History of Cooloola

Excerpt from Discovering Cooloola – a complete guide & map 
by John Sinclair  1978

"Like a sleeping giant, Cooloola lay beside the savage Pacific Ocean for thousands of years.  The carbon-dated sands of one sample range from 33 000 to 45 000 years.  During that time the only assaults on it were from the sea and the elements.

For a great part of its history, Cooloola was a part of the beloved territory of the Kabi Aboriginal Tribe.  This territory also included the scrub-covered hills of the Blackall Ranges, the majestic Kin Kin scrubs and the scenic and productive coastal zone.  Their territory embraced virtually all of what is now known as the Sunshine and Cooloola coasts.

The land was rich and productive.  On the Blackall Ranges they held their Bunya Nut festivals.  On the coasts and in the shallow lakes of Cooloola they lived on the rich fisheries.  The abundance of fruit and game and the equable climate combined with the glorious panoramic scenery gave them one of the most productive, densely populated territories and one of the most idyllic existences of any of the Australian tribes.  It is small wonder that they were fiercely possessive, and hostile to any intruders into their territory.  The Butchallas of Fraser Island and the adjacent mainland to the north of Bauple and the aborigines of the Kenilworth region both reported to early settlers the hostility they encountered from the Coastal Kabi.  Their black hinterland brethren from the Mary Valley famished in drought, because they dared not cross the Blackall Range to the rich food resources of the coast and risk an encounter with the Kabis.

Unfortunately, little of the culture, and history of the Kabis is recorded, because the early white settlers were contemptuous of their indigenous lifestyle.  Within 60 years the culture of the Kabi was in turn degraded, debased, detribalised and finally destroyed in an era of ugly, unrecorded history.

An ugly story records the malicious massacre of dozens of innocent blacks in an ambush at Murdering Creek near Lake Weyba when many curious aborigines were lured into a foul trap by murderous pioneers.  In 1894 there were 700 blacks in the Noosa area.  Ten years later there were none.  Now all that remains are their poetic place names, their marks in the shell middens, canoe trees, gunya trees and other rare anthropological relics of a lost people.”

As a result of Mathew Flinder's expeditions and recommendations in 1802, the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement was established in 1824. Although the settlement was outside the Kabi territory, unquestionably the establishment of that settlement inexorably led to the tragic demise of the Kabi people.

“However, the aborigines were not the only victims of cruelty and inhumanity in that infant colony.  The brutality meted out to the convicts of the penal settlement caused many of them to escape.  A number were befriended by the aborigines, and became “White blackfellows”.  Three famous escapees went to live in Kabi territory, Graham, Bracefell and James Davis.  In the tribes to the north of Brisbane, they found themselves among kindred spirits, refugees from the aggressive expansion of an alien civilisation.......”

“John Graham, an Irishman convicted at age 24 to 7 years transportation for stealing 63/4lb hemp, escaped from Brisbane (Meginchen) in 1827.  He found his way north to Cootharaba Country where he was accepted as a 'bunder' – a white blackfellow, whose tribal name was 'Mailow'.  He married a widow Namba and lived happily in the tribe for six years until Namba died.  Fretting and disconsolate, Graham abandoned his tribal ways and surrendered himself once more as a convict in Brisbane, where he was to serve out his time as a  'constable' until pardoned in 1836 for his rescue of Mrs Fraser.

The convict David Bracefell who escaped in 1836 became a 'bunder' and lived with the Kabi until he was “rescued” by Andrew Petrie in 1842.  He travelled with Petrie, and gave him the Kabi names of the lakes: Lake Como which was known to the natives as “Coonubbong” or Water-Mother, and Lake Cootharaba was called “Coong-winwar” meaning Water Big.

“Bracefell joined Petrie on his journey of exploration of the Monoboola (Mary) River which they had heard of in Brisbane and wished to search its potential for timber and grazing.  In the process they rescued another 'bunder,' James Davis (Duranboi), who was living with a tribe near Tiaro on the Mary River.

Both Bracefell and Davis were familiar with Cooloola and Petrie records their obvious reference to the Noosa Plains: 

“They also informed us that there was a beautiful country about four miles from Bahpal (Bauple) Mountain extending quite to the ocean and abounding in emus and kangaroos.  According to their account this country is thinly wooded.”

The story of these three famous white blackfellows is inextricably bound up with the story of the next white refugee to stumble into Cooloola, Mrs Eliza Fraser.”

Bracefell was killed when the limb of a tree fell on him not long after, and with him died fourteen years of invaluable recollections of life amongst the Kabi people.  Duramboi Davis, despite living a long life, remained tight-lipped except for the early colourful accounts within the first few months of his rescue.

