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Nature, culture and history

Natural environment

Landscape

Restoration Island (or Ma’alpiku Island in the Kuuku Ya’u language of the Aboriginal Traditional Owners) is a high continental island composed of solid granite enclosing rounded masses of porphyry, or traversed by dykes of porphyry aplite and veins of quartz. A tourist lease covers part of the western side of the island with the remaining 25ha protected as national park (CYPAL). The island rises 116m above sea level. Large granite boulders lie along the strand line. The lower slopes are covered in closed scrub while open paperbark scrub covers the upper slopes. Wind-sheared heath community covers the summit and eastern side of the island. Along the beach, strand vegetation includes mangroves along with typical beachfront plants such as goatsfoot and sea purslane.

Restoration Rock, also a high continental island, lies 1km to the east of Restoration Island. Only about 2ha in area, and 33m above sea level, it is composed of acid granite traversed by dykes of porphyry apelite and veins of quartz. The island resembles a pile of granite boulders rising from the surrounding sea. Sparse vegetation covers the ground between boulders. Formerly a Commonwealth lighthouse lease under Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the original light consisted of an unmanned 14m red metal (lattice) framework tower that was fitted with a radar reflector. In 1986, this was replaced with a 2m high cabinet that stands on the summit of the rock. A small helipad adjacent to the light was constructed for navigational aid maintenance.

Culture and history

Traditional Owner culture

The Kuuku Ya’u people (including the Kungkay people and Kanthanampu people) are the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of Ma’alpiku Island National Park (CYPAL). The national park is a living cultural landscape, rich in contemporary and traditional significance for Kuuku Ya’u Aboriginal people. It encompasses cultural places and lore of great importance across both land and sea country. The Aboriginal Traditional Owners ask that visitors respect this special place.

In 2009, the Federal Court determined that the Kuuku Ya’u people are the native title holders of these islands. This determination formally recognised the native title rights of the Kuuku Ya’u people to use and maintain these islands under their traditional laws and customs and protect those places and areas from harm. At this time, the Northern Kuuku Ya’u Kanthanampu Aboriginal Corporation was established as the registered native title body corporate (RNTBC) for the area described in this determination.

In 2011, the land in this park was transferred as Aboriginal freehold land to the Northern Kuuku Ya’u Kanthanampu Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC Land Trust. The Ma’alpiku Island National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land) was then dedicated over the land.

The Land Trust manages the park jointly with the Queensland Government in accordance with an Indigenous Management Agreement.

European history

The island, previously known as Restoration Island, is infamous in European maritime history as the first point of landfall of Captain William Bligh and 18 men who survived the mutiny on the HMAV Bounty on 28 April 1789. On this island, they ‘restored’ their strength and supplies and continued their perilous journey on to Timor and safety.

In 1787, aged 33, Lieutenant Bligh was given command of HMAV Bounty with a commission to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies. He sailed from England on 28 November 1787, reaching Tahiti 11 months later. After a stay of six months, the Bounty departed Tahiti. Soon after leaving, on 28 April 1789, the crew led by Fletcher Christian mutinied. Bligh wrote later in his journal:

‘Just before sun-rising, while I was yet asleep, (they) came into my cabin, and seizing me, tied my hands with a cord behind my back, threatening me with instant death if I spoke or made the least noise…’

Bligh and 18 loyal crew members were set adrift in the Bounty’s two-masted launch, a 7m open boat. Bligh was allowed to take some navigational equipment and papers, and enough food for five days. The journey, recorded by Bligh in a notebook, was fraught with danger—storms and high seas, Indigenous people defending their lands, and near starvation.

With skilful seamanship, Bligh sailed past Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu before arriving near the Australian coast, ‘We passed much driftwood this forenoon, and saw many birds; I therefore did not hesitate to pronounce that we were near the reefs of New Holland.’

Bligh sighted an island offshore from Cape Weymouth.

‘The island may be about two miles in circuit; it is a high lump of rocks and stones covered with wood; but the trees are small, the soil, which is very indifferent and sandy, being barely sufficient to produce them.’

In need of food and water, the crew landed on the island on 29 May 1789.

‘I now landed to examine if there were any signs of the natives being near us; but though I discovered some old fire-places, I saw nothing to alarm me for our situation during the night. Every one was anxious to find something to eat, and I soon heard that there were oysters on the rocks…’

Bligh named the island Restoration, ‘This being the day of the restoration of King Charles the Second, and the name not being inapplicable to our present situation (for we were restored to fresh life and strength)’. They found water, collected food (oysters, berries and palm hearts) and made repairs to the ship’s rudder but, after two days, Bligh was determined to continue the journey north. As they prepared to embark, apparently ‘hostile’ Aborigines appeared, prompting Bligh to make a prudent escape.

Reaching Timor on 12 June 1879, Bligh wrote:

‘It is not possible for me to describe the pleasure which the blessing of the sight of this land diffused among us. It appeared scarce credible to ourselves that in an open boat, and so poorly provided, we should have been able to reach the coast of Timor in forty-one days after leaving Tofoa, having in that time run, by our log, a distance of 3618 (nautical) miles; and that, notwithstanding our extreme distress, no one should have perished in the voyage.’

(Source: A Narrative of the Mutiny, on board his majesty's ship Bounty; and the subsequent voyage of part of the crew, in the ship's boat, from Tofoa, one of the friendly islands, to Timor, a Dutch settlement in the East Indies, Lt William Bligh. MDCCXC)

Last updated
28 November 2016