Rats, waste reveal neglect of Purga Mission site

purga-2These are the scenes that have upset some elders and descendants with ties to the historic site of the former Purga Mission and cemetery in Ipswich, Queensland.

Dead rats, rat droppings and rubbish litter the floor in a main building on the site they claim has been neglected by the corporation entrusted to care for it, the Purga Elders and Descendants Aboriginal Corporation.

Diane Gibson, whose mother was born at Purga and who took the photographs in April, said she was devastated by the condition of the buildings and grounds that cover more than 24 hectares.

“Because of the spiritual connection – I felt the elders passed and their spirits are still there,” Ms Gibson said.

“In respect for our elders passed, they would be utterly disgusted to think anyone who had any heart or connections to Purga could let it go like that.”

Ms Gibson is one of 29 members of the Purga Elders and Descendants Aboriginal Corporation who are petitioning for an extraordinary general meeting of the corporation in a bid to replace the existing board.

The petition is currently with the Office of the Registrar for Indigenous Corporations (ORIC).

Ms Gibson said the Purga board was not doing its job in maintaining the property, the corporation’s main asset.

She said she and a crew spent a week at Easter time cleaning up the property.

She said in the past it had been well maintained and had been a hub for people with ties to the area.

“We used to have meetings in the house,” she said.

“If people came from afar for funerals or the like, they would stay there if they can’t get accommodation. It’s also been used for work for the dole.

“We always had a caretaker there, but there has been no one there for 12 months.”

The Purga landscape.
The Purga landscape.

The petition calls for a string of changes at the corporation, including new directors and a requirement that only Aboriginal people who are direct descendants of the original inhabitants of Purga Aboriginal Mission are eligible for full membership.

Under the current rules, Aboriginal people who are direct descendants of the residents of Purga and nearby Deebing Creek Aboriginal Missions – and their spouses – are eligible for full membership.

The petitioners also expressed a lack of confidence in ORIC and are asking for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to remove the corporation from ORIC’s auspices and instead change it to a trust, which would then fall under the watch of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

An ORIC spokesperson told NIT today the directors of Purga Elders and Descendants Aboriginal Corporation have applied to the Registrar for permission to deny the members’ request to hold an EGM.

The Registrar has 21 days to consider the request and either grant permission for the meeting to be denied or allow the it to proceed.

Purga Elders and Descendants Aboriginal Corporation chairman Sam Watson said the board was doing the best it could.

“We’re trying to maintain them (the buildings and property) as best we can, but we don’t have any budget,” Mr Watson said.

“We’re doing the best we can and members are out there as well.

“There’s no source of income. We need to get things rolling so we can draw in some income.

“There were programs being run out there (in the past). Those programs have since stopped and we’re looking around for new programs.

“There have been a lot of movements in the way the Federal Government has funded community-based programs and we have applied for funds. We’re waiting to see how those applications go.”

Mr Watson said he hadn’t seen any dead rats at the property.

He said the board was hoping the EGM could be held at the same time as the AGM, probably in July.

Asked if he was disappointed by the petition, Mr Watson said: “No. That’s par for the course in Aboriginal politics.”

It’s the latest development affecting the old Purga mission site, which comprises land gazetted for Aboriginal people in 1892. The Purga Aboriginal Cemetery is heritage listed.

In April, ORIC Registrar Anthony Beven announced the Purga Elders and Descendants Aboriginal Corporation would be placed in special administration for three days so that 128 members who had been removed from the corporation could be reinstated.

In a statement at the time, he said the corporation held title over part of the former Purga Mission, including the historic cemetery.

Its main responsibility was to ensure the cemetery and associated buildings were kept in good order and accessible to the descendants of the former mission’s residents.

The corporation also represented the descendants of the former residents of nearby Deebing Creek Mission.

He said activities aimed at helping local Aboriginal people were run through Purga elders by external providers.

These ranged from special education programs to rural skills training.

But he said in recent years the corporation had been impacted by a high level of disputes.

ORIC records show the corporation’s main asset is freehold land valued at $330,000.

It made a $4768 profit for the year to June 30, 2016.

By Wendy Caccetta

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