“In search of new pastoral lands following the cessation of the penal colony and the opening up of new territory in Queensland for free settlers, Andrew Petrie set out in 1842 on a precarious journey in a flimsy small craft. …......  Petrie's journey had not only revealed potential new pastoral land but above all it revealed promising new timber resources which the Petrie family led the pioneering way in harvesting. ….............The confirmation of the Wide Bay River (subsequently ordered to be re-named the 'Mary' by Governor Fitzroy after his wife who was tragically killed in her carriage at Parramatta when the horse bolted)” and the establishment of a Mary River settlement led to new inroads into the Kabi territory.”

“By 1866, the scrubs of Kin Kin were being felled and taken down to Lake Cootharaba at Elanda (then Elandra) Point to be milled and shipped off to Brisbane and Sydney at a mill run by Luya, McGhie, Goodchap, and Burns.  Following the discovery of gold in Gympie in 1867 the booming gold settlement demanded more exploitation of the forests.  In 1869, these ex-miners began a mill to cut pit props for the mines, but their infant industry employing 150 timber cutters yielded far more than Gympie required and more than 26 million super feet per annum was sent to Brisbane on the 79 ton, 92ft x 17ft paddle steamer 'Culgoa' until it was wrecked on the Noosa River Bar in 1891. …....... 

As well as the Hoop Kauri pines and Beech of the Kin Kin scrubs, much timber was brought down the Noosa River from the scrubs of Cooloola, particularly from Ramsay's scrub.

In 1877, the first settlement of the Cooloola sandmass occurred.  One settler was John Ramsay who extracted timber from what is now known as Ramsay's Scrub.  He was following a route, pioneered about seven years earlier, of extracting timber by hauling logs by bullock teams to the Noosa River from where it was either punted or rafted to Cootharaba.

Another settler in the sandhills of Cooloola was Bill Hall whose property 'Bill Hall's Ridge' was later changed to 'Tuppennywoe' named after the tribal name of King Tommy of the Noosa Tribe.  This was near Teewah Village in the present Fauna Sanctuary.

Some reports record that as many as 200 logs, 12 abreast and secured by chains, were often towed down the Noosa River by paddle steamer, although these larger rafts appeared to move between Elanda and Colloy (opposite Munna Pt), from where 50 logs at a time would be taken to Brisbane by paddle steamer.

At the same time Maryborough timber interests were making much heavier assaults on the top end of the Cooloola scrubs, and had constructed a wooden tramline in 1873 to bring the timber from the Seary's Scrub, named after a pioneeringt bullocky of Cooloola and Fraser Islalnd, down to Poverty Point. Teams also worked to Carland Creek ….... at the head of Tin Can Bay which was reported to be a deep safe anchorage.  The relics of the old ruins at Poverty Point and the cuttings of the old tramway route remain in Cooloola........From Tin Can Bay the huge rafts of pine were floated and towed up great Sandy Strait to Maryborough or punted.”

1891 Cooloola was declared a Forestry Reserve.   “Twentieth Century loggers are steadfastly resisting all attempts to make the whole of Cooloola a National Park.  This has resulted in the famous term of the Cooloola National Park as being the 'Park with a hole in the heart' or 'the doughnut'.

The timber interests have been long established but in contrast with the early extravagent logging Cooloola now yields only one and a half million super feet of comercial timber per annum.

The history of Cooloola is long and colourful but, for all that has happened, Cooloola still remains much as it was when the Kabi Kabi lived there naturally, and when the white blackfellows who knew it described its beauty and bounty to the early land seekers.

The building of the lighthouse in 1884 had almost no impact and the lightkeepers lived in lonely, splendid isolation.

It's only during the 1960's and 1970's that any real threats to really transform Cooloola have been proposed.  Already some changes have occurred.

In 1963 Queensland Titanium Mines sought and obtained a mining lease at Inskip Point, and from 1965 to 1972 QTM operated a sandmining plant on about 1 000 acres of the low lying northern finger of Cooloola.  The development of this mining venture led to the construction of the bitumen road to Rainbow Beach and the establishment in 1970 of a thriving township within a decade.  Other sandmiming operations occurred during the 1960s between Teewah Village and the Noosa River on the foredunes, and in the mid 1970s on Teewah Beach.

In 1970 the simmering controversy over plans to extend the sandmiming from Inskip Point to the high dunes of Cooloola erupted into a nationally-prominent land use conflict known now as the “Cooloola Controversy".

