• Then 15 year old, Aunty Dulcie Isaro was proud to see her father, William Thaiday, help lead the strike. (NITV)Source: NITV
Marking its 60th anniversary this year, the 1957 strike is remembered as one of the most significant events in Palm Island's history.
Ella Archibald-Binge

15 Jun 2017 - 3:33 PM  UPDATED 15 Jun 2017 - 3:33 PM

In 1957, Dulcie Isaro was 15 years old, and living on Palm Island.

At the time, the community's every action was dictated by the toll of the town bell - something that seemed natural to Aunty Dulcie, who was born under Queensland's oppressive 1897 Aborigines Protection Act.

But while many communities were controlled by the Act, Palm Island was notorious for its harsh working environment, poor living conditions and cruel supervisors.  

Most who lived there had been exiled, or sent to the island as punishment, often for petty crimes.  

Aunty Dulcie's father's crime was kissing a girl from another town.  

"They were very bad living conditions," Aunty Dulcie, now 75, tells NITV News.

"Food was very, very bad. There were rations that we got every Wednesday, which would consist of porridge that was full of weevil, rice, sugar. The sugar was hard as bricks, we had to break it."

In June 1957, the superintendent decided to deport local man Albie Geia from the island for disobeying an order. 

It was the last straw.

Uncle Albie refused to leave, and along with six other men, led the community in a strike.  

'When I turned, even though I was shaking with fear and fright all in one, and I seen my father come through, I just had a sense of pride.'

"I couldn't believe what was happening," Aunty Duclie recalls. 

"I remember the fathers speaking up for their rights without fear... it was something totally new to us. We couldn't believe that nobody would go to work."

Aunty Dulcie's father, William Thaiday, was one of the leaders. She still remembers watching him approach the superintendent's office, to the cheers of the crowd. 

"They just said 'oh here he comes, this is the one we were waiting for'. And when I turned, even though I was shaking with fear and fright all in one, and I seen my father come through, I just had a sense of pride," she says.

After five days, the strike came to a dramatic end. 

Police raided the homes of the seven men at dawn. Shackled and held at gun point, they and their families were shipped to the mainland, ordered never to return. 

The image of the island fading into the distance is one that's never left Aunty Dulcie. 

"I remember speeding away from Palm Island, the waves, the weather was very rough," she says.

"We were just crying the whole way, couldn't believe that we were leaving our home. And our families were on the jetty waving to us, and of course crying on both sides. It was very sad when we left that day."

The seven families were sent to Woorabinda, Cherboug and Bamaga, but this week their descendants came together again to reflect on the day Palm Island said 'no more'. 

The Queensland Government has since apologised to the families for the way they were treated.

But sadly, Aunty Dulcie fears the men's actions failed to ultimately improve the lives of Palm Island's people. 

"I think when (the Aborigines Protection Act) was taken away from our people... which is not taken away completely, they slipped it out from under them, and they placed in front of them a bottle instead. And our people, after drinking, they just slid backwards." 

But drawing on the legacy of the past, there is hope for the future, as the community looks to the next generation. 

"I would like them to know that they have a God-given right to be proud, to be free first inside of them," Aunty Dulcie says.

"To know that these men fought for them. It's their history - it's not the history only of the people that were sent off from the island.

"So I hope the people of Palm will always remember this is their history."

See the full story tonight at 9pm on The Point
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