Palm Island (also known as Great Palm Island, or by Aboriginal name Bukaman) is an island and community 65 km north-west of Townsville, on the east coast of Queensland, Australia. At 64 km², Palm Island is the main island of the Greater Palm group, and consists of small bays, sandy beaches and steep forested hills rising to a peak of 548 metres. Neighbouring islands outside the Palm group include Rattlesnake Island and Magnetic Island.
Palm Island is often termed a classic “tropical paradise” given its natural endowments, but it has had a troubled history since the European settlement of Australia. For much of the twentieth century it was used by the Queensland Government as a virtual penal settlement for Aboriginals considered guilty of such infractions as being “disruptive”, being pregnant to a white man or being born with “mixed blood”.
The community created by this history has been beset by many problems over the years and has often been the discussion point of political and social commentators. Since its creation as an Aboriginal reserve, Palm Island has been considered synonymous with indigenous disadvantage and violence. At the same time it has been at the forefront of political activism which has sought to improve the conditions and treatment of Australia’s Indigenous people as well as redress injustices visited on them broadly as a race and on Palm Island specifically. Of significant sociological concern is a lack of jobs and housing.
The indigenous population generally identify with either the Bwgcolman or Manbarra people. Compared with other parts of Australia, the Palm Island community is young with 35.6% under 15 and only 6.4% over 55. Only 5.1% of the population describe themselves as being non-religious compared with 18.7% of Australians, 42.6% are Catholic (25.8% Australia wide), 23.2% Anglican and 11.2% being other Protestant.
The community, consisting of some 42 mainland and Torres Strait Islander clan or family groups, suffers from chronic alcohol, drug and domestic abuse, has an unemployment rate of 90% and an average life expectancy of 50 years, thirty less than the national average.