Camps, cottages, and homes: A brief history of Indigenous housing in Queensland

August 19 – October 28, 2022

The camps, cottages, and homes featured in this exhibition explore the multitude of ways that
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland have been housed across the twentieth
century. Between autonomous camps and housing planned to subjugate mission inmates, varied
themes and narratives emerge from this chequered history. Two themes, often in tension, recur
across this housing survey. Housing used as an instrument in policies designed to reshape
Indigenous people’s lives contrasts with different forms of resistance and adaptations to the new
political and physical environments.

Aurukun Mission Village 1936
Duncan helping Lampus build his house. Aurukun Mission Village, 1936. Record of visit to mission stations. UQFL57 Norman F Nelson Collection. Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library

In missions and government settlements, the cottage was imposed as an instrument of control and assimilation, a model for state housing that endured in Queensland well into the 1970s. In contrast, themes of resistance and self-determination are evident across the State, from self-constructed fringe camps to additions to ill-considered social housing. By the 1980s, over 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing co-operatives were registered in Queensland, further evidence of collective determination to construct and maintain homes in diverse settings.

Other stories of Indigenous housing are apparent in many types of Queensland Housing Commission houses, in which Indigenous families created homes and maintained social networks in suburbia and country towns. Systemic discrimination and neglect are also evident in planning schemes, housing designs and deficits in housing supply—a ongoing problem not limited to the last century. The narratives explored in different periods and places raise questions about the conditions required to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homes in this century.

Places featured include Aurukun, Acacia Ridge, Birdsville, Boulia, Cairns, Cape Bedford, Cherbourg, Cloncurry, Coopers Plains, Darnley Island, Dajarra, Dunwich, Ipswich, Inala, Mapoon, Weipa, Myora, Mt Isa, Normanton, Palm Island, Torres Strait Islands, Urandangi, Woorabinda, Yarrabah and Zillmere.

A research project initiated by Professor Paul Memmott and Dr Tim O’Rourke from the Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, School of Architecture at The University of Queensland with exhibition direction from Michael Aird, Director, UQ Anthropology Museum and exhibition curation by Mandana Mapar, Curator, UQ Anthropology Museum.

This exhibition has been generously supported with philanthropic contributions from key
Queensland architecture practices.

Exhibition loans are included from private Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family collections
throughout Queensland, from Queensland State Archives, the State Library of Queensland,
National Archives Australia, and The University of Queensland’s Fryer Library.


Banner image:
The S1559 and S1560s house types. Yam Island, Torres Strait, 1980.
National Archives of Australia: A8598, AK21/2/80/133