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Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy


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Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy
Abrahams, H., Mulvaney, M., Glasco, D., & Bugg, A.
Office of the Co-ordinator General of Queensland
Australian Heritage Commission, March 1995

Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

Appendix 1 Existing Places of Cultural Significance Currently in the Register of the National Estate

A map illustrating the location of all registered areas is given at Figure A1, while the statement of significance, from the Register of the National Estate, for all registered cultural places is given below.


Historically significant as the mill for the Alexandra Group of reefs in the Palmer River goldfields. This mill was the last of the 'new' mills to be erected on the fields, and is important because it remains a relatively intact and rare example of a stamping mill in the region.


Historically significant for its association with the important Palmer River goldfields. The Wild Irish Girl battery is of great technical significance as the only intact surviving mill situated on the palmer river goldfields. Such intact mills are rare in Australia.


The cottage was the home of mrs. Mary Watson, wife of a beche-de-mer fisherman, who with her infant son and a Chinese houseboy died tragically in a heroic attempt to reach safety after escaping from hostile Aborigines (who had landed on the island in her husband's absence).


The Raine Island Beacon is significant as an early vernacular building in Northern Australia. Its cyclindrical stone structure with castellated trim is of technical and creative interest, and shows the process of construction (from materials found or manufactured on the spot) before there were any mass-produced or imported building materials. The Raine Island Beacon is significant as a dramatic landmark feature, adopted by the Raine Island Corporation for their logo. The Raine Island Beacon is significant as a monument to the colony's development of marine aids around the coast of Queensland and the economic development of the region. The Beacon also stands as a monument to the convict way of life when inexpensive labour was used extensively at that period of time.


Built as St. Mary's convent during 1886-89, in response to the efforts of bishop Hutchinson. Commandeered by the armed forces during 1941 -1945 and not re-occupied by the Sisters of Mercy. Proposals for demolition brought demands for preservation - restored to house the James Cook Historical Museum, and the grounds to become A J. Banks Memorial Garden. Opened by Queen Elizabeth 2nd. in 1970.


Townscape and historical significance.


The area is highly significant for both cultural and natural reasons. It is relatively untouched, of high aesthetic value and representative of deeply incised plateau country of Cape York. It contains some of the largest bodies of prehistoric art in the world. The paintings are generally large and well-preserved, and engravings of great antiquity occur. The Quinkan art is outstanding both in variety, quantity and quality.


Site where captain James Cook proclaimed possession of the east coast of Australia from Torres Strait to New South Wales on 22/8/1770.


Classified for architectural merit. Architect thought to be F.D.G. Stanley.


This is a very long bridge, it has 22 metal girder spans, typically 15.3 m, totalling 336 m. When completed, it was probably the third-longest Australian metal girder bridge, after Echuca (1875, 442 m) and Stratford (1887, 869 m). Of these bridges only Echuca and Annan River remain in their original condition. The location of this large bridge at a site which is now so remote results from the earlier importance of the north Queensland goldfields; the bridge lay on the route from Cooktown to the Palmer River. The form of the bridge is distinctive, with shallow metal plate girders made flush on the outside faces. The original metal pier head- stocks have been encased in concrete, but the original screw piles used for the main raking piles still remain. Similar bridges were built across the endeavour river, north of Cooktown and near Mackay. Of these, only part of the original Endeavour River Bridge remains. Another unusual feature of the bridge was the use of specially designed collapsible railings built in such a way that they could be rapidly hinged down (in the direction along the bridge) during periods of flood, reducing the risk of damage from floating debris. These railings have been removed, but in 1982 some of the pieces were still visible, stacked on the northern bank.


Cooktown's powder magazine has a strong association with the Palmer River goldrush and Cooktown's resultant rise in importance as a port during the 1870s. The structure, built in 1876, is a rare example of an early powder magazine in Queensland; it is possibly the oldest extant in the State. The building is of further interest for its specialised building techniques (eg. pegged timber floors, heavy hardwood frame and small windows).


Historically significant as part of the Palmer River goldfield and in particular as the largest established alluvial gold field worked by Chinese miners in far north Queensland. The Stoneyville area is important for its collection of sites associated with the field and including the townsite, alluvial workings featuring a rare and impressive 1300 metre aqueduct, and cemetery. These sites are probably the last remaining complex of sites associated with early alluvial mining by Chinese on the Palmer goldfields (c.1875), and are still relatively intact.


These four mines and associated battery ruins are the principal surviving evidence of a major Australian goldfield, largely responsible for the settlement of the far north of Queensland in the 1870's. The sites are significant in this region for the quantity and variety of their mining relics.


