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Smoking ceremony marks campus start, evokes Indigenous family memories

Published:12 August 2016

1. Professor Gracelyn Smallwood (second from left) and other participants in the Smoking Ceremony. 2 and 3. The ceremony under way. 4. Member for Herbert Cathy O'Toole, Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business Leeanne Enoch and CQUni staff member Dr Jenni Judd. 5. CQUni staff member Nathan Brooks-English listens to railway worker stories. 6. Member for Thuringowa Aaron Harper, developer Peter Honeycome and Associate Vice-Chancellor (Townsville and North West Region) Kari Arbouin.

A smoking ceremony held this week not only marked construction of CQUniversity's Townsville expansion project, adjacent to the existing campus in Flinders Street.

It also evoked memories held by Indigenous people, many of whom worked in the former railway yards on the site.

CQUniversity Professor Gracelyn Smallwood, whose father worked at the railway yards for many years, has researched the connection that local Indigenous people had with the particular patch of land.

"These men worked tirelessly in gangs in the hot sun keeping the railway lines intact, for the community to enjoy the inexpensive train rides," Professor Smallwood says.

"Some of our women, who also are elders, worked tirelessly on the trains and platform, as waitresses and domestics.

"Last but not least my amazing father Archie Smallwood, commenced his work at the Railway Station as a Porter, working his way up to a Platform Foreman.

"My dad was a gentle freedom fighter for our people for many years.The rules back then for the railway was that  non-Indigenous employees were allowed to have their lunch at the licensed canteen on the platform. When my dad placed an article in the Townsville Bulletin, strongly identifying with his Aboriginal heritage, he was told he could no longer be served in the canteen.

"They assumed Dad was not Indigenous because he was  the Platform  Forman.  This was an example of low expectations working at its worst and I wrote about this in my Human Rights PhD thesis.

"However, after Dad challenged the system with politicians, trade unions, churches and lawyers with media, there was small change.

"That change is occurring at the very university, CQUniversity, that is being built where, blood, sweat and tears from many of my people worked. Today CQUni, as well as other universities, promote high expectations with culturally competent staff.

"Having this sacred ceremony and history being promoted this week, at the commencement of the new building, can only bring our community together for the future of our children to young students, to future leaders, with truth and reconciliation."