Injinoo/Bamaga or Northern Peninsula Airport : some history

Compiled by Paul Wise July 2016



The Injinoo/Bamaga or Northern Peninsula airport is today operated by the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council.  Its origin, however, dates back to 1942 and in the intervening years it has been known by various names including Red Island airfield, Jackey Jackey airfield, and Higgins Field.  The origin of these names is briefly covered in this paper.


Injinoo/Bamaga (Northern Peninsula) airport terminal building in 2008

Laurie McLean image


Red Island airfield

With Japanese advances into the South West Pacific, the RAAF's Horn Island Advanced Operational Base became an important staging base for Allied missions over New Guinea and for the transit of aircraft to Port Moresby.  (Two runways had been constructed on Horn Island during 1941.)  By May 1942 the airfield on Horn Island had been hit by four of an eventual eight Japanese air raids that caused damage to RAAF aircraft caught on the ground and to the tent lines.  There was no suitable site for an emergency dispersal strip within the Torres Strait.  However, a site was located about 15 kilometres inland from Red Island Point near the tip of Cape York.

red island 100k sect - Copy

Enlarged extract from 7376 Thursday Island (1978) topographic map showing area from Red Island Point to Jackey Jackey Airstrip


Units of the United States Army 46th Engineer Regiment were sent to Cape York to start work on clearing and construction of the runway and dispersal areas.  (In March 1943 the Regiment was redesignated as the 46th Engineer General Service Regiment.  In April 1944 the regiment was reorganized and redesignated as the 46th Engineer Construction Battalion.)  Around August 1942 the 1st Provisional Battalion of the United States 91st Engineer Regiment consisting of eight officers, two warrant officers, and 528 enlisted men (African American troops) was formed for shipment to the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula across from Horn Island, where a platoon of the 46th Engineers had already commenced work on Red Island airfield. 

By 8 August 1942 two companies of the United States 91st Engineer Battalion had arrived and were in the process of unloading heavy equipment.  By October 1942 the United States Engineers were working on the airstrip and roads and were also engaged in pile-driving for a jetty at Red Island Point.  By at least October 1945 a D-shaped jetty (and a pontoon landing) existed at Red Island Point for unloading fuel for the airfield.


IMG_0282 - Copy

Seisia jetty at Red Island Point in 2008 with Red Island in the background

Laurie McLean image


The 1st Provisional Battalion remained in the Cape York area until December 1942 when it joined the rest of its parent unit at Port Moresby.  However, work on the airfield ceased during December 1942 as the wet season got underway.  Following the transfer of United States Engineers to New Guinea, the Allied Works Council took over the remaining construction work and maintenance at the airfield with the help of the Queensland Main Roads Commission.

During the summer 1942-43 wet season, the drainage system under the western extension of the east-west strip on Horn Island failed.  Thus by January 1943 the RAAF was urgently reviewing the future of Horn Island Airfield and its suitability for use by heavy bombers.  Red Island airfield was inspected as an alternative advanced operational base site to Horn Island as it had a completed runway of 7,000 feet with dispersal bays.  However, the runway would require reconstruction with attention to drainage to make it suitable for an advanced operational base.


Jackey Jackey airfield

In late 1942, funds had been allocated to the Queensland Main Roads Commission for the reconstruction works at Jackey Jackey airfield.  Later about 250 personnel of the No 1 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF (1 Mobile Works Squadron) were assembled to undertake the urgent works.  On arrival at Jackey Jackey these men were housed in temporary accommodation while a prefabricated camp was established by the Townsville contractor, John Stubbs and Sons who was engaged to assist the Main Roads Commission.

By early 1943 a growing number of military personnel and construction workers were stationed at and around Jackey Jackey Airfield, and the associated radar and port facilities at Mutee Head and at Red Island Point.  In March 1943 the RAAF installed No 52 Radio Direction Finding Station at Mutee Head of Cape York Peninsula.  (No 52 Radar Station was based at Mutee Head from 29 March 1943 until 29 September 1945.)  

The airfield was named after Galmahra, called Jackey Jackey, an aboriginal youth selected to accompany the explorer and assistant surveyor Edmund Besley Court Kennedy (1818-1848) and eleven other men on an expedition to Cape York Peninsula.  Further detail is at Annexure A.


Higgins Field

The airfield had one 132 degree runway and was known as Jackey Jackey to the Australians and Red Island to the Americans.  In June 1943 Lieutenant-General George Churchill Kenney (1889-1977) commander of the United States Fifth Air Force in Australia and also Commanding General of the Allied Air Force South West Pacific Area (United States Army Air Forces and Royal Australian Air Force personnel) directed that the name of the airfield be changed from Jackey Jackey airfield to Higgins Field to avoid confusion. 

