George Skeene

Full Name: George Skeene

Role in the project: Indigenous Research Associate

Brief background bio: 

Dr George Skeene is a traditional owner and Elder for the Yirrganydji people whose country lies along the coastal plains from Cairns to Port Douglas. He was born in Cairns in 1948 and initially lived at the English Street Aboriginal Reserve until 1959. On the fringes of Cairns city, the English Street Aboriginal Reserve had been gazetted in October 1943 under the provisions of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 and managed by the Protector of Aboriginals with Department of Native Affairs. It was officially cancelled in November 1952. Another Aboriginal reserve had been established earlier in June 1938 at Lyons Street only a few kilometres away. When plans were made to convert the English Street Aboriginal Reserve into land for non-Indigenous housing (now in Manunda), George and his family were relocated to the Lyons Street Aboriginal Reserve along with all their houses. Later in 2008, George wrote the book ‘Two Cultures: Children from the Aboriginal Camps and Reserves in Cairns City’ about his experiences of life at the two reserves which includes biographies by Aboriginal people in the Far Northern region and traditional cultural knowledge he absorbed from his parents, grandparents and others of their generations. This publication is an invaluable historical resource for staff and students at James Cook University studying Anthropology, Archaeology and History. George also worked on a surface archaeological survey of the English Street Aboriginal Reserve with James Cook University.

During his research on Yirrganydji material culture at Australian museums, George arranged for the return of the remains of a Yirrganydji woman held at the Queensland Museum who was released and re-buried in Cairns. George published his research into a collection of Yirrganydji artefacts held at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne Germany.

He has worked at the has worked with the Cairns Historical Society Museum (now Cairns Museum) for more than 20 years researching and curating the Indigenous exhibits. 2013 George was awarded his Honorary Doctor of Letters at James Cook University and the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2016.