The 74 Islands are known for white sandy beaches, glorious coral and beautiful landscapes – and they are nothing less than spectacular. There’s just a little something missing – history. All of the people from this area were separated from their land, culture and language when white settlement moved in and displaced the people and there were almost no indigenous people left after 1870. Even the land boundaries of the land for this area and the knowledge of them was past down like game of telephone from aural accounts from descendants living far away – years later so the extent of their territory may never be known.
The Ngaro indigenous people have been in this area for the last 9000 years. The oldest site on the east coast is in Nara inlet on Hook Island. The reason this is so fascinating is because geologically this area is relatively newly coastal. 18 000 years ago the coast was around 62 miles east of where it is now which means most of the older sites are now underwater. It’s like the stories of Atlantis! How amazing to think this land we think of as coastal actually used to be the mainland.
The indigenous people were able to hunt sustainably here for generations before white settlement when our massive over-fishing saw a huge decline in the health of the marine systems along this coast. Not only that but there has also been decline of habitat due to fertilizer run off from farms and the impact of tourism on the reef and islands itself. The indigenous people here even had to change their ways of hunting so as not to bleed the animal as doing so would immediately attract sharks. Instead they caught it without piercing the flesh and waited until the catch tired of exhaustion and then they could bring it into their bark canoes.
Our Arcadia Study abroad group from Townsville headed down here to escape before exams arrived and swim in the crystal clear waters and explore the beauty of the area. We chose the beautiful tall ship Providence to sail away our weekend, snorkel and explore Whitehaven beach. Providence is unique as she is made of the last of the Tully rainforest timber from North Queensland. Most of these American counterpart sailing boats were built from American timbers. Providence is a replica of the Blackfish, an American schooner, so it’s a little taste of home for our students to be sailing around our Aussie waters in an American replica tall ship.