On 14 June 1943, Jackey Jackey airfield was renamed Higgins Field to commemorate Flight Lieutenant Brian Hartley (Tubby) Higgins DFC RAAF.  He was awarded the DFC for numerous operations in the South West Pacific with No 11 Squadron RAAF.  Higgins was killed in the crash of Catalina flying boat A24‑39 at Nelson Bay, New South Wales on 24 May 1943.  A plaque in St Patrick’s Church Wangaratta commemorates Flight Lieutenant Higgins DFC; Brian Higgins was born at Wangaratta. Other crew members on board when A24-39 crashed were: 2nd Pilot, Flying Officer Max Alexander Larkan (killed); 2nd Pilot, Pilot Officer Alan Fullerton Craddock (killed); Wireless/Air Gunner, Flying Officer Norman John Brown (killed); Fitter 2E, Corporal Thomas Henry Poole (killed); Fitter 2A, Leading Aircraftman Henry George Lovett (killed); Fitter 2E, Corporal James Joffre David (killed); Wireless/Air Gunner, Sergeant John Johnson (survived); and Armourer AC1, Kenneth Carlyle Stow (survived).


Further works at Higgins Field

In late 1942 Main Roads commenced work on the construction of two heavy (3.7 inch) anti-aircraft gun stations for the defence of the then Jackey Jackey Airfield.  The guns, set up as two sections, north and south of the airstrip, were initially manned by the 35th Australian Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery and were operational by 22 January 1943.  However, after a month the artillery personnel of 35th HAA Battery were transferred to Cairns and the gun stations were placed under care and maintenance until late 1943.

In October 1942 to protect the facilities at Red Island Point and Jackey Jackey Airfield against Japanese landings, the 31st Infantry Battalion (Militia - the Kennedy Regiment), with support from signals, engineer, artillery, anti-tank, Australian Army Service Corps, ambulance and light aid detachments arrived after an overland journey up Cape York. 

Also a carrier platoon and six United States supplied light tanks (each armed with two machine guns) were sent by sea to Red Island Point.  The battalion took up defensive positions around Red Island Point and the airfield and remained in the area until December 1942. 

In June 1943, No 1 Repair and Salvage Unit RAAF was assigned to Higgins.  In October 1943 No 33 Operational Base Unit RAAF arrived at Higgins to take over refuelling duties and the administration of the air base.  During October the base unit camp area was cleared and sleeping huts and ablutions blocks were erected.  The unit canteen, administrative offices and operations building were completed during November.

Higgins Field was upgraded during 1943 and 1944.  Although priming and sealing of the reconstructed runway had been ordered in June 1943, by late October it was noted that only 5,500 feet of Higgins Field runway was serviceable but not yet sealed.  About 1,500 feet of runway at the north-west end of the strip was still in the process of being rebuilt and strengthened where the drainage culvert crossed under the airfield.  Work on drainage, taxiways and hardstands continued until early January 1944 when sealing of the airstrip at last commenced.  The final sealed runway was about 7,079 feet in length and 100 feet wide. 



Higgins Field aircraft dispersal area during World War II



Aircraft Operations

Bristol Beaufort medium bombers of No 7 Squadron RAAF were transferred from Horn Island to Higgins Field on 26 March 1944.  From late 1942, a detachment of No.7 Squadron Beauforts had conducted maritime and anti-submarine patrols from Horn Island.  From November 1943, the Squadron undertook bombing raids from Higgins Field with attacks on Japanese-held airstrips and villages in New Guinea.  The Squadron continued to be based at Higgins until late 1944.

In addition to No 7 Squadron and No 33 OBU, other units located at Higgins Field at various times included RAAF No 75 Wing Headquarters; RAAF 5 RSU from May 1944 to March 1945; a detachment of No 23 Squadron RAAF equipped with Vultee A-31 Vengeance dive bombers; a detachment of No 34 Squadron RAAF equipped with Douglas C-47 transport aircraft; and the Australian Army's 105th Light Field Ambulance.

A High Frequency/Direction Finding station and a Very High Frequency/Direction Finding station were located north of the east end of the runway, while a three storey control tower and hardstand apron were located mid-runway on the southern side of the airstrip alongside a group of light machine gun posts.

The importance of recreational activities was reflected in the construction of a tennis court, a basketball court and a swimming pool.  A bush rest camp was established at the mouth of a nearby river.  About 20 mango trees were planted around the operational base unit camp and paw paw and lime seeds were cultivated.  A piggery was also established.

Aircraft movements through Higgins during September 1944 included 195 RAAF, 16 United States, 16 Dutch and 25 civil flights.  Higgins field still had a RAAF unit in occupation in July 1947, with courier service aircraft calling in each week.  The airfield was declared surplus to RAAF requirements in 1948.  Red Island Point jetty, the cold store and the airfield's buildings were purchased by the Queensland government for the Queensland Department of Native Affairs.  The Commonwealth retained (but did not maintain) the airstrip itself, leasing it from Queensland from 1951 to 1969 and thereby allowing immediate possession in the event of strategic necessity


Artillery Support

In late 1943 the Australian Army's 137th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery arrived at Red Island Point from Cairns to re-commission the HAA gun stations at Higgins which were operational again by 15 December 1943.  The Artillery's 56th Composite Anti-Aircraft Regiment was formed at Higgins Field in December 1943 and became operative in February 1944.  Composite anti-aircraft regiments were raised during 1943 to provide complete anti-aircraft defence against high and low flying aircraft, combining 3.7-inch HAA guns and 40mm Bofors guns.  At Higgins Field, A Troop was equipped with three Bofors guns.  To increase the field of fire against low flying aircraft, the Bofors guns were mounted on nine-metre high timber towers.


