. More people, of other nations, arrived from Doomadgee Mission in 1958.
Lardil (also known as Gununa, Ladil) is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken on Mornington Island and the Northern Wellesley Islands, within the local government boundaries of the Mornington Shire. Kuku-Thaypan (also known as Gugu Dhayban, Kuku Taipan, Thaypan) is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken in Hann River, Laura and Musgrave River and on Mornington Island, within the local government boundaries of the Cook Shire.
Macassan trepangers once travelled thousands of kilometres from Sulawesi to Mornington Island and other Australian mainland destinations in search of sea cucumbers. The eastern cape of the island was named Cape Van Diemen after Anthony van Diemen. Commander Matthew Flinders named the island after Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley who was known when younger as the Earl of Mornington.
On 22 April 1905 all of the Wellesley islands apart from Sweers Island were proclaimed as an Aboriginal reserve, under a Protector of Aborigines appointed by the Queensland Government, Protector Howard. Bleakley was the next Protector, from 1913, but did not visit the island until 1916, by which time the first missionary (Hall) had arrived (see below for mission history).
Gununa Post Office opened by 1982.
The Mornington Island State School opened on 28 January 1975.
Cyclones routinely hit the island. In 2000 Cyclone Steve passed directly over the island. Tropical Cyclone May passed in February 1988 and Tropical Cyclone Bernie passed to the west in early 2002. Tropical Cyclone Fritz passed directly over the island on 12 February 2003. Severe Tropical Cyclone Harvey caused damage on the island in February, 2005.
Mornington Island Mission
The Mornington Island Mission was established in 1914 by Robert Hall, the Presbyterian assistant superintendent from Weipa Mission, who ran it until his murder in October 1917. There were also Moravian missionaries there.
Rev. Wilson took over, serving as superintendent until about 1941; mission staff were evacuated during the Second World War. Rev. James McCarthy was Superintendent from 1944 to 1948, and he imposed a strict regime of adhering to Christian customs and eroded the authority of the elders. Belcher arrived when Taylor was superintendent, taking over as superintendent around 1952. Belcher ran a more humane administration than his predecessors, and respected the Lardil culture.
Mission conditions were not as severe and restrictive as they were at the Doomadgee Mission, and by the late 1950s the practice of separating children from parents in dormitories had been abandoned, so many residents of Doomadgee moved to Mornington Island at this time.
Mornington Island State School is a government primary and secondary (Early Childhood-10) school for boys and girls at Lardil Street ( In 2018, the school had an enrolment of 263 students with 25 teachers and 14 non-teaching staff (11 full-time equivalent). It includes a special education program.).
Mornington Island was the site of research over several decades by British anthropologist David McKnight and described in a series of books, People, Countries, and the Rainbow Serpent: Systems of classification among the Lardil of Mornington Island (1999), From Hunting to Drinking: The devastating effects of alcohol on an Australian Aboriginal community (2002), Going the Whiteman’s Way: Kinship and marriage among Australian Aborigines (2004) and Of Marriage, Violence and Sorcery: The quest for power in northern Queensland (2005).
According to the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2008), a group of Indigenous Mornington Island people has been communicating with wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins for millennia. It is said that they have "a medicine man who calls the dolphins and 'speaks' to them telepathically. By these communications he assures that the tribes' [sic] fortunes and happiness are maintained".
In November 2003 the Government of Queensland implemented an Alcohol Management Plan to 19 Indigenous communities in Queensland where alcohol abuse was rampant, aimed at alleviating high levels of domestic violence, child abuse and child neglect. The plan restricted tavern opening hours, limits sales to only light and mid-strength beers, bans takeaway alcohol sales and home brewing. In December 2003 police reinforcements had to be sent to Mornington Island after riots broke out when tough new alcohol laws were introduced.
On Christmas Day 2007 a number of men were involved in a break-in at the Lelka Murrin Hotel and a brawl with police ensued, causing 16 people to be charged. The hotel's licence was suspended indefinitely a month later as a consequence.
Alcohol continues to be a major social and health problem. After the tavern was shut down, locals took to home brewing, providing almost unlimited quantities of very cheap alcohol. In 2017 Mornington Shire Council called for the ban to be lifted so that alcohol could be better regulated from a single legal outlet.
As of 2020[update] a total ban on alcohol is in place across all foreshores and the 23 islands in the Wellesley, South Wellesley Islands, Forsythe and Bountiful Islands groups and Sweers Island, apart from the Sweers Resort.
|Climate data for Mornington Island (1914-present)|
|Record high °C (°F)||38.3
|Average high °C (°F)||32.2
|Average low °C (°F)||25.5
|Record low °C (°F)||19.5
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||326.8
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm)||15.2||14.2||12.2||4.3||1.4||0.9||0.5||0.7||0.8||1.5||4.6||9.6||65.9|
|Source: Bureau of Meteorology|
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