I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Ramon Jayo, an historic election

The Hinchinbrook Shire Council elections of 2016 will go down in history as a momentous occasion for the Spanish Basque community of the Hinchinbrook Shire. Ramon Jayo, son of Spanish Basque immigrants, Pilar and Felix Jayo, has been elected Mayor in a resounding victory. As the Spanish Basque community in Australia is most numerous in Queensland it is possible that he is the first Mayor of Spanish Basque heritage in any Queensland electorate, possibly, Australian electorate.
The first Basque believed to have arrived in Queensland in 1882 and the first to arrive in the Herbert River district was Aniceto Menchaca, who came to Sydney in 1907 from Bilbao. He eventually supplied cane to the Victoria Sugar Mill. In 1911 he brought out his brother Juan, and soon others followed including members of the Balanzategui, Badiola, Elortegui and Mendiolea families. Thus started a pattern of migration from the Basque Country that would have important social consequences for this corner of Australia.
Basque migration to the Hinchinbrook Shire peaked between 1958 and 1960 when an assisted passage scheme was devised to augment the previous system of private nomination. These immigrants were destined for the cane fields as cane cutters. Three Bibao based recruitments, resulted in three voyages called by Spanish emigration authorities: Operacion Canguro, Operacion Eucaliptus and Operacion Emu formed the main source of Basque immigrants. In the five voyages between 1958 and 960 387 people identified themselves as Basque. Small numbers of Basque nationals continued coming to Australia into the early 1960s. Many of the Basque cane cutters lived and worked on the farms west of Ingham and of a weekend would gather at Trebonne Hotel run by Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sartoresi. Across from the Hotel was a baker’s shop run by two brothers, Jose Marie and Felix Jayo. They and their friend Albert Urberuaga saw the potential for a fronton court in the grounds of the hotel on which could be played the popular national game, pelota mano.  With the agreement of Joe Sartoresi the fronton was built in 1959. Felix Jayo and his brother Jose Maria Jayo played Juan Crux Arriaga and Tomas Monasterio in the exhibition match. Felix and Jose Maria won!
For nearly a decade the froton attracted both single men and families of a Friday night and on Saturdays and Sunday. Up to 200 people could gather, particularly on nights when there was dancing and a barbecue organized. Today, the fronton is no longer formally used and there is little if no Basque migration to the Hinchinbrook Shire.

Felix Jayo, Jose Maria Jayo, Pasqual Badiola, Tomas Monasterio, Juan Arriaga and Javier Urberuaga (child)
(Source: Albert Urberuaga and Juan Mendiolea)
The Shire is privileged therefore, to still have a community of Basque immigrants and their descendants, descendants who are actively proud of their heritage. The community still gathers monthly at the Basque Club in Townsville. The fronton still stands: a tangible reminder of the courage, hard work and hopes of their forebears. And now, in March 2016, the historic election of the son of Spanish Basque immigrants as Mayor of the Hinchinbrook Shire can be added to the remarkable record of the Basque diaspora.

Links for fronton Trebonne and heritage status.

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