A mobile 3.7 inch anti-aircraft gun-removed from carriage


The 3.7 inch anti-aircraft gun was first produced in 1936 to replace the World War I vintage 3 inch gun in the British Royal Artillery.  Australian Forces first received the 3.7 inch guns in the Middle East and production of a static model began in Australia in 1939.


A 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun on the Strand in Townsville during World War II

Graham Roberts photo


The 40mm Bofors light anti-aircraft automatic gun was used extensively by the military in Australia during World War II to defend airfields and other military establishments against low level enemy aircraft attacks.  It was developed by the government owned AB Bofors-Gullspång of Sweden in 1929.  (AB is an abbreviation of Aktiebolag that translates as corporation.)  The Bofors gun was adopted by the British Army in 1938 and by the United States Army in 1941.  The Bofors gun was later made in the United Kingdom (static and mobile mountings) and in Australia (static mounting only).


Higgins Field Today

Today at the Injinoo/Bamaga airport, sections of the war-time gravelled taxiways, along with bitumen-sealed dispersal bays, survive.  Most dispersal bays, some with earth mound protection, remain intact although many are now covered with regrowth.  A row of three or more light machine gun posts are located near the control tower site. 

Annexure B gives some history of the aircraft wrecks at Higgins Field reminding us of its wartime origins. Annexure C outlines the five settlements that have developed since World war 2 at the top of Cape York Peninsula.



Annexure A

About Galmahra (Jackey Jackey)

Galmahra (Jackey Jackey) (circa 1833-1854) was a young Aboriginal man from the Merton district south-west of Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter Valley District of the Colony of New South Wales.  He was thought to be a Wonnarua or a Geawegal man, or as William Carron recorded in 1848: an aboriginal native (sic) of the Patrick’s Plains tribe of the Hunter River district.

Galmahra was only a youth when he selected to accompany the explorer and assistant surveyor Edmund Besley Court Kennedy (1818-1848) and eleven other men on an expedition to Cape York Peninsula.  Galmahra was engaged as a guide and also as an assistant and later a companion to Kennedy. 

The exploration party left Sydney on 29 April 1848 and arrived at Rockingham Bay (just north of Hinchinbrook Island) on 21 May 1848; they had sailed onboard the barque Tam O’Shanter under Captain Merionberg.  For this voyage, the Tan O’Shanter was in the company of HMS Rattlesnake under Captain Owen Stanley RN.  Arrangements were made for a re-supply by HMS Bramble at Princess Charlotte’s Bay in early August 1848.  Also HMS Bramble was to recover or further re-supply the expeditioners at Port Albany in December 1848.  Port Albany was on the landward side of Albany Passage about 8 kilometres south-east of Cape York.

The expedition was over-equipped with a fairly generously provisioned plant.  The plant included 28 horses, 100 sheep, 4 dogs, a heavy cart and 2 spring carts.  Progress after leaving Rockingham Bay was extremely slow.  However, Galmahra soon acquired a reputation for hard work, sound judgement and superb bushcraft.  As the expedition proceeded, privation and disaster gradually overcame the party but Galmahra steadily emerged as one of its strongest members; apparently the worse conditions became the more he could be relied upon. 

The expedition did not reach Princess Charlotte’s Bay until early October 1848 and missed the planned rendezvous with the re-supply ship.  The expedition pressed on for over 200 kilometres but eventually a rear party of eight men was left at the mouth of the Pascoe River on Weymouth Bay.  These men were: William Carron (botanist and later also storekeeper), T Wall (naturalist), C Niblet (initially storekeeper by relieved of this duty on 14 August 1848), Edward Carpenter (shepherd), John Douglas (labourer), William Goddard (labourer), Thomas Mitchell (labourer), and Edward Taylor (carter).

On 13 November 1848, Kennedy together with Galmara, William Costigan (nominally a carter), Dennis Dunn (nominally a labourer), and James Luff (nominally a carter) pressed on towards Cape York intending to be picked up at Port Albany by the vessel HMS Bramble.

Later on (probably late November) about 80 kilometres to the north of Weymouth Bay, around Shelburne Bay one of the men (Costigan, Dunn, or Luff) accidentally shot themselves.  Kennedy decided to leave two other men to care for the injured man.  Thus only Kennedy and Galmahra continued on together to fulfil the expedition’s objective.  But only to find they were trapped by the mangroves and swamps of the Escape River within about 40 kilometres of the recovery ship rendezvous at Port Albany. 

