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The unveiling of a piece of history

By Sheree Hoddinett  

Dark clouds may have hovered above, but the shine couldn’t be removed from a very special event taking place outside the Bribie Island Seaside Museum on November 28. It was a moment, a long time in the making, the unveiling of a historic statue – Bongaree (also known as Bungaree), Matthew Flinders and his cat Trim. 


Situated near the spot where Flinders and Bongaree first landed on July 16, 1799, the unique sculpture is a vision that was brought to life thanks to the Bribie Island Historical Society to commemorate the significant moment in history. There are many memorials around the world dedicated to Flinders, but this is the first time his friend and Aboriginal guide Bongaree has been publicly recognised. The sculpture was created by Derek Patey and his wife Sonia (you may also remember the soldiers Derek created ahead of Anzac Day) with great support and endorsement from family descendants of Bongaree and local representatives, with assistance from Busy Fingers and the City of Moreton Bay Council. 


A man heavily invested in the history of Bribie Island is none other than the Bribie Island Historical Society president Barry Clark. Having lived on the Island now for 20 years after retiring here from Sydney, Mr Clark has spent much of his time discovering everything there is to know about Bribie. He has written many articles about Bongaree the man and knew it was time for him to receive proper recognition for everything he had achieved. 


“I’d long held this view that because so much was known about Matthew Flinders, hailed around the world as a hero and yet there was very little about a man called Bongaree who was his great mate,” Mr Clark said. “And Flinders wouldn't have achieved much of what he did without his friendship and help.  

“So along the waterfront here, over the years, we've installed many heritage pieces and signage and people are starting to understand and appreciate more of that. But in this place called Bongaree, there is no image, there is no sculpture of Bongaree himself and for years and years that worried me. Bongaree and Flinders were great mates, they did amazing things, both together and individually. I think Flinders is well recognised for what he did, but so far not for Bongaree. I felt we were long overdue to have something of our Bongaree here.”   


As a descendant of Bongaree, Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer took a few moments to recognise the work of everyone involved in bringing the statue to life. 


“It’s been a long journey to get to this point and there has been lots of consultation along the way,” Dr Leroy-Dyer said. “It’s really wonderful to see Bungaree (who you may know as Bongaree) actually acknowledged in this way, because he was a great man who assisted colonisers to colonise our country – there really is no other way of putting it. But he did what he had to do for he and his family to survive. And in doing that, he did great things.”  


For Derek and Sonia, the unveiling of the piece is the first time they have seen the sculpture together as one and not a work-in-progress. Months of effort, rolls upon rolls of chicken wire, many pairs of gloves, wire cutters and even Dettol thrown in the mix have all culminated in a grand unveiling the artists are extremely proud of. Although Derek admits his hands are still in recovery mode!  


“What an emotional morning it’s been,” Derek said of the unveiling. “It’s been quite a huge learning curve and a great honour for Sonia and I to be involved in this commission – the creation of Bongaree, Matthew Flinders and of course his famous cat Trim. It’s been quite a process, but one we are proud to finally see come to fruition.” 


Councillor Brooke Savige also paid homage to Bongaree in what she described as a “momentous occasion” for the Island.  


“When I was first introduced to the concept of a sculpture, paying tribute to Bungaree, I was incredibly surprised to learn that this would be the very first,” Ms Savige said. “How does the first Australian born person to circumnavigate the continent, the first mediator, guide, interpreter and essentially the first Australian born person diplomat, not to mention the first Aboriginal to be appointed a chief, not already have such a recognition? This project is 224 years in the making and from the moment I heard this, I was committed to finding a way to make it happen.  

“With the support of Bungaree’s family, the Bribie Island Historical Society, artist Derek and of course Barry, we set about this important task and despite the challenges, we stood firm in the view that this important project must be delivered. I am beyond proud to see history made here today, as we see this sculpture standing firm here in Bongaree, the namesake of the amazing Bungaree.”  

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