James Cook UniversityMICRRH Home

Faculty of Medicine, Health & Molecular Sciences  

Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health

Mornington Island

Total population (30 June 1999) - 1 196
Population under 19 - 40.3%
Population over 60 - 5.8%

Mornington Island is located 16 30' S and 139 30' E in the Gulf of Carpentaria, approximately 125km north-west of Burketown, 200km west of Karumba and 444km from Mt Isa.
Mornington Sunset
General Information
Mornington Shire incorporates twenty-one of the islands of the Wellesley group in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Mornington Shire covers an area of 1227 square kilometres with Mornington Island itself estimated to be about 700 square kilometres in area. Mornington Island is the largest island in the group. The main township is Gununa which houses the majority of the population, however, in recent times traditional owners have been returning to their homelands in other areas of Mornington Island and outlying islands, including Denham, Forsyth and Bentinck Islands, re-establishing outstations.

The climate is dry tropical with a very marked summer rainfall maximum. The median annual rainfall is approximately 800mm while 10 percentile and 90 percentile annual totals are about 600mm and 1600mm respectively. When rain occurs it is often intense with approximately 20mm per rain per day. Tropical cyclones affect the area relatively frequently and past records indicate that cyclones cross the cost close to Mornington Island about one year in ten. Cyclones are often associated with destructive storm surges and the maximum storm surge height predicted for Mornington island is 6 metres.

The original people of Mornington Island are the Lardil. They are the largest tribal group and formerly occupied the North Wellesley Islands (Mornington, Sydney and Wallaby). Yangkal tribal lands consist of the islands between Mornington and the mainland. The Kaiadilt tribal group occupied the South Wellesley Islands (Bentinck and Sweers). Following the establishment of a mission (1914), and during the "protection era" , children and people from tribes on Mainland Australia and other islands were removed from their homes and brought to Mornington.

Monington Island Dancers
The Lardil people had little contact with the outside world before the early 1900's. Pre-contact the Lardil people lived in family groups of 15 to 20 people who owned a portion of the land and water. For social and ceremonial purposes, they were divided into the windward (south & east) and Leeward (north and west) moieties. Totems or Dreamings, further describe tribal sub-sections. Totems are hereditary, and the killing or eating of the totem is restricted. Thuwathu, the Rainbow Serpent, is believed to have made all the landmarks and food and water sources. The Lardil received their songs and dances from the dreamtime.

What is now the township of Gununa began in 1914 when the Presbyterians sent missionaries and the Lardil and Yangkal peoples were brought together. In 1948, after a tidal wave devastated the water supply, the Kaiadilt people were also brought into the mission.

Since the early part of this century Mornington Island had been managed under the Queensland Aborigines Act by the Uniting Church. In 1978 the Queensland Government decided to take over control of the Island. The community protested the decision and sought Commonwealth Government support for its cause. Later that year agreement was reached between the Commonwealth and the State for self-government via a local authority (Mornington Shire Council).

Useful Links
Queensland Holidays

Mount Isa Centre for Rural & Remote Health   Funded by the Department of Health & Ageing, Australian Government
Telephone: +61 7 4745 4500  Fax: +61 7 4749 5130   Email: micrrh@jcu.edu.au
Content provided by: various sources.   Authorised By: Pashen, Dennis.