Cherbourg, an Aboriginal community town of 1100 people, 170 km north-west of Brisbane, is on the Barambah Creek. It is located in Wakka Wakka tribal boundaries, near the border of Gubbi Gubbi territory. Cherbourg has long had an ambivalent relationship with nearby Murgon, where racist attitudes were once rife.
In 1894 the Queensland government commissioned Archibald Meston (1851-1924), journalist, explorer and amateur anthropologist, to make recommendations for improving the condition of Queensland Aborigines. Meston recommended their segregation from the European population, protecting them from alcohol and opium and providing better medical attention and 'instruction in industrial habits'. His report resulted in the passage of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act by the colonial legislature in 1897.
A Salvation Army officer at Nanango, William Thompson, secured the severance of 7000 acres from the Barambah pastoral station in 1901. The allotment was gazetted as a mission station and known as the Barambah Industrial School. Its establishment predated the beginnings of Murgon township by three years. Thompson gathered local Aborigines onto the mission station and was superintendent until 1904. Conditions were rudimentary, worsened by drought and lack of finance. Control of Barambah passed to the state government in 1905, but the superintendent allowed Aboriginal residents to be forcibly hired out for casual labour in the rapidly growing local agricultural economy. Despite this, the settlement became substantially self-sufficient in food (goats, poultry, vegetables), a hospital was built and a sawmill opened in 1917. Improved housing was built with locally milled timber.
In 1919 the world-wide influenza epidemic swept through Barambah, worsening the health of a population suffering high incidences of hookworm, heart disease and tuberculosis. Twenty percent of the population of 600 died in 1919 according to one report.
Barambah was the receiving place for Aborigines swept up by government policy from the South Burnett and elsewhere. An informed source estimated in 1935 that there were 28 'tribal' groups present.
During the 1920s a larger school and a new hospital were opened. The reserve was also enlarged to nearly 32,000 acres in 1932. In that year the name was changed to Cherbourg, the name given to one of the ten blocks that had comprised the Barambah pastoral station. Conditions remained poor. Children lived in segregated dormitories. They were often short of bedding and subject to punishment for minor infringements.
Despite the merging of so many Aboriginal groups, a Barambah/Cherbourg identity emerged. The Barambah cricket team (1922) was district champion in the 1931-32 season and consecutively from 1933-39. Its most famous player, Eddie Gilbert, played for Queensland and bowled Don Bradman for a duck in an interstate match in 1931. Twenty-nine Cherbourg men enlisted to serve in World War I, and 19 in World War II.
In 1944 a piggery was added to Cherbourg's dairy. Conditions improved in the postwar years - a new recreation hall opened in 1948 and a new hospital in 1958 - but the most significant improvement was the payment of award wages in the 1960s. In 1966 the first Cherbourg Community Council was elected, and in 1986 it took over local management of the community from the state under a Deed of Trust. Cherbourg is the most southern of the Aboriginal Local Government Areas. A supermarket/general store was built in 1976, again from locally milled timber. Later facilities included an aged persons' home (1991), a redeveloped hospital and a TAFE (both 1993) and a hostel/motel. In addition to these facilities Cherbourg also has a tourist centre, a pottery, a joinery works, an emu farm, a showground, a swimming pool and recreation reserves. A handsome memorial commemorates the war service of locals, and the Blair Theatre at the TAFE commemorates the town's famous singer, Harold Blair. Maroochy Barambah (formerly Yvette Isaacs, of Cherbourg) is a celebrated rock singer.
Thom Blake, A dumping ground: a history of the Cherbourg settlement, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 2001
Gerard Guthrie, Cherbourg: a Queensland Aboriginal reserve, Armidale, Department of Geography, University of New England, c1977
Tony Matthews, Landscapes of change: a history of the South Burnett, Wondai, South Burnett Local Government Association, 1997
Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council, Submission to Queensland Local Government Reform Commission, May 2007