History of the Whitsundays

Whitsunday islands aerial view

How the islands were formed

About 65 million years ago, Australia began to detatch itself from Antartica and move in a northerly direction, colliding with another basaltic crustal rock or 'plate'. The movement of the plates against each other caused them to heat and become viscous and began to rise towards the surface breaking through causing volcanoes and lava to flow. The explosive eruptions threw rock and ash into the air raining down on the surrounding land. Layers of volcanic debris built up and gradually formed a solid bedrock and mountains that were part of the mainland.

After the last glacial period, the sea levels rose flooding the continental shelf leaving the higher peaks of the volcanic activity and seperating them from mainland Australia, forming 74 islands.

Traditional land owners

The Whitsundays are the traditional home of the Ngaro Aboriginal people, commonly known as the 'Canoe People'. Archaeological research shows that the Ngaro inhabited the Whitsundays for at least the past 9000 years. Evidence includes stone axes and cutting tools found in a stone quarry on South Molle Island, and rock art discovered at Nara Inlet on Hook Island. Large piles of discarded shells and bones at the base of the caves on Hook Island have enabled archaeologists to determine that people began using the cave about 2500 years ago.

The Ngaro people welcome visitors to enjoy thier homeland. The Ngaro Sea Trail was developed by the Ngaro descendents and Department of Environment, Science and Innovation to provide a unique blend of seaways and walks for all to enjoy.

European discovery

On 3 June 1770, James Cook sailed the Endeavour through the passage of water to the west of Whitsunday and Hook Island, and to the east of Daydream Island and South Molle Island on a day known as 'Whit Sunday', the Sunday of the feast for the Christian festival of Pentecost, and called the body of water 'Whitsunday Passage'. The term is a misnomer as the international date line had not been established at the time, and so the official day of discovery was on a Monday.

James Cook named the islands after the Duke of Cumberland, known as the Cumberland Isles. There are several groups of islands known as Whitsunday islands, Lindeman group, Sir James Smith group and the Anchor islands group. These days the 74 islands are more commonly known as the "Whitsundays".

Early settlement

By 1883, grazing leases became available with sheep, cattle and tropical fruit flourishing and steamers calling into the islands delivering supplies and loading wool, cattle and horses for market. The farmers were visited by friends and family from ships and small boats, ferrying people from Airlie Beach after arriving by train in to Proserpine and by the 1930's, the interest in the Cumberlands slowly changed from pastoral to recreational.

Farmers started to build galvanised huts with palm thatched roofs and wash basins charging one pound per day which included scones and fresh tropical fruit from South Molle Island and soon came the very first day trippers from the mainland to Daydream, Long and South Molle islands.

This movement got the government thinking about the the future of the islands, not as Special Purpose Leases but as National Parks and shorlty gazetted all islands that had no National Parks and as the grazing leases lapsed, they changed the islands staus to National Parks and therefore there are no grazing leases on the islands today.

The huts soon turned in to resorts and over the years, changed hands a number of times to the current resorts that they are today.