A short history of the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays were discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770 on the 7th Sunday after Easter on “Whitsun,” giving way to their name and the influence of the modern world.
Their formation and development, if not their discovery, had been a long time coming. Over 100 million years ago the land of the Whitsundays was born of violent volcanoes and a shift in the earth’s crust, causing land to shoot upwards into the form of mountains. Then, during the last ice age 10,00 years ago, the region began to flood, filling the valleys, leaving behind only the tips of the earlier mountains. These mountain tops are what we know to be the Whitsunday Islands.
No one truly knows when man came to the area, or why, but it is certain that they have lived in this area for at least 9,000 years and for as many as 45,000 years. Because of the constant change in the tides and rising of the ocean, many traces of Australia’s original inhabitants have long since been buried by reef and ocean, leaving their past very much a mystery.
The Whitsunday area’s original inhabitants, the Ngaro, Juru, Gia, and Biria, lived throughout the Whitsundays, controlling their own territories and maintaining individual tribes. The tribes were spread from Mackay to Bowen, with the Whitsunday Islands themselves in control of the Ngaro. They were the principal owners of the islands, and roamed from Cape Conway onwards to the mountains of Proserpine. They were largely nomadic between the islands themselves and the land, dependent on what the lands or seas could provide.
The islands were in the care of the Aboriginals for many thousands of years until the arrival of the good captain in 1770. This marked a major shift in Australia's history, making way for the new era of colonization.
Although Cook claimed the land for England in 1770 it wasn't until almost 100 years later, in 1860, that white settlers began to settle in the area. Relatively quickly and very violently, the newcomers drove the Aboriginals out of the area and off the islands, settling it for timber farms, grazing grounds and permanent homes, with many Aboriginals being killed, enslaved or indentured.
Tourism didn’t take grasp in the Whitsundays until the 1920s, with the first resort coming to Lindeman Island in 1929, and by this time the original inhabitants were all but extinct in the Whitsundays. By the 1930s the land was largely populated by the white newcomers, tourists and visitors, with only a few Aboriginals left, who were usually employed by resorts and the tourism industry, owned by white immigrants.
The once secluded and untouched area that is the Whitsundays now has 7 islands that are home to resorts, with millions of visitors yearly. There are 6 national parks spanning over 70 or the 74 Whitsunday Islands, protecting the islands and their marine life. Although very different from how it looked 150 years ago, the beauty and resilience of the islands continue to persevere. It is up to us to help maintain its beauty and allow it to flourish and remain healthy by respecting the lands and their wildlife.