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Moreton Island History

“On May 17th 1770, James Cook named ‘Moroton Bay’ and ‘Cape Moroton’, after the then President of the Royal Society of Britain, the Earl of Morton.  In 1799 Matthew Flinders discovered the Cape was actually part of the island, he named it Moreton Island, misspelling the name Morton, which appeared in Hawskworth’s edition of Cook’s voyages in 1793.

Moreton Island remains one of the few untouched areas of natural wilderness along the east coast and supports an amazing variety of vegetation on its sand based environment. White sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and refreshing lakes make Moreton Island a much sought after destination amongst holiday makers, bushwalkers, fishermen, naturalists and four wheel drive enthusiasts.

Ancient shell middens (some more than 1500 years old) are a reminder that Aboriginal people, namely the Ngugi tribe, inhabited the island many years before European settlement.  In 1848, a pilot station was established at Bulwer. Shipping had previously used the South Passage between Moreton and North Stradbroke Island, but due to the numerous shipwrecks on the reefs and bars, shipping was directed to enter Moreton Bay around Cape Moreton.  The Cape Moreton Lighthouse, built in 1857, still operates and provides one of the islands most outstanding scenic views.

The remains of the old military emplacements and fortifications can still be found at Cowan Cowan and Rous Battery, reminders of Brisbane’s efforts to defend itself during World War II.  Cowan Cowan was established as a military camp in 1938 and up until and during the war housed as many as 900 soldiers.

Tangalooma operated as a whaling station from 1953 to 1962.  The whale chasers Kos I and Kos II are now part of Curtin Artificial Reef, with the mother ship being a part of the Tangalooma Wrecks.

Mount Tempest, a vegetated sand hill in the centre on the island, makes for a challenging climb for those walkers keen on the best views of Moreton Island and the bay.  Mt Tempest is reputedly the highest sand hill in the world, standing approximately 283m above sea level.

The Big and Little Sand Hills near the southern end of Moreton Island provide an awe inspiring sight of mountains and pure silica sand, running across the island from East to West, some 2.5km.  The Desert is a major sand due blowout, just south of Tangalooma on Moreton Island and is accessible via a scenic walking track for the western beach. These areas of bare sand dunes also provide the slopes for an exhilarating sand toboggan.

Wetland areas of Heath Island in the north and the Mirapools and Days Gutter in the south of Moreton  Island provide interesting and unique habitats for migratory birds and newly established mangroves.  The seas around Moreton Island teem with life such as turtles, dolphins, whales and the occasional dugong may be sighted.  Moreton Island offers its visitors a wealth of nature experiences and recreational opportunities.


Moreton Island was occupied by Aboriginal people for several thousands of years.  This is evident by the extensive middens, camp sites, rock shelters, chipping grounds and stone artifacts which can be found in the island.  Moreton Island has existed in isolation from the other bay islands for a considerable time.  North and South Stradbroke Islands were not separated until the 1800`s.  The first known inhabitants of Moreton Island were the Ngugu tribe (pronounced Nooh gee).  Because of the much earlier detachment of Moreton Island the Ngugui tribe developed their own culture and language. They lived a wandering lifestyle which took advantage of the islands rich food resources.  Their diet consisted of fish, oysters, crabs, goannas, wild honey and midgen fruits.

Archaeological sites on the islands are important to the Ngugi descendants as a reflection of their heritage.  Up to 330 cultural sites have been recorded and include shell and bone scatters, large shell middens and a stone quarry.  Please respect these sites by leaving them untouched.

The Ngugi tribe traded freely with the other islands and mainland tribes and took part in the annual Bunya feast, north of Toowoomba.  The arrival of Europeans spelt the end of this happy, healthy and resourceful race.  Their numbers were savaged by smallpox.  In 1833 they suffered a massacre and by the early 1850`s most of the survivors had moved to North Stradbroke.  This self sufficient race was no more.


On May 17th 1770, James Cook names Moreton Bay and Cape Moreton, after the then President of the Royal Society of Britain.  In 1799 Matthew Flinders discovered the Cape was actually part of the island.  He named it Moreton Island, misspelling the name which appeared in Hawksworth`s edition of Cook`s voyages in 1793.

In 1823 Thomas Pamphlet and two other ticket of leave men set out by boat from Sydney to fell cedar on the NSW south coast.  They were caught in a storm and blown north.  Near death and after 21 days at sea they managed to beach their boat on Moreton Island.  The Ngugu tribe assisted them and after they had recovered from their ordeal they attempted to find their way back to Sydney and in the process discovered the Brisbane River.

On the 29th November 1823, John Oxley, whilst searching for a suitable place for the establishment of a penal colony rounded Point Skirmish and observed a number of natives running along the beach.  They were astonished when one of these people hailed them in English.  This historic meeting between Oxley and Pamphlet resulted in Pamphlet showing Oxley the Brisbane River and the site which today is the city of Brisbane.

The first organised settlement of Moreton Island wasn`t until 1847, when the loss of 44 lives with the wreck of the ‘Sovereign’ highlighted the danger of the south bar.  The Northern end of Moreton Bay became the entrance.  The Amity pilot station was moved from Amity Point to Bulwer bringing the first European residents in 1848. The station was eventually closed in 1909.


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