In the vicinity of the later Jackey Jackey airfield the local Aborigines attacked them with spears.  Kennedy was mortally wounded by spears to his leg, side and back and died in Galmahra’s arms.  Although wounded and still in danger Galmahra buried his friend and then made his own escape from the attackers.  With heroic tenacity Galmahra made his way to Port Albany; arriving there about a fortnight later.  At about 08:00 on the morning he arrived, 23 December 1848, Galmahra was recognised and taken onboard the schooner HMS Ariel under Captain Dobson.

On 26 and 27 December 1848, Galmahra guided a small party from the Ariel around the Shelburne Bay area in an ultimately unsuccessful search for (Costigan, Dunn, and Luff).  The shore party comprised Captain Dobson, the ship’s surgeon Dr Vallack, crewmen Barrett and Thomas, and Galmahra.  On 28 December 1848 the Ariel weighed anchor and sailed for Weymouth Bay.  Here on 30 December 1848, Carron and Goddard, the only survivors of the 8‑man party were rescued.  Both were in a pitiful state of emaciation and Dr Vallack feared for their lives as the Ariel made its way to Sydney; both recovered.  Galmahra had played a significant role in these men’s rescue at Weymouth Bay.

The deep rapport between Kennedy and Galmahra was demonstrated again in May 1849.  Under Captain Thomas Beckford Simpson, master mariner and master of the brigantine Freak, Galmahra served as guide on a further expedition to trace any other survivors and to recover Kennedy's body.  However, that expedition was unsuccessful.  Nevertheless, Simpson praised Jackey Jackey's skill, modesty, respectful manner and touching devotion to Kennedy's memory.  But he also referred to Galmahra’s one known weakness, namely a fondness for ardent spirits. A narrative by the expedition’s botanist, W Carron, is available here.

On his return to Sydney, as Jackey Jackey, Galmahra was widely acclaimed and presented with a solid silver breast-plate by Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy.  He also given a government gratuity in the form of a £50 bank account and was frequently stood drinks by an admiring public.  Apparently he never wore the breastplate nor accessed the bank account and did not seem to have been otherwise fully engaged or employed by the colony.  By 1850 he was back with his own people naked with the exception of his old blanket round him.  In the early days of 1854 when about 50 kilometres from Albury on an overlanding journey, Galmahra fell into the camp fire when affected by alcohol and was tragically burned to death.


Portrait of Galmahra in 1849 (after the Kennedy expedition)

Charles Rodius (1802–1860)

State Library of New South Wales lithograph image


Note:  Documents in 1848 used the spelling Jackey Jackey rather than Jacky Jacky and Charles Rodius marked other portraits Jackey Jackey; his Aboriginal name is also spelt as Galmara or Galmarra.


Reference : Narrative of the Voyage of the HMS Rattlesnake by John MacGillivary, Vol.2, 1852 accessed at :








Annexure B

Aircraft Wrecks at Higgins Field


During World War II eight aircraft crashes occurred at Higgins Field and another two aircraft crashed into the sea nearby.  Two of the aircraft wrecks that remain near the present day Injinoo/Bamaga airport are Beaufort bomber A9‑190, located on the northern side of the runway and a Fokker built Douglas C‑49H-DO call sign VHCXD, located 3 kilometres north-west of the runway (now in a fenced enclosure with a memorial).


Beaufort A9-190


Beaufort A9-190

Beaufort A9-190 at Milne Bay during World War II

Beaufort A9-190 was made at Mascot New South Wales and served with No 100 Squadron RAAF, No 5 Communication Unit and No 8 Communication Unit.  On 10 October 1945 it crashed on landing at Higgins Field and was converted to components in November 1945. 

While returning from Madang to Cairns on 10 October 1945 the aircraft suffered an oil pressure problem, which caused the pilot to divert to Port Moresby for repairs.  The aircraft left Port Moresby with a crew of three and four passengers.  Flying Officer John Noel Caddy, No 100 Squadron RAAF (then 23 years of age) was the pilot of A9-190 at the time of the accident.  (The squadron operated Beauforts out of New Guinea from 1942 to 1946.)  The following is Flying Officer Caddy’s recall of the crash:

When we reached the range the Kokoda Trail, which was our intended route, it was covered in cloud so I flew over the range at about 13000 feet.  While still climbing up oil pressure on the port motor fell to zero but all the other instruments showed normal so I continued on and throttled back a bit after we crested the range.  On arrival in Port Moresby I got the ground staff to check the motor and they finally advised me that the oil pump was okay again. 

On a test run-up it reached 87 pounds, normal was 90 pounds so I decided to continue but instead of heading for Cairns I decided to head for Higgins Field at the top of Cape York.  About a half of an hour out of Port Moresby the oil pressure fell to zero again but no other signs of trouble so I presumed the gauge was unserviceable and I continued.

Roughly half way across, the boost and revs began to surge and a few minutes later the engine began to vibrate and was shaking the aircraft.  I presumed it was about to seize and feathered the prop.

I soon found that we couldn’t maintain height using as much power on the starboard engine as I could hold.  Recommended single engine speed was 130 knots but I flew at 115 knots to reduce height loss as much as possible.  We then threw out everything moveable from the aircraft with the exception of the radio and parachute because I had to sit on it.  We received radio bearings from Higgins and crossed the coast at about 1000 feet.  When I saw the strip I was at 300 feet so went straight in-unluckily down-wind and the strip was slightly downhill.  I had used all my compressed air trying to jettison fuel, so I had no brakes and no time to manually pump down the flaps.

