Badtjala artist and academic Dr Fiona Foley has won the top prize at this year’s Queensland Literary Awards for her book which sheds a light on the colonial-era practise of paying Indigenous workers with opium.
The book ‘Biting the Clouds: A Badtjala perspective on the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897’ took out the $25,000 Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of 'State Significance'.
“It means a slice of history in Queensland has been acknowledged for the first time in a very public way,” Dr Foley told NITV.
Dr Foley’s account recasts the colonial narrative from the perspective of the Badtjala people, who were removed from K’gari (Fraser Island) as a result of the Act in 1897.
“Through this publication, this hidden history can now be put in the hands of most Australians to understand what was perpetrated by both state and church against Badtjala people,” she said.
Growing up with historical gaps in her own knowledge, Dr Foley said she was driven to fill in the missing pieces.
“I had a real sense of loss as a young child when we would go to the beach at Urangan (Hervey Bay), look across to Fraser Island and know that none of our people were living there.
“It was my inquisitiveness to want to understand why we as a people were no longer able to live there.”
It took Dr Foley five decades to find real answers about what happened on her Traditional Country.
“Of course, none of it is taught in academia, so it's been a long process of reading many historians’ books,” she said.
Dr Foley said Badtjala people are “not in people’s consciousness, in the landscape or tourism" of the Fraser Coast region.
“You can go to Maryborough and you'll see a lot of information related to Mary Poppins but you won't see anything or much at all by a Badtjala person.”
“We are literally written out of the picture,” Dr Foley said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk congratulated Dr Foley, saying her prize-winning book “puts a spotlight on a terrible part of Queensland’s history."
“This significant truth-telling account will play an important role in building a more inclusive and respectful future for Queensland.”
Dr Foley said having her work recognised as the Premier’s prize sends a strong message.
“We are still here, we're still a sovereign nation, we're still proud as Badtjala people to be alive, and you didn't successfully complete the experiment by exterminating us so we have had a victory,” she said.
“We still fight for access to our land today even though we've had Native Title consent determination, we're still fighting for recognition to have access to the island on many many fronts with the state government.”