Cooktown - History and Aboriginal Culture
Wanhtharra nyundu! Welcome to our country! Cooktown lies in Guugu Yimithirr country, a tribal nation which stretched from the Annan River, south of Cooktown, to Princess Charlotte Bay in the north. This is one of the Cape’s forty-one tribal nations, each having its distinct language, history, culture, bush foods and bush medicines.
With a rich history starting with Captain James Cooks' landing here in 1770, to the Palmer River Gold Rush a hundred years later, Cooktown is one of Queensland's oldest historic towns.
It is little known that when the Endeavour struck the reef, 23 hours passed before she was floated off, everyone on board took their turn at manning the pumps, falling down exhausted before another took his place. What else happened to the crew in Cooktown.......
The Cooktown cemetery is the final resting place for people of many nationalities, religions and cultures that lived in this remote pioneering town. The stories that unfold within its boundaries bear witness to the tragedies, triumphs and mysteries experienced by the people in the times of the gold rush era, and early settlement of the township.
Housed in the oldest building in Charlotte Street, the former post and telegraph office, this is your one stop spot for everything related to Cooktown history.
Hailed as Australia's most unusual railway, the creation of the Cooktown to Laura Railway, was a direct result of the discovery of gold in the Palmer River.
Cooktown was established in 1873, but no beacon guided ships through the reef until the lighthouse was built in 1886. It was supplied by Chance Brothers Ltd, England, and for years was one of only four along the Queensland coast. Small lighthouses were staffed by a lone keeper who announced the arrival of ships by raising a flag. At midday a time ball was dropped from the signal staff.
Just as Captain Cook had found Grassy Hill such a natural vantage point, so the aspect proved a natural option for new communication and detection technologies as they were developed.
“It was here on these rocks that a group of eleven Guugu Yimithirr men and James Cook and several of his companions reconciled their differences and restored the peace and friendship that was the defining nature of the European’s seven weeks stay in Endeavour River.”
Mary Beatrice Watson, nee Phillips, was born in the Cornish town of Truro, England. During the mid 1870's, her family emigrated to Queensland. While working in Cooktown, Mary met Captain R.F. Watson, a beche-de-mer fisherman. The couple married in Cooktown on 30 May 1880. They moved to Lizard Island where their son, Ferrier, was born in 1881. Their homestead was apparently built on an Aboriginal sacred site. It is widely believed that this provoked the attack on the holding.
Little happened after Cooks initial landing until William Hann set out on his overland journey of exploration in 1872. The discovery of payable alluvial gold deposits at the Palmer river in 1873 by James Venture Mulligan, sparked a huge gold rush, drawing prospectors not only from Australia, but also from around the world.
Mystery and intrigue surround the origins of the 'Normanby Woman'. Over the years, fact and fiction have mingled. Here is one rendition of the story.
How Mungurru (the rock python) made the Wahalumbaal birri (the Endeavour River) from the book Aboriginal Tales from Queensland's Endeavour River by Tulo Gordon