Floated halfway down the strip and did possibly the best landing of my career and we were still doing 95 knots off the other end–went through one small ditch but the second one stopped us dead.  The only injuries were my Navigator hit his head and had a slight concussion, one passenger lying between the main spars, had been struck by a battery and it was discovered next day that I had whip-lash.  All in all, we were very bloody lucky.  I had a week at Higgins then flew to Townsville in a Dakota and back to Aitape, Papua New Guinea.


Wreckage of Beaufort A9-190 at Bamaga in 2008

Laurie McLean image



VHCXD at Port Moresby on 17 August 1942 with wreckage of VHCXA

Dayton Daily News Archives image from website



VHCDX at Port Moresby during World War II image


VHCDX, a Douglas C-49H-DO aircraft (similar to a DC-3), departed Archerfield at 2039 hours on the evening of 4 May 1945.  It was bound for Port Moresby carrying a load of fresh meat.  At 0518 hours next morning it crashed while attempting to land at Higgins Field in the dark.  It hit a number of trees and partially burned.  All six persons on board the aircraft were killed when it crashed.  The pilot in command was a Flying Officer in the RAAF Reserve officer but was flying the aircraft in his role as an ANA civilian pilot.

Although an Australian National Airlines aircraft, on its fateful flight VHCXD was crewed by Royal Australian Air Force personnel from 4 Communications Unit RAAF.  The unit was formed as 4 Communications Flight RAAF (Archerfield's Own) at Archerfield airfield in September 1942 and was involved in ferrying passengers and the occasional aircraft around Australia and New Guinea.  Passengers were often high ranking personnel, senior public servants and overseas visitors.  Other activities were: target drogue towing; photographic missions; flights for the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Navy; ferrying parts and equipment; safe-hand mail delivery; and medical evacuations.  The Flight was renamed 4 Communications Unit in November 1943.  It was disbanded at Archerfield airfield in April 1946.

 As mentioned, all six persons on board VHCXD when it crashed near Higgins Field were killed, namely: William Ernest Clarke (age 41 years) (pilot in command); Warrant Officer James Hillman Hornbrook RAAF (age 21 years) (second pilot); Flight Sergeant Neville Tasman Browne RAAF (age 21 years) (another second pilot under instruction); Warrant Officer Alfred Henry Gidley RAAF (age 31 years) (wireless operator); and two United States service personnel travelling as passengers: Sergeant Henry E Dougherty, 322 Troop Carrier Wing, USAAF; and Corporal Rudolph M Kozen, 322 Troop Carrier Wing, USAAF.

This Douglas C-49H-DO utility aircraft was assembled in April 1937 at the Anton Herman Gerard Fokker plant in the French city of Cherbourg on the English Channel.  Later that month it was delivered to KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij or Royal Dutch Airlines).  It was assigned the Netherlands registration PH‑ALT and was named Torenvalk (Kestrel). 

KLM operated the aircraft in the then Dutch East Indies.  On 24 January 1942 it was damaged by Japanese Zero long-range fighter aircraft and 6 people were injured.  This attack was when taking off from the secret and highly camouflaged jungle airstrip Samarinda II in eastern Borneo between the towns of Longiram and Melak.  The Japanese had only discovered the airstrip that day.

In March 1942 PH-ALT was the last KLM aircraft from the Dutch East Indies to arrive in Australia.  It was sold to the Commonwealth of Australia for 5 pounds and on 28 March 1942 was issued to the United States Army Air Force and marked as 11941. 

In May 1942 it was assigned as VH-ALT to 21 Troop Carrier Squadron USAAF at Archerfield.  It was then referred to as 41-1941 and named Holey Joe.  As shown in the image above, it was damaged at Ward’s airstrip Port Moresby on 17 August 1942 when carrying call sign VHCXD.

On 23 September 1942 VHCXD was again damaged at Cooktown and was rebuilt by 61 Service Squadron USAAF during October-November 1942.  Around this time the aircraft was modified by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation with a large hatch replacing starboard door.  In early December 1942 VHCXD was assigned to Australian National Airlines and was based at ANA Archerfield but worked under charter for military purposes.  In February 1943 it was converted to freighter configuration and in June 1944 was serialled 44-83228 as a C-49H-DO in the United States Army Air Force.  In November 1944 VHCXD was sold to Australian National Airlines but was still engaged in RAAF communications operations albeit with civilian pilots and RAAF crew members. 


