WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.
30 July 2021 // Albert Geia
Albert 'Albie' Edward Geia (1920 - 1988) Ngaru/Gia (Aboriginal) and Kaurareg/Mualgal (Torres Strait Islander) was part of a significant musical dynasty that spans four generations.
His father Genami Geia came from Mua (Moa Island) in the Torres Straits. Genami was one of the first pioneers on Palm Island, 65 kilometers North-East of the Queensland city of Townsville, a free man and experienced seaman and diver. Palm Island is home to the Bwgcolman people and a former penal colony, turned Aboriginal mission with a history of brutality and oppression. A seafarer and boat builder, Genami assisted the US ships navigate through the channels of the Great Barrier Reef during the second world war.
Albie Geia’s Aboriginal mother Lizzy Kyle met Genami as the first families arrived on Palm Island when the settlement was established in 1918, after the destruction of the Hull River Mission by cyclone that same year. They had four sons with Albie being the eldest. He was the first child born on Palm Island settlement when the hospital was completed in 1920. Life was strict and harsh growing up, Albie found an escape in music.
A multi-instrumentalist, he played pedal steel guitar and piano accordion. He was also a noted composer, producing bodies of work for the Palm Island Brass Band to which he was the conductor.
Albie met his future wife Alma Coutts on Palm Island. She had been taken from around Cooktown aged 8 and was raised in the dormitories until she was of working age. She was a singer and talented seamstress. Albert married Alma in 1938, at age 18. They would go on to have 12 children.
At this time the Queensland Aboriginal Protection Act was enforced and life was regulated. To travel they needed permits and had to get back to the Island by 6pm, marked by the ringing of the mission bell. They lined up in the open field to get their duties, all unpaid work, but given rations instead.
Albie could see that white workers on Palm Island would receive a wage and inspired by knowledge of other rebellions, he decided to take a stand. In 1957 Albie led the Palm Island strike demanding fair wages, instead of rations, for their forced labour. He was joined by six other men Willie Thaiday, Eric Lymburner, Sonny Sibley, Bill Congoo, George Watson and Gordon Tapau. They held the strike for 5 days and during that time a petition was written for fair wages and living conditions, all of which were denied.
As a result Albie and his fellow strikers were exiled from their island home. The men were tied to the mast of the boat and taken in Police Custody with their families. They were held at Townsville watchhouse before being separated and sent to different Aboriginal settlements across Queensland, with Albie and his family being sent to Woorabindah Aboriginal Settlement.
Albie was exiled and forced to live on the mainland, and after two years punishment in Woorabinda the family relocated to the town of Ingham where Albie worked in the sugar cane fields. Without any citizen rights Albie worked the properties of Italian migrant farmers for both cutting and ploughing seasons. Living in shanty camps on the outskirts of town.
Albie’s work for Aboriginal rights continued in his later years around Townsville, inspiring younger Palm Islanders such as Pastor Don ‘Kawanji’ Brady and Darcy Cummins. Both of whom took the fight of social justice to Brisbane in the 70s alongside the Aboriginal land rights movement. Albie inspired a next generation of family musicians including sons Cedric Geia, an acclaimed jazz guitarist and Joe Geia, recognised as a pioneer of contemporary Indigenous music.
Albert passed away in 1988 aged 69. His legacy continues through the generations to his grandchildren including award winning musician Jessie Lloyd who explored his life and musical legacy through the Mission Songs project.