The beautiful scenic Great Barrier Reef Island isn’t just another tourist destination, but also harbours a colourful history full of rich and treasured knowledge. The island is traditionally home to the indigenous Aborigines of the area called the Gunggandji people who populated the Yarrabah mission a few kilometres south of the island. The Gunggandji people called this area ‘Koba’ (also known and called as ‘Gabar‘). The Island language names translates to ‘The Fist‘. Fitzroy Island was used by the Gunggandji as a place to exile ringleaders that became restless or tried to start trouble within their newly established community.
The first colonisation expedition was led by Captain Cook in 1770 whereby Cook and his crew sailed between Fitzroy Island and the mainland to discover the hidden gem. After his successful voyage Cook named the Island after the third Duke of Grafton, Augustus FitzRoy
Palmer River Gold Rush (Quarantine Station)
In 1873 Palmer River located in the far north of Queensland, experienced it most historical gold rush yet. Palmer River was quickly inundated with gold miners from all over the world that by 1877 there were over 23,000 miners in the area searching for gold.
Fitzroy Island played a massive role during this period as a ‘quarantine station’. At the time, new miners entering the area were required to quarantine themselves for a period of 16 days to prevent workers from getting sick or potentially getting sick. Most of the Chinese workers that immigrated to Australia during the Palmer River gold rush were shipped to Welcome Bay where works commenced immediately to prepare for the rush to come.
World War II – No.28 Radar Station
After the collapse of the Palmer River gold rush, a new expensive industry boomed amongst the seafarers globally. During 1880 – 1889 there was the boom of the Béche-de-mer (sea cucumber) and Pearling Industry which bought in more workers globally from countries such as Malaysia, Philippines, and Japanese. The industry paid it workers quite well due to its dangerous nature.
By this time, the Yarrabah Mission had formed its own community government which were ran by the indigenous community members. After the collapse of the Béche-de-mer (sea cucumber) and Pearling Industries, the indigenous people used Fitzroy Island to exile or banish ringleaders that were to cause issues amongst their small community. In 1905 the Yarrabah Mission successfully secured a lease and sent 30 of its community members there to reside in. The community members did not waste any time settling into their new home. The people has already built 8 building structures on the island – one of which was a church made from the surrounding coral. This settlement did not last long and was shut down in 1912 due to World War II erupting in the Pacific.
Australia had quickly conformed and prepared itself for a possible invasion. As part of the preparation the Army had built No. 28 Radar Station to assist with monitoring all the shipping and air traffic that were approaching Cairns. Additional to this army service based on the island, there were other workers who were recruited to man and work Wireless Signal Station and the Morse-code Blinking Lighthouse. Between 1942 – 1945 there had already been 100 servicemen recruited on the island. After the war ended, the island was quickly vacated of all army personnel but left structures such as the Morse-code Blinking Lighthouse.
In 1950 the Head Lighthouse Keeper, M.V Rooke was married in what was known to be the first ever wedding recorded on the island. He was tasked to care take the island as well as the lighthouse and most times he would have had conflict on his door with visitors cutting down planted trees, illegal hunting, and illegal construction of holiday homes.
Over time, there were qualified and experienced lighthouse keepers that had moved to the island to assist with the Lighthouse operations. The Lighthouse itself operated for a solid 49 years with just over 90 Lighthouse keepers maintaining them. Eventually the Morse-code Blinking Lighthouse was torn down due to old age and a new one was built in its place on Little Fitzroy between 1973-1992. Due to issues with the lighting not being bright enough, the new lighthouse was replaced with a small automated light which does the job just as efficiently today as it did back then.
Fitzroy Island Today
Ten acres of the National Park was designated in the debate for the future of the Island’s tourism sector. It was then in 1977 that the first Resort was erected. In the forty years since, four different resorts have been built – each replacing the last. The popular Fitzroy Island Resort opened in 2010 and been a booming activity on the island ever since.