January 21, 2021

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Remembrance Day 2020 / One Kuku Yalangi man’s story

5 min read
While 2020 looks a little different to previous years, with an emphasis on protecting our more vulnerable elderly from the risks of COVID-19, members of the Douglas Shire community are invited to lay wreaths at cenotaphs in Mossman and in Port Douglas. Douglas Shire Council and Mossman RSL flags will fly at half-mast to commemorate the occasion. Today we take a closer look at the life story of Norman Baird, one extraordinary young man who put his life on the line for his fellow Australians, over and over again. Norman has been described by one of his grandsons, Noel Pearson, as "the first modern Kuku Yalanji and should be a model for our people's future".

JAYNE MILLER


Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of World War One to remember the members of our armed forces who died in the line of duty. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, back in 1918. 

While 2020 looks a little different to previous years, with an emphasis on protecting our more vulnerable elderly from the risks of COVID-19, members of the Douglas Shire community are invited to lay wreaths at cenotaphs in Mossman and in Port Douglas. Douglas Shire Council and Mossman RSL flags will fly at half-mast to commemorate the occasion.


Douglas Historical Society documents approximately 220 men who served for Australia in WWI, who were born or enlisted in the Shire or who enlisted elsewhere but had family addresses back in the Shire.

Today we take a closer look at the life story of Norman Baird, one extraordinary young man who put his life on the line for his fellow Australians, over and over again. Norman has been described by one of his grandsons, Noel Pearson, as “the first modern Kuku Yalanji and should be a model for our people’s future”.

Norman was born on 17 February, 1888 at China Camp near Cooktown. He was the son of Robert Baird, an immigrant from Ayrshire, Scotland (and the first Mayor of Cooktown), and Dinah Dalkeith, a Kuku Yalanji Indigenous Australian woman.

Norman had been working as a tin miner near Bloomfield River, before he enlisted in Cairns on 2 August 1917, at the age of 30. His brother Charles Baird had previously enlisted in the war on 5 May 1915, and served with the 5th and 11th Light Horse Regiments. The brothers were two of an estimated 300 indigenous men who served during World War One.

Norman again enlisted on 26 April 1943 at Cairns for service in World War Two where he served as Corporal with the Volunteer Defence Corps. He was discharged on 24 July 1944.

Norman received the British War Medal 1914-20 No.31565 and the Victory Medal No.29764.


Norman’s life after the wars is documented in Kathleen Denigan’s book “Norman Baird: A Spark Within”. His grandson Noel describes, “it is clear from his long struggle with the authorities that Norman felt his war service entitled him to respect as a citizen and he felt his people were treated unjustly” (1)

Further, “despite his national service, like other indigenous servicemen, Norman returned to a country that did not accord him the same rights as his fellows. Although as a young man he had remained outside the purview of the Queensland legislation that provided for the removal of Aborigines from their families and their homelands and their confinement to missions and settlements, in his post-war life he was under constant threat of removal to that notorious destination, Palm Island.”

Norman fought to resist the removal of Yalanji people from their homelands. He was considered a troublemaker, with vigorous efforts made to remove him from China Camp. He often eluded authorities when attempts were made to force his family’s removal. One of his sons, Joseph, was removed to Yarrabah Mission near Cairns at the age of ten. Norman was not to see him again for another ten years, when he applied to the authorities to allow Joseph to visit him. Despite this treatment, Joseph later served his country in World War II, as his father did (2).

Later, as an elder and almost blind, Norman recorded his language in handwritten vocabulary, and translated many hymns and bible stories. He was exceptionally bicultural and bilingual.

“As well as his steadfast advocacy for the needs of his people and his resistance to their maltreatment, Norman Baird was concerned about the survival of the language and culture of his Yalanji people. He compiled the first word list of Kuku Yalanji and translated many hymns and bible stories. A linguist who worked with Norman, Lynette Oates, remarked that he was “the only Aborigine I have spoken with who was fully bicultural and fully bilingual”. “

Noel Pearson: Walking In Two Worlds, Norman & Charles Baird The Australian October 28, 2006

Norman died in Mossman on 14 January 1970, aged 81 years. Many of his descendants still live in Mossman and surrounds.

The legacy of what Norman did for his people, their language, and their culture is extraordinary.

Norman Baird, The Queenslander Pictorial, 29 December, 1917, page 23

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Douglas Shire Remembrance Day 2020

LAY A WREATH

  • Mossman Cenotaph, 64-66 Front Street, Mossman Qld 4873
  • RSL Mossman Sub Branch Cenotaph, 28 Johnston Road, Mossman Qld 4873
  • Port Douglas Cenotaph, Anzac Park, Wharf Street, Port Douglas, Qld 4877

REMEMBER TO PAUSE

Mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month with one minute’s silence. Set a reminder on your calendar, switch your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’, put aside your ‘to-do list’ for just one minute, and remember.

REMEMBER TO WEAR A POPPY

Poppies are the universal symbol of remembrance and a reminder of the human cost of war. It is traditional to wear a poppy to show that you acknowledge and honour the service of our veterans.

REMEMBER TO COMMEMORATE

If you are not able to attend a commemorative event in person, you can commemorate at home, school or work:

  • You can watch a live stream of the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance in Brisbane’s ANZAC Square from 10:15am on 11 November, 2020.
  • You can download a video or audio recording of a short commemorative service from 1 November, 2020.
  • Or you can simply light a candle, recite The Ode and spend a minute in silent reflection.

REMEMBER TO HELP

There are many veterans who need a hand. It might be something as simple as mowing their lawn, helping them do the grocery shopping, or simply stopping by for a cuppa and a chat. Why not reach out to our local Mossman Sub Branch and see if you can help a veteran?

REMEMBER TO DONATE

The pandemic has severely impacted our RSL Sub Branches’ ability to raise the funds they need to be able to support veterans in our local communities. So if you can afford to donate even a small amount, it is much needed and greatly appreciated.

When you donate to the Poppy Appeal, you can opt to dedicate a virtual poppy to a family member or friend – planting a Garden of Remembrance that will help us provide support and assistance to veterans all across Australia.

REMEMBER TO REMEMBER

No matter how you choose to commemorate Remembrance Day, all we really ask is that you “remember to remember”. Remember those who have given their lives in service to their country in wars and conflicts around the world. Remember those who have come home injured or ill, in body or spirit. And remember those who bravely serve our country today.

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