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Nature, culture and history

Natural environment

Most scientists believe the rocks around Cooktown originated on the sea floor about 420 million years ago but were eventually lifted above sea level to form mountains. Today, evidence of these ancient rocks can be found in the orange soils around Cooktown. Granites, such as those seen at Black Mountain and Mount Cook, formed about 260 million years ago deep below the ground and have slowly been exposed by erosion. Much younger rocks, such as the sediments and basalts in the Endeavour River valley, form good agricultural soils.

Culture and history

Indigenous culture

The Cooktown area covers the northern boundary of the traditional lands of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people, including the Yuku Baja-Muliku, Kuku Bididji and Kuku Nyungkul clans. It also covers the southern boundary of the Gungarde and Guugu Yimithirr Aboriginal people, including the Waymbuurr and Gamay clans. The diverse ecosystems of the area provide a wealth of food and resources for these people. Many Traditional Owners now reside in Cooktown or the Aboriginal communities of Hopevale or Wujal Wujal and continue to have a close spiritual connection with their country.

The Guugu Yimithirr believe the Wahalumbaal birri (Endeavour River) was created by the Mungurru (amethystine python) as he travelled down the river valley to the Walmba muulaarr (Great Barrier Reef) to bathe in the ocean.

European history

Lieutenant Phillip Parker King named Mount Cook in June 1819 during his circumnavigation voyage. King moored his vessel opposite the site where James Cook repaired the Endeavour in 1770 after damaging it on the reefs off Cape Tribulation. Unbeknown to King, in two of the coastal profiles produced during the Endeavour’s voyage, Cook had already identified the mountain as Gores Mount after Lieutenant John Gore, his third Lieutenant. It was the name Mount Cook that took hold and, sadly for John Gore, the title Gores Mount was forgotten.

Between 1872 and 1873 William Hann and James Mulligan found rich alluvial goldfields on the Palmer River inland of Cooktown. Cooktown’s population boomed during the 1870s and1980s as prospectors came from all over the world to the goldfields. Thousands of people, including many Chinese, rushed to the newly created port of Cooktown in search of their fortune.

During World War II, virtually all the civilian population of Cooktown was evacuated and the town became an important military base. The Cooktown airfield was built in 1942 to support the military operations in New Guinea and the Coral Sea. Several protected areas and buildings around Cooktown conserve the significant scenic, natural, historical and cultural values of the area.

Last updated
22 March 2017