Teddy calls Kowanyama home

Fire sticks made by Teddy from Kowanyama.

Fire sticks made by Teddy from Kowanyama.

By Melinda Johnson

With a population of approximately 1200 people, Kowanyama is a remote Aboriginal community located on the western coast of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, approximately 604km north-west of Cairns.
Kowanyama consists of three main tribes Kokominjena, Kokoberra and Kunjen. In the Yir-Yoront language, Kowanyama means – The place of many waters.
Kowanyama is situated on the banks of the Magnificent River which is a tributary of the Mitchell River located approximately 20 kilometres inland from the coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
John Edward Morris (pictured), or as he is more commonly known as Teddy, has called Kowanyama home since back in the days of cabbage tree houses.
Teddy grew up on a station in Georgetown, which is located about 9 hours drive from Kowanyama.
82 year old Teddy is a member of the Kokoberra tribe and now lives in Kowanyama with his wife Hazel. In past years Teddy and Hazel have left Kowanyama on occasions but since Teddy’s return from a working stint in Chillagoe over 5 years ago, they haven’t left since.
Teddy enjoyed being a stock worker on cattle stations and previously worked for the Kowanyama Council as a CDEP worker. However since his retirement about 10 years ago he now enjoys selling handmade artifacts such as boomerangs, fire sticks, bags and several types of spears. With the help of Hazel, Teddy collects all the materials to make his artifacts from local homelands such as Shelfo and Fish Hole.

Teddy works by hand with an axe.

Teddy works by hand with an axe.

Content with the laidback lifestyle of Kowanyama, Teddy’s days consist of making and selling his artifacts to the community and occasionally enjoying a cold beer at the Kowanyama canteen.
On 5 December 2003, the carriage of alcohol was banned in Kowanyama. Alcohol may now only be consumed at the local canteen, however no takeaways are allowed. Many people escaped these restrictions by moving to other communities.
When asked if he would ever move from Kowanyama, Teddy replied by shaking his head endlessly. Where some may find the remoteness of Kowanyama discouraging, others wouldn’t live anywhere else. ‘The heat can get a bit too much sometimes’ Teddy says, as Kowanyama often boasts the highest temperatures in the state. But that aside, Teddy is certain he will always call Kowanyama home.