Mornington Island

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Native name:
Mornington island.jpg
Mornington Island from space, September 1991
Mornington is located in Queensland
LocationGulf of Carpentaria
CoordinatesCoordinates: 16°30′S 139°30′E / 16.500°S 139.500°E / -16.500; 139.500
ArchipelagoWellesley Islands
Total islands22
Area1,002 km2 (387 sq mi)
Highest elevation150 m (490 ft)
Highest pointunnamed
Local Government AreaShire of Mornington
Largest settlementGununa
Population1007 (2001)
Pop. density1/km2 (3/sq mi)
Ethnic groupsAboriginal Australians

Mornington Island, also known as Kunhanhaa,[1] is an island in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Shire of Mornington, Queensland, Australia.[2] 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.[3] The Manowar and Rocky Islands Important Bird Area lies about 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the northwest of Mornington.[4]

Geography and demography[edit]

Mornington Island within the Wellesley Islands
Location of Wellesley Islands in Australia

The general topography of the island is flat with the maximum elevation of 150 metres (490 ft). The island is fringed by mangrove forests and contains 10 estuaries, all in near pristine condition.[5]

The town of Gununa is located on the south-western end of the island overlooking the Appel Channel (16°40′55″S 139°11′31″E / 16.682°S 139.192°E / -16.682; 139.192 (Appel Channel)) which separates it from Denham Island (16°42′52″S 139°09′35″E / 16.7144°S 139.1597°E / -16.7144; 139.1597 (Denham Island)).[6][7][8]

The population was estimated to be 1,143 in 2016[9] 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),[1] 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.[10]


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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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).[14]

Gununa Post Office opened by 1982.[15]

The Mornington Island Airport was a temporary airfield used by the RAAF and allied air forces during World War II.

Penile subincision is still traditionally performed on the island for those wanting to learn a complex ceremonial language called Damin.

The Mornington Island State School opened on 28 January 1975.[16]

In 1978, the Queensland government decided to take over control of both the Aurukun and Mornington Island missions.

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[edit]

A vignette for affixing to mail for the 1943 Christmas parachute drop to 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.[17][18]

Rev. Wilson took over, serving as superintendent until about 1941; mission staff were evacuated during the Second World War. Rev. James McCarthy[19] 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.[14]

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.[20]

In 1978 the Queensland Government took over the administration of both Aurukun and Mornington Island mission stations.[17]


Mornington Island State School is a government primary and secondary (Early Childhood-10) school for boys and girls at Lardil Street (16°39′59″S 139°10′57″E / 16.6663°S 139.1825°E / -16.6663; 139.1825 (Mornington Island State School)).[21][22] In 2018, the school had an enrolment of 263 students with 25 teachers and 14 non-teaching staff (11 full-time equivalent).[23] It includes a special education program.[21]

There are no schools offering education to Year 12 on the island; nor are there any nearby.[24] Distance education or boarding school would be the only options.

In literature[edit]

Writer Ernestine Hill travelled to Mornington Island and a 1933 photograph she took of the island is held by the University of Queensland's library in their Ernestine Hill collection.[25]

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).[26]

Indigenous art of Mornington Island is described in The Heart of Everything: The art and artists of Mornington & Bentinck Islands, ed. Nicholas Evans, Louise Martin-Chew and Paul Memmott (2008).[27]

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".[28][29]

Notable people[edit]

Alcohol problems[edit]

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.[31] The plan restricted tavern opening hours, limits sales to only light and mid-strength beers, bans takeaway alcohol sales and home brewing.[32] In December 2003 police reinforcements had to be sent to Mornington Island after riots broke out when tough new alcohol laws were introduced.[31]

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.[33]

Alcohol continues to be a major social and health problem.[34] 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.[35]

As of 2020 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.[36]