Conservationists opposed the extensive sandmining lease applications in a Mining Warden's hearing.  The Mining Warden recommended that the leases be granted.  The Cooloola Committee was formed from a coalition of conservation interests, led by Dr Arthur Harrold of Noosa, and successfully persuaded the Joint Government parties in Queensland that Cooloola should never be mined for its $150 million worth of rutile and zircon.  The Queensland Government endorsed this decision and resolved that Cooloola should be a National Park.

However, the controversy has never abated because new threats of sandmining keep being resurrected and the spectre of the rich minerals inside Cooloola results in an uneasy feeling about the value of Cooloola.

More recently, however, the focus of attention has been directed to incorporating the whole of Cooloola not only as a National Park but to be managed for the benefit of all Australians in perpetuity.  This controversy extends to stopping any more of the beautiful native forests of Cooloola being cleared for development.  The most ominous development suggested is to transform the upper catchment of the Noosa River into an exotic softwood pine plantation.  Conservationists argue that such development would depreciate the whole of the lower reaches of the Noosa River through increase runoff, increased siltation and the transformation of the pristine lower river to a chemically polluted, muddy, discoloured river with reduced naturalness and charm.

The soul searchings of the 1970s have not stopped the tragic transformation of parts of the lower Noosa River into development of a canal estate at Hays Island and Munna Point.  These are the beginnings of large scale land development.  On Tin Can Bay the overwhelming growth in tourist traffic has not been as sensitive as it should be to environmental issues.

There is a need for an urgent Management plan to be implemented for Cooloola.  That is the current challenge for Cooloola.”

“The Kabi people have gone forever but many of their names live on, even though the meanings of a number of place names have been lost.  The predominance of the euphonious 'Coo' in so may place names of the Kabi seems to be strongly related to the various trees and their characteristics.

  • Cooloola – the sighing cypress
  • Cooloothin – cypress rafts
  • Cootharaba – Spearwood or Nulla Nulla”
  • TinCan – derived from 'tinchin' or 'Tindhin', the aborigines' name for a species of mangrove
  • Mudlo – 'Mudlu' meaning a stone (probably a reference to the coffee rock outcrops at the original site of Rainbow Beach – Mudlo Rock)
  • Tewantin – is derives from 'dauwa' dead logs and 'dhan' place of.  Dauwadhan means place of dead log (a reference to the aborigines' name for the area, once the site of a pioneer sawmill run by Pettigrew.)
  • Kin Kin – derives from 'King King' for a species of large black ant
  • Noosa – is evidently a corrupted abouriginal word which does not occur naturally and is said to derive from 'Ngoothooruo' or 'Nuthooroo' meaning a ghost, or more properly the shade of a tree – an appropriate name for the river which is almost covered by a canopy of trees.
  • Teewah – although obviously an aboriginal name has no defined meaning, and a local theory that it means Rainbow is quite incorrect since the word for rainbow in Kabi is 'dhakkin'  It is more probable that is comes from 'tye' or 'dha'  or a corruption which means 'earth' or 'the ground' and 'Wa' meaning 'or not' or literally Teewah could mean 'not earth' although the Kabi word for 'sand' was 'yarung.'
  • Wolvi – comes from 'Walvai' or 'Walbai' meaning a young kangaroo almost weaned by which still returns to the mother's pouch
  • Tinbeerwah – is said to represent 'Tumburrowa,' a place of grass trees although 'Beewah' another mountain in Kabi territory means 'up in the sky' and 'Tunbah' is high hill.  Since Kabi referred to grass trees as 'dhakka,' it more likely means 'high hill climbing up'
  • Cooroy – could have come from 'Kuri' meaning 'round' since it is a round mountain, but it is generally presumed to come from 'Kurui' or grey brushtail possum although Brushtail possums are not likely to be found in the rainforests of Mt Cooroy
  • Cooran – is from 'Guran' for 'tall trees' which grew there.  This is thought to be a reference to the Moreton Bay Ash.”

“Unfortunately there are more aboriginal names than we have recorded meaning for, such as Womalah, Poona, Thannae.  Some aboriginal artifacts have been preserved, such as the canoe tree on the range between Cooroy and Tewantin and the bora ring at Pipeclay National Park on the western side of Tin Can Bay.

We have already had an unforgivable impact on the environment of Cooloola.  The river and lakes which once yielded valuable fish, crabs and thousands of bags of oysters now yield virtually no oysters and only a fraction of the once prolific estuarine harvests.

Much of the Kabi territory has been transformed and destroyed.  The rich forests of the river flats are all cleared farmlands.  All of the lush rainforests of Kin Kin and the Blackall Ranges have been obliterated forever.  Only Cooloola remains as a place of beauty and magic as testimony to the cultural heritage of this great aboriginal nation.  It is up to present and future generations of Australians to ensure that this area is preserved.”

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