Magnetic Island –¬† QLD

Magnetic Island History

Indigenous history 

The Aboriginal Traditional Owners of Yunbenun (Magnetic Island), the Wulgurukaba people, the canoe people, have lived on the island and nearby mainland for thousands of years. Shell middens, stone tools and art sites are some of the physical reminders of their strong connection with the island. The Wulgurukaba people have stories, such as the Big Carpet Snake story linking Magnetic and Palm Islands and the mainland, which tell of the creation of this landscape during the Dreamtime.

Magnetic Island History - Magnetic Island
The Wulgurukaba people were able to maintain their traditional lifestyle until the mid 1890s when the Townsville port was established. As more European people moved into the area, the Wulgurukaba people were forced to move off their traditional lands, and confrontations with settlers, loss of traditional food sources and disease took their toll. They remained on the island until the 1920s and 30s but were eventually forced to live in missions on the mainland. A small group of Wulgurukaba people remain on, or have returned to the island.

Non-Indigenous history 

Magnetic Island was named by Capt James Cook in 1770 when he believed the magnetic compass on his ship the Endeavour was affected by the island. During the 1800s Magnetic Island became a popular picnic area and by the late 1890s the first resort was established in Picnic Bay. Tourism prospered during the early 1900s as Townsville grew to be a major city in North Queensland


The settlement of European people on the mainland brought industry to the island. The landscape of coral reefs, granite boulders and thick forests that today attracts tourists was viewed differently during the late 1800s. Coral, stone and timber (hoop pine) were collected as building materials for Townsville. Even substantial quantities of gold were mined in 1886. In 1875 Magnetic Island was set aside as a quarantine station, although buildings were not constructed at West Point until 1885.

Military presence

From 1942 Townsville became a major base for the military and its harbour, Cleveland Bay, an important assembly point for shipping. During 1942 -43, a signal station and coastal battery were built on Magnetic Island for controling shipping and defence of the harbour. Two 3,000,000 candle-powered searchlights, capable of spotting aircraft at 30,000 feet, were located at Horseshoe and Florence bays, and a radar screen was located high in the hills above Arthur Bay. The Australian Coast Artillery Units operated the Forts complex from 1943 until the end of the Pacific War – check out more info on the walks here

Magnetic Island History - Magnetic Island - Picnic Bay
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