Lockhart River & Iron Range (Kutini-Payamu) National Park
Lockhart River is 800 kilometres north by road from Cairns and approximately 2,550 kilometres by road north of Brisbane. Lockhart River is the northernmost town on the east coast of Australia.
Indigenous Australians have been living in the area for tens of thousands of years.
The first European contact with Lockhart River was by William Bligh in 1789. Most people know of the infamous ‘mutiny on the Bounty’ but many do not realise after being cast adrift, Captain Bligh spent one night ashore close to where the Lockhart River mission would one day be built.
Explorer Edmund Kennedy passed through the traditional lands in 1848, swinging westward across the hills to the upper Pascoe River, in the first European attempt to survey the interior and peninsula of this part of Australia. He left a base party of eight on the Pascoe River, six of whom starved to death after refusing fish and other food from the Kuuku Ya’u people.
No further land exploration took place until William Hann came across from the Holroyd River in 1872, passing just south of the present town of Coen. Lockhart River was named during an exploratory expedition by government geologist Robert Logan Jack in 1880 after a friend of his (Hugh Lockhart), of Edinburgh.
By the 1870s, fishermen with luggers looking for trepang, pearl shell and trochus were in the coastal areas. Miners in search of tin and gold, along with timber cutters, were in the hills around Gordon Creek and the country inland around the Wenlock River. From the 1880s, sailors enlisted Aboriginal family groups to dive for beche-de-mer and pearl shell.
Some of the lugger captains paid as little as $1.50 a month and Aboriginal labour on luggers was later prohibited. This period is known as ‘lugger time’.
Early last century, Orchid Point on Lloyd Bay was a centre for the trade of sandalwood. A base camp for gathering sandalwood was set up by Hugh Giblet. Giblet recruited Aboriginal workers to gather sandalwood, protected them from unscrupulous lugger captains and rewarded them with food, clothing and cased liquor for a Christmas party.
Lockhart River takes its the name from the river located 14 kilometers (8.7 mi) south of the community.
Beginning in 1924, Aboriginal people gathered and were collected from eastern regions of Cape York and placed at the Anglican Church Mission at Orchid Point near the Lockhart River, which had been a centre for the sandalwood trade.
Six months later, the Mission was relocated to Bare Hill, south of Cape Direction.
After the Second World War broke out, the Europeans left in 1942, and the Aboriginal people were told to go to several bush camps and fend for themselves.
During World War II, Lockhart River Airport was constructed as a large American bomber base with three airstrips operating.
Many thousands of troops, both US and Australian, passed through as part of their jungle training before being shipped to southeast Asia.