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'Healing enduring injustice': Queenie Hart coming home after 46 years in unmarked grave

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a person posing for the camera: Wakka Wakka woman Queenie Hart had a love for travel, which is how she ended up in Rockhampton, but she always had family to stay with. (Supplied: Melita and Lewis Orcher)

Wakka Wakka woman Queenie Hart had a love for travel, which is how she ended up in Rockhampton, but she always had family to stay with.

For the past 46 years, Queenie Hart has lain in an unmarked grave in Rockhampton, central Queensland, forgotten by almost everyone except her family.

But now Queenie will be returned to Cherbourg, an Indigenous community 260 kilometres northwest of Brisbane after her story saw an outpouring of donations through crowdfunding. 

After more than $20,000 was raised in less than a day, there was enough for Queenie to come home.

Her niece, Debbie West, was overwhelmed.

"The generosity of people, complete strangers — I am just so grateful," Ms. West said.

"We may never get justice, but our justice is getting her home to be buried with her family on her own country, Wakka Wakka country." 

Ms. West is especially grateful to journalist Amy McQuire, a Darambul and South Sea Islander woman, for shining a light on Queenie.

Ms. McQuire, writing in The Guardian, made Queenie's devastating story public, of a killer, never brought to account, and a family never allowed able to properly grieve.

"There was never any justice for Queenie," Ms. McQuire said.

There have been no public displays of mourning, and it was through her father that Ms. McQuire first heard of Queenie's death.

"We've had a number of high-profile murder cases and Rockhampton still mourns those victims and yet, for Queenie, there was just silence," she said. 

Queenie was murdered in April 1975 and, at the time, relegated to dehumanising depictions by both the media and the courts, Ms. McQuire said. 

Although a man was brought to court, his murder charges were dropped before the case went to trial — and the suspect later died.

Ms. McQuire said these depictions of Queenie had contributed to the outcome. 

"For me, it's been really important to ensure that we remember her the way her family wanted her to be remembered."

Freedom-loving traveler

Queenie grew up on what was then the Cherbourg Mission and, like other Indigenous people at the time, her life was governed by the Aboriginal Protection Act.

"It was incredibly oppressive," Ms. McQuire said.

"Aboriginal people had to ask for permission to marry or leave the mission — it was akin to a prison."

Queenie, however, had her first taste of freedom as a member of the Murgon Impara's Marching Girls team, which toured the country.

Ms. McQuire said the team won the Australian championships one year and "that was a great source of pride, not just for Queenie, but [for her] community".

Soon Queenie was traveling, visiting family members all across the state, "but she was never alone".

And this is how she ended up in Rockhampton, where she was staying with an aunty. 

Mother's silence

Debbie West was too young to remember her aunty, but what she recalls is her grandmother, Janey Hart, never spoke of her daughter.

No mention was ever made of how Queenie died and it was not until years later that Ms. West discovered the truth from her uncle.

"I was reading through the story, and it just hit me like a tonne of bricks that this is what happened to my aunty's body and so brutally," Ms. West said.

"I think about my grandmother - all those years of suffering in silence."

Ms. West asked her uncle to describe to Queenie, and it was far from how she was described in those newspaper clippings.

"I have this picture of her now — so happy and carefree — and not this bad image," Ms. West said, choking back tears.

Justice denied

All Janey Hart — who died in 1983 — wanted was to bring her daughter home for a burial, but this was denied.

Instead, she was granted permission to attend the small funeral ceremony, and, until now, Queenie has been lying in that unmarked grave.

Justice is now coming as Queenie was being brought home, Ms. McQuire said.

It was now a matter of giving the $20,000 raised to funeral directors and it would be up to Queenie's family as to when they want to take her home, she added.

"I am just really heartened by the fact we've literally got [more than] 20 grand within a day," Ms. McQuire said.

Queenie will be laid to rest with her family with a graveside cultural ceremony and corroboree, where Ms. West will release butterflies.

"In my mind, she was quite a little social butterfly from what I've been hearing from my uncle, and I think that would fit."

A bigger story

Queenie's story is part of a wider narrative, Ms. McQuire said.

"We have so many cases of Aboriginal men, women, and children — but particularly women — who are killed or go missing, where police have failed or deliberately refused, to investigate these cases properly," she said. 

"They completely dehumanised Aboriginal women and it's almost as if they weren't worthy of pursuing justice [for]."

Telling their stories, she said, had enabled some form of justice and healing for families. 

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