Some of the remains of VHCXD near Injinoo/Bamaga airport in 2008

Laurie McLean image





Annexure C

The Settlements at the Top of Cape York Peninsula

There are five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander indigenous communities in the Northern Peninsula Area of Cape York, namely: Seisia, Bamaga, Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon.  (As well as there is a tourist operation at Punsand Bay and historic ruins at Somerset.)  Since 2008, these communities have been administered by the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council; the NPA comprises some 1,030 square kilometres.  These communities comprise people from several Aboriginal groups as well as indigenous Torres Strait Islanders.  These various communities are a good news story that is seldom reported in the media or elsewhere.  It is likely that many Australians are largely unaware of these communities or their successful integration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from diverse backgrounds. Refer map below.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander indigenous communities in the Northern Peninsula Area of Cape York.



The Seisia Island Community lies within a small Deed of Grant in Trust area granted in 1986 by the Queensland Government at Red Island Point.  The community has a permanent population of about 200 people and is situated at the most northerly deep-water port on Cape York Peninsula.  Seisia is also a popular destination for anglers and a number of fishing charter operators use Seisia as their base.  The camping ground at Seisia is used by about half of all camping travellers on Northern Cape York Peninsula.  There is a vehicular ferry service from Seisia to Cairns as well as a passenger service to Thursday Island.

At the end of World War II, the Queensland Government introduced measures to compensate Torres Strait Islanders for their contribution to the war effort and to populate the north as a defence against foreign invasion.  After the War, Saibai Islander soldiers returned home from service on the tip of Cape York Peninsula.  Throughout 1947, several Saibai Island families established communities at Red Island Point and Mutee Head.  In 1948, a storm surge caused Saibai Island to be inundated with sea water forcing the evacuation of many Saibai families to the Northern Cape York Peninsula area.  The first Saibai arrivals made a temporary settlement at Mutee Head while the search went on for better places.  With help of the local Injinoo Aboriginal people, the Saibai Islanders found two places with freshwater sources: Red Island Point (today’s Seisia) and Ichuru (today's Bamaga). 

The first Saibai settlers at Red Island Point were the family of Mugai Elu who arrived in 1948 and used World War II Army huts as their home.  A few years later they invited other families and over the time more people followed as the word got around.  The government supplied building materials and slowly the housing was built. 

In the 1980s, the people were allowed to change the name of their community from Red Island Point to Seisia.  This was a name put together by the first letters of the names of the first settlers, namely: Sagaukaz, Elu, Isua, Sunai, Ibuai and Aken.  As indicated in the Appendix, members of these families served in the Australian Army during World War II.

Today, there are about 200 people living in the community, and more than 60 per cent are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait origin.  Yumplatok, Meriam Mir, Kalaw Lagaw Ya, Kalaw Kawaw Ya and English are some of the languages spoken in the homes at Seisia.



Bamaga is located about 40 kilometres south-west of the tip of Cape York Peninsula.  It has a Torres Strait Islander origin population of about 700 people with a further 300 temporary non-islander residents.  With local industries and the nearby Northern Peninsula Airport based on the World War II Higgins Field (Jackey Jackey) airbase, Bamaga has become the administrative centre for the Northern Peninsula Area.  It is also the seat of the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council that administers the five communities on Northern Cape York Peninsula.  The population of these communities is about 75 per cent Islander and about 20 per cent Aboriginal.

The original site for Bamaga was at Mutee Head about 30 kilometres south-west of the present Bamaga town site.  In 1947, the Bamaga town site was moved to its present location as a result of a need by the founding people for a larger supply of fresh water.  The present Bamaga site was established after World War II by people from Saibai Island in Torres Strait after Saibai was devastated by abnormally high tides.  It was named after Saibai elder Bamaga Ginau who envisaged the site but died before the town was established.

Today the Bamaga community has reticulated town water pumped from the Jardine River to local holding reservoirs and then through a water treatment plant.  Bamaga is fully sewered.  Reticulated 240 volt electrical power is provided from the local Ergon Energy powerhouse at Bamaga.  The power is supplied to all five Northern Peninsula Area communities.  Power cards are an innovative idea for electricity supply to all residences in the NPA.  These are similar to phone cards and are inserted into the power boards at each residence.  The cards are available in $20 or $50 amounts.  Thus there are no power bills issued as responsibility remains with each household to maintain power by the use of the cards.



Today located about 135 kilometres south-west of Bamaga, Mapoon is outside the Northern Peninsula Area.  Mapoon was established on the traditional homelands of the Tjungundji (Choong-un-gee) people at Cullen Point in November 1891.  Cullen Point is at the entrance to Port Musgrave at the mouth of the Wenlock River about 75 kilometres north of the present Weipa township.  The name Mapoon is believed to be an anglicised translation of a Tjungundji word meaning place where people fight on the sand-hills.  Before it came to be known as Mapoon, the site of this community had been called Batavia River Mission.  Established in 1891, founding Moravian missionaries, James Gibson Ward and Reverend John Nicholas Hey were said to have brought several South Sea Islander men to Mapoon to assist them.