Climate data for Mornington Island (1914-present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
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[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bond, Hilary (March 2004). ‘We're the mob you should be listening to’: Aboriginal Elders talk about community-school relationships on Mornington Island (PDF) (PhD). James Cook University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 August 2018. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  2. ^ "Mornington Island – island in the Shire of Mornington (entry 22847)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Gununa – population centre in Shire of Mornington (entry 15097)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  4. ^ BirdLife International. (2011). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Manowar and Rocky Islands. Downloaded from Archived 30 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine on 11/08/2011.
  5. ^ "Estuary Assessment 2000: Basin: Mornington Island". Australian Natural Resources Atlas. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Archived from the original on 6 October 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  6. ^ "Queensland Globe". State of Queensland. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  7. ^ "Appel Channel – channel in the Shire of Mornington (entry 680)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  8. ^ "Denham Island – island in the Shire of Mornington (entry 9734)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  9. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016). "2016 Census QucikStats". Archived from the original on 28 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Mornington Island". Queensland Government. Retrieved 13 October 2020. CC-BY icon.svg Text was copied from this source, which is available under a Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence.
  11. ^ CC-BY-icon-80x15.png This Wikipedia article incorporates CC-BY-4.0 licensed text from: "Indigenous Languages of Queensland". State Library of Queensland. State Library of Queensland. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  12. ^ CC-BY icon.svg This Wikipedia article incorporates text from Indigenous Languages map of Queensland published by the State Library of Queensland under CC-BY licence, accessed on 30 January 2020.
  13. ^ "Mornington Shire". Queensland Places. Centre for the Government of Queensland, University of Queensland. Archived from the original on 29 October 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  14. ^ a b Memmott, Paul (1980). "Chapter 6: Culture Change on Mornington Island". Lardil properties of place: An ethnological study in man-environment relations (PhD). University of Queensland. pp. 237–335. doi:10.14264/uql.2014.1.
  15. ^ Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Premier Postal Auctions. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  16. ^ Queensland Family History Society (2010), Queensland schools past and present (Version 1.01 ed.), Queensland Family History Society, ISBN 978-1-921171-26-0
  17. ^ a b "Mornington Island". Calvary Presbytery. Archived from the original on 10 March 2020.
  18. ^ "Queensland Missions with German speakers". German Missionaries in Australia. Griffith University. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  19. ^ Diaz, Amanda. "Caitlyn finds footage of her island home". NFSA. NFSA Stories: Mornington Island. Includes movie footage. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  20. ^ "Doomadgee". Queensland Government. Retrieved 10 October 2020. CC-BY icon.svg Text was copied from this source, which is available under a Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence.
  21. ^ a b "State and non-state school details". Queensland Government. 9 July 2018. Archived from the original on 21 November 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  22. ^ "Mornington Island State School". Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  23. ^ "ACARA School Profile 2018". Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  24. ^ "Queensland Globe". State of Queensland. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  25. ^ "Mornington Island Mission, 1933". UQ eSpace. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  26. ^ Worsley, Peter (28 June 2006). "David McKnight". The Guardian.
  27. ^ Evans, Nicholas; Martin-Chew, Louise; Memmott, Paul (2008). The Heart of Everything: The Art and Artists of Mornington & Bentinck Islands. McCulloch & McCulloch Australian Art Books. ISBN 978-0-9804494-1-9. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  28. ^ Bernd Würsig B.. William Perrin W.. Würsig B.. Thewissen M. G. J.. 2008. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. 2nd Edition. pp.488. ISBN 9780123735539. Academic Press. Retrieved on March 03, 2017
  29. ^ "Folklore and Legends (marine mammals)". Archived from the original on 19 May 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  30. ^ "Biography - Dick (Goobalathaldin) Roughsey". Indigenous Australia. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  31. ^ a b Ian Townsend (1 December 2003). "Riot on Mornington Island over alcohol bans". PM (ABC Radio). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 10 November 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  32. ^ Margaret Wenham (28 December 2007). "Eight charged with Christmas rampage". The Courier Mail. Queensland Newspapers. Archived from the original on 28 December 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  33. ^ Gabrielle Dunlevy (24 January 2008). "Brawling forces island pub closure". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Digital. Archived from the original on 25 October 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  34. ^ "Mount Isa: Further search warrants conducted on Mornington Island". Queensland Police. 25 September 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  35. ^ Murray, Lucy (6 August 2017). "Mornington Island community wants alcohol ban lifted to end home-brew epidemic". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  36. ^ "Mornington Island". Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (Queensland Government). 2 February 2020. Retrieved 11 October 2020. CC-BY icon.svg Text was copied from this source, which is available under a Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence.
  37. ^ "Climate Statistics for Mornington Island". Climate statistics for Australian locations. Bureau of Meteorology. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2014.

External links[edit]