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A Man of the 'Wild' Queensland Frontier: King Gida of the Kaurareg
Published online: June 2021
Memmott, P., Richards, J. & Kane, J.
Memmott, P., Richards J., and Kane, J. 2021. A Man of the ‘Wild’ Queensland Frontier: King Gida of the Kaurareg. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 12: 27–71. Brisbane. https://doi.org/10.17082/j.2205-3126.96.36.1991.2021-03
Kaurareg, Torres Strait, Australian Aboriginal studies, Aboriginal biography, frontier contact history, Indigenous performance, nineteenth century Queensland history, Gida, Archibald Meston
This biographical study concerns a Kaurareg man named Gida (c.1849–1899), who resided on Muralag (Prince of Wales Island), in Torres Strait in the late nineteenth century. It is part of a larger research project on the so-called ‘Meston’s Wild Australia’ or ‘Wild Australia Show’ of 1892–93 which was conceived by Queensland entrepreneur Archibald Meston. Meston conscripted a travelling troupe of Aboriginal people from the Queensland frontier whom he presented to the public as ‘wild’ but ‘magnificent’ both physically and in relation to particular skilled customs, yet doomed to extinction, being in the ‘dying days of their race’. The tour climax was planned to be their appearance at the Chicago World Fair in late 1893, but the troupe were left stranded by Meston in Melbourne.
The aim here is to provide a longitudinal and culturally informed account of Gida’s life, with understanding of a range of critical life events, in addition to those that projected him into the Wild Australia Show and allowed him to return triumphant from the tour. Gida became renowned as a leader being referred to as both a ‘King’ and by the ignominious name of ‘Tarbucket’, titles reflecting the ethnocentric colonial construction of the ‘other’ as both a romanticised primitive, partly of the ‘wild’, yet simultaneously a faithful servant of the state, shaped as such by the emerging Aboriginal policies.
Gida and his co-performers were conscripted from Kiwain village on Muralag. Gida had fled here as a young man after another village had been attacked and ‘razed’ in c.1870 by a punitive expedition led by Frank Jardine of Somerset settlement on Cape York, in which a significant number of his tribespeople were slaughtered for allegedly head-hunting the crew of a wrecked ship. An analysis of this phase of history more readily explains the personal and socio-economic impacts on Gida and the Kaurareg people, before tracing the later fate of Gida and the ongoing inter-generational trauma of his descendants as acknowledgement by their contemporary leader.
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