Aboriginal groups from the Pine and Pennefather Rivers began moving into the mission as the reserve was expanded south to incorporate the traditional lands of the Thanakwithi people.  Some of the traditional owner groups who eventually came to live at Mapoon included the Mpakwithi, Taepithiggi, Thaynhakwith, Warrangku, Wimarangga and Yupungathi peoples

Between 1901 and 1910, around 70 young people were officially removed to Mapoon, mainly from Normanton, Cloncurry, Burketown, Thursday Island and Seven Rivers.  Others came from stations such as Fiery Downs, Lawn Hills and Gregory Downs.  Over the next 30 years, children were removed from all over Cape York Peninsula and placed at Mapoon.  Here many were adopted by the traditional owners who sought to provide them with a safe place in a foreign land.  Between 1910 and 1970 only 30 people were officially removed to Mapoon from other areas under the Protection Acts; mostly from Thursday Island and Yorke Downs.

During World War II, Mapoon residents prepared to go bush in the event of a Japanese invasion.  Residents endured food and medicine shortages and suffered from illness.  The mission became reliant on child endowment monies to buy rations. In the early1950s, a visiting Commonwealth health team identified tuberculosis at Presbyterian missions.  Their report described conditions at Mapoon as nauseating, identifying malnutrition and water shortages, and describing dormitories as overcrowded and without beds.  These conditions led residents of Presbyterian missions to protest.  In 1954, Presbyterian Church and government officials decided to close Old Mapoon (Marpuna) and remove the residents.  Following removal of people to Red Island Point in November 1963, some of their houses at Old Mapoon were burnt to the ground to prevent the people from returning.  Within 6 months all remaining residents had left Old Mapoon. 

After the 1964 closure of Mapoon, former residents continued to lobby for the re-opening of their community.  In 1974, Jerry and Ina Hudson and several other families returned to Old Mapoon.  In 1984, these families established the Marpuna Aboriginal Corporation which gradually built up community facilities at Rugapayn (Red Beach) to a stage where people were able to resettle permanently.  Government recognition as Mapoon followed.  Today’s settlement at Red Beach is on the western side of Port Musgrave about 6 kilometres from Cullen Point.


New Mapoon

This mainly Aboriginal settlement is located area between the Torres Strait Islander settlements of Seisia and Bamaga near the tip of Cape York Peninsula.  New Mapoon had a population of about 350 people in 2006.  In 1954, Presbyterian Church and government officials decided to close Old Mapoon (Marpuna) and evacuate the residents to Weipa or elsewhere.  Many people were relocated to Hidden Valley near Bamaga in 1961.  By mid-1962 nearly 100 people had moved to what became known as New Mapoon.  In November 1963, the government removed the traditional owners’ leaders to Red Island Point (now Seisia) to be settled at New Mapoon. 



Located about 5 kilometres west of Bamaga, Umagico (previously Alau) was established in 1963 when the Queensland government relocated 64 Aboriginal people from Lockhart River Mission (near Iron Range) to the area.  After the Anglican Church relinquished responsibility for the Lockhart River Mission in 1960, the government proposed closing down the mission and resettling residents at Bamaga.  The majority of residents rejected this proposal and remained at the old mission site.  Those resettled at Umagico accepted that site as an alternative home location.

After the Lockhart River community was re-established at the current site (near Lloyd Bay on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula) by the Queensland government in 1970, some of the people who had been relocated to the Umagico area in the 1960s returned to live at Lockhart.  About this time, people from Moa Island in the western Torres Strait were also resettled at Umagico.  In October 1986 the Umagico council area, previously an Aboriginal reserve held by the Queensland government, was transferred to the trusteeship of the Umagico Shire Council under a Deed of Grant in Trust. 



Also known as Cowal Creek or Small River, Injinoo is located about 7 kilometres south-west of Bamaga.  During the first few decades of the 1900s, remnants of the Yadheykenu, Wuthathi, Unduyamo and Gudang people established themselves as a single group at Red Island Point.  Other Yadhaigana and Wuthathi people formed a group at Injinoo (known then as Small River).  Both communities approached the Queensland government for land to establish gardens, leading to the creation of an Aboriginal reserve at Cowal Creek in 1915.

By 1918, the Cowal Creek Aboriginal community was praised by government authorities for autonomously forming a functioning, self-sufficient settlement, managed by a self-elected council and community police.  The community supported themselves by gardening and working a whaling boat provided by the government, in which they transported oysters, bananas and pumpkins to Thursday Island for sale.

After World War I, the Cowal Creek community was severely affected by an influenza epidemic the population recovered during the 1920s when Alick Whitesand, a Wuthathi man living at Cowal Creek, successfully encouraged many in the communities at Red Island, Seven Rivers and McDonnell to join the Cowal Creek community.  At the people’s request, Anglican missionaries and school teachers arrived at Cowal Creek in 1923.

From 1936 onwards, the Queensland government began to more closely supervise the settlement and reported on Cowal Creek as a government settlement.  However, there was no evidence that the government took full financial responsibility for Cowal Creek or ever appointed a superintendent. 

After World War II, populations in this region were again transformed as Torres Strait Islanders began settling in the area.  The government then initiated development to accommodate this settlement as discussed above.

