Cabbage Tree Island sisters Susan (left) and Marcia Anderson at the home where they were born and raised, and where Marcia now lives.
Cabbage Tree Island sisters Susan (left) and Marcia Anderson at the home where they were born and raised, and where Marcia now lives. Jacklyn Wagner

Sisters to fight eviction

WHEN Marcia Anderson received notice that she was being evicted from the home of her birth, the result of late rent payments, she talked to her sister Susan.

Together they will fight the eviction and in doing so hope to protect many other citizens of Cabbage Tree Island who also face eviction by their very own Aboriginal Land Council.

About nine families are believed to have been issued eviction notices, which has caused dismay among the close-knit community.

Jali Aboriginal Land Council, which did not return phone calls yesterday, is charged with collecting rent from the 30-odd homes on the flood-prone island.

“We get nothing from Jali Land Council in return for our rent payments,” Susan said.

“We even lost our doctor service to Ballina until we complained about it. Most of the residents here are on a disabled pension and they can’t afford to pay $300 a fortnight.”

Susan and Marcia Anderson say they are within their rights to fight eviction because they, along with their brother Douglas, are the rightful custodians of the island home. Their mother’s father, John Jack Cook, bought it with money he earned cutting cane by hand.

A native title claim over all the lands controlled by the Numbahjing Clan, lodged by Susan and Douglas Anderson nearly a decade ago, has not been knocked back, unlike eight or so previous claims – one of which was filed by the Jali Aboriginal Land Council. Susan Anderson says that’s because she is recognised by authorities in Canberra as the rightful custodian of the island.

Together, the Anderson sisters are fighting to preserve a way of life originally founded by their generous grandfather, a man who donated land for the island’s school back in 1893.

John Jack Cook’s life story is as incredible as his generosity. As a boy he was the sole surviving member of his family, murdered in a massacre at Evans Head in 1846 which claimed the lives of 100 local Aboriginal people.

John Jack jumped into the Evans River at Gumma Garra, near Iron Gates, and swam for his life, before watching his sister being shot dead on the river bank.

The traumatised boy was dragged from the water by a friendly policeman, fishing near the mouth of the Evans River, and was eventually taken to isolated Cabbage Tree Island for safety.

A friendly white man named Henry Cook, who worked for the Lands Department at Broadwater, reared the boy and taught him some of the white man’s ways, including how to apply for a land title.

That title was later taken from John Jack by the Aboriginal Protection Board, at a time when no black man was allowed to own land.

In those early years, John Jack developed the island as a refuge for Aboriginal people from numerous family clans. He and his sons built boats to catch fish, they grew and harvested vegetable and together helped feed the residents.

In 1893 it is recorded that John Jack gave about a hectare of land to the government to build a school for the island’s children.

John Jack lived to be 104 and his stories are stuck fast in family memory.

Now, with a new threat to their livelihood, his grand-daughters are willing to take action, just as John Jack Cook would have.

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