Mpakwithi Elders Agnes Mark, Victoria Kennedy and Susan Kennedy worked with Linguist Xavier Barker and Karin Calley to storyboard and illustrate three children’s picture books in Mpakwithi. These books will be published as print and readaloud e-books in September this year.
Agnes Mark and her sisters Victoria Kennedy and Susan Kennedy and their first cousin Celia Fletcher, are the senior members of the Mpakwithi Nation, the traditional owners of an area at the junction of Tent Pole Creek and the Wenlock River on the West Coast of Cape York Peninsula.
Following the massacres led by Frank Jardine and Lachlan Kennedy during the 1860s, members of many decimated tribes, including the Mpakwithi, settled at the Old Mapoon Mission on the traditional land of the Tjungundji Nation. In 1963 Director of Native Affairs, Patrick Killoran, ordered police to remove the Tjungundji traditional owners, as well as all other residents of the Mapoon Presbyterian Church Mission and burn the community to the ground. Comalco had been granted a mining lease over the area.
As the boat sailed away, the people of Old Mapoon witnessed the Police and Department of Native Affairs carpenters razing buildings, still full of the people’s belongings. The Mpakwithi along with many of the peoples who were forcibly removed from Old Mapoon, were relocated to New Mapoon near Bamaga at the northernmost tip of Cape York Peninsula, where they now live. The sisters’ grandfather Donald Fletcher, the last fluent speaker of Mpakwithi, learned his language by escaping from the mission dormitory to spend time with free Mpakwithi elders.
The speaking of First Nation languages was until quite recently forbidden and punishable in many parts of Australia, so it is not difficult to see why most First Nation languages are now in a fragile state. Victoria Kennedy and her sisters Agnes Mark and Susan Kennedy learned songs in the Mpakwithi language from their grandfather.
Throughout the years they have continued to identify as Mpalkwithi and now, with the support of their friend and linguist Xavier Barker, they are working to revive their language. Their story is not just of the revival of their language but of the Mpakwithi First Nation itself.