In 1984, the Chairman of the Cowal Creek Community Council, announced that the community wished to resume responsibility over their traditional lands and called for a combined Aboriginal council as a joint local authority for the Aboriginal communities at Cowal Creek, New Mapoon and Umagico.   But that did not occur.  The Cowal Creek community formally changed its name to Injinoo in 1988.





Some Saibai Islanders who served in the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion during World War II

Aken, Siware, Private.

Served: 18 December 1942 to 28 November 1946.


Elu, Mas, Private.

Served: 11 September 1942 to 12 June 1946.


Elu, Mugai, Lance Corporal (also known as Morgan; born 8 March 1912)

Served: 26 August 1942 to 25 November 1944.


Elu, Nawia, Private.

Served: 11 September 1942 to 5 March 1946.


Ibuai, Isua, Private.

Served: 19 August 1942 to 29 May 1946.


Isua, Carolas, Private.

Served: 21 September 1942 to 17 June 1946.


Isua, Danalgub, Private.

Served: 11 September 1942 to 5 March 1946.


Sagaukaz, Tumema, Lance Corporal.

Served: 21 September 1942


Sagaukaz, Willima, Corporal

Served: 1 September 1942 to 12 June 1946.


Sunai, Stephen, Private.

Served: 18 December 1942 to 28 November 1946.


The Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion

Formed as an independent infantry company of just over 100 men in May 1941 after the Australian government became concerned about the possibility of conflict in the Pacific and sought to free up other units for service elsewhere.  In June 1942, following Japan's entry into the war, the decision was made to expand the unit and an appeal for further volunteers was sent out.  The response from the Islanders was considerable, 830 Torres Strait Islander men joined throughout the course of the war; almost every man eligible and a total equal to about one fifth of the population of the Torres Strait at the time. 

Owing to the racial policies in place at the time, all officers and senior non commissioned officers were white Australians.  The Torres Strait Islanders initially received only one third of the pay of white soldiers of equal rank.  In response to this and other concerns, A, B and C Companies of the battalion briefly went on strike in December 1943.  In February 1944 the Army agreed to increase the soldiers' pay to two-thirds of that of white soldiers.  The indigenous soldiers eventually received full back pay for their war service in 1986!  Despite the discriminatory pay scales, the Islanders generally appreciated the Army's culture, as its discipline and hierarchy allowed them to be treated with respect by white soldiers

The battalion was unique, being the only Indigenous Australian battalion ever formed by the Australian Army.  But a number of small irregular units of Aborigines were formed to provide surveillance of isolated parts of the northern Australian coast.  Generally, however, the majority of Indigenous Australians who enlisted during the war served in integrated units.

A detachment from the battalion served on patrol in Dutch New Guinea where one member was killed in action against the Japanese and 6 men were wounded in action.

The Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion was disbanded in 1946, following the end of hostilities.  Sadly, 36 members of the battalion were killed or died on active service. 


Some Torres Strait Islanders who served in the Torres Strait Pioneer Company during World War II

Aken, Morslam, Private.  From Poia Island.

Served: 3 October 1942 to 23 May 1946.


Aken, Semu, Private.  From Moa Island.

Served: 3 October 1942 to 28 March 1946.


Ginau, Yusia, Private.  From Saibai Island.

Served: 21 September 1942 to 5 March 1946.


Torres Strait Pioneer Company

Over 200 indigenous Torres Strait Islanders served in the Torres Strait Pioneer Company during World War II.  The Company was formed in 1943.  It greatly assisted the 17th Field Company Royal, Australian Engineers in the construction of installations on Torres Strait islands.  These works included the Thursday Island wharf and the Horn Island water treatment plant. The Pioneer Company’s initial commander Major Walter Harold Mitchell was accidentally killed on Thursday Island in May 1945.



Further Reading

Anonymous (2011), How did Indigenous Australians help in the Defence of Australia in World War 2?  Accessed at:

Anonymous (2015), Bamaga entry on Wikipedia web site accessed at:

Anonymous (2015), Torres Strait Islander Light Infantry Battalion entry on Wikipedia web site, accessed at:

Australian War Memorial (1943), Studio Portrait of Major Walter Harold Mitchell, accessed from the AWM web site at:

Department of Public Works Queensland (undated), Mapoon brochure downloaded from Department of Public Works Queensland website at:

Department of Veterans’ Affairs (undated), World War II Nominal Roll searches on known Torres Strait Islander names from DVA web site at:

Queensland Government (2015), Bamaga entry on Queensland Government community histories web site, accessed at:

Queensland Government (2015), Injinoo entry on Queensland Government community histories web site, accessed at:

Queensland Government (2015), Mapoon entry on Queensland Government community histories web site, accessed at:

Queensland Government (2015), New Mapoon entry on Queensland Government community histories web site, accessed at:

Queensland Government (2015), Seisia entry on Queensland Government community histories web site, accessed at:

Queensland Government (2015), Umagico entry on Queensland Government community histories web site, accessed at:

Seisia Holiday Park (2015), History of Seisia entry on Seisia Holiday Park web site, accessed at:


(This article was compiled from edited extracts from 2016 private research by Laurie McLean and was published with permission.)