Blackwood Island is of mythological significance to Aborigines. It symbolises the dead body of the whale speared by culture heroes Itjibiya and Almbarrin after leaving Bathurst Heads on their way to Clack Island where they now reside.


This area contains many Aboriginal rock paintings and archaeological occupation deposits and burials, and the whole region is important in the mythology of local Aborigines. There are also places with historic significance such as shipwreck sites and a recruiting station for lugger crews.


Denham Island is a major Moon-Myth site, believed to have been originally joined to Bathurst Heads but later pushed out by the moon.


This Cape and its rocks as well as Pipon Island (Walmbaywi) are the locus of the major carpet snake myth of the area. There is a painting of the snake in Cape Melville and a major traditional residential site. The Cape was also the scene of several wrecks and mass drownings of lugger crews in the 1890's and there is a monument on the 300m high mountain


Clack Island has a major place in Aboriginal ritual and mythology, and also has a large number of paintings. It is the traditional centre for male ritual activities and is the resting-place of the two culture heroes, Itjibiya and Almbarrin, who are the dominant figures of traditional mythology in the region.


There are several spectacular art sites on Stanley Island, the best known being the huge Yintayin rock shelter (Tindale's "Endaen"). An important mythological site occurs at Muyu-Walin figuring in the major Itjibiya mythic cycle.


Cape Keerweer was one of the first Australian places named in journals and on the charts of Dutch explorers from 1606. Its prosaic meaning, 'turn-again', typifies many later European place names. Along the sandy beaches in this area of Cape York, Aboriginal people first encountered Europeans, their firearms and their alcohol. For these reasons it symbolises the first recorded cultural contacts between Aborigines and Europeans. During these encounters the pattern of later racial relations was symbolically set with alcohol and sugar, and the betrayal of trust with treachery. The Aboriginal response was a determination to resist aggression which is still celebrated in oral traditions of the area. The numerous Aboriginal sites here are being systematically and comprehensively recorded in what promises to be a highly valuable database of not only Australian, but international significance. Cape Keerweer is an historic site of great importance in the history of race relations in Australia.


This sandstone outlier contains twelve decorated rock shelters. Eleven of them have engravings, which are generally rare in the Laura-Koolburra region. These engravings are an important example of the early rock art of Australia, dated at the nearby Early Man Shelter at more than 13,500 years old.


On Bathurst Heads there is a major art and residential site at Walayi-Mini. There are hundreds of drawings, and unusual subjects such as butterflies, bees and moths. Other rock painting sites are wakarrma shelter and east and west worei shelters. Walayi-Mini shelter was the point of departure for myth heroes Itjibiya and Almbarrin for Clack Island.


This Weipa area contains more than 300 Aboriginal shell mounds of most impressive and unusual size and form. They include some of the largest middens in the world. Shell, bone, charcoal and stone and bone artefacts have been excavated from them and they have an antiquity of at least one thousand years.


The Koolburra Plateau is fringed by escarpments and gorges containing many rock art sites. 175 have been recorded. They are mainly paintings, including some large galleries with many figures. Engravings also occur. Two occupation sites have been excavated, green ant shelter yielding 6000 year old occupation. There are also open-air campsites, ochre quarries and axe-grinding grooves. Fairview Station


Flinders island is an integral part of the mythological complex of the Flinders Group. There is also a major residential site on the sandspit, and one of the earliest recruiting centres in the nineteenth century for the lugger trade.


This road is of historical significance for its early association (1877) with gold mining on the Palmer River fields and with the Cobb Company coach line which began using the road in 1879. The road is of technological interest for the examples of road construction offered including hand-made cuttings, sandstone walling, drainage systems and safeguards. The road is also of interest for the collection of associated sites including wayside houses, staging posts, Chinese gardens and mine workings.


Erected 107 years after James Cook's landing at the Endeavour River, the monument is historically significant as an early memorial commemorating the landing, the landing site being the only place in Australia other than Botany Bay where Cook's party came ashore for any length of time during the momentous 1770 voyage. Being in a prominent location near the original site of Cook's landing, the monument has landscape significance.


Cultural heritage in Queensland is currently covered by two pieces of legislation, the Queensland Heritage Act 1992 (historic sites) and the Cultural Records (Landscapes Queensland and Queensland Estate) Act 1987 (Aboriginal sites and storyplaces), which are administered by the Heritage Branch of the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage. Permits are required from DEH to undertake survey under this legislation.

Other relevant heritage legislation includes the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 which obliges Commonwealth bodies not to undertake actions which will have an adverse effect on the National Estate (there are both natural and cultural environment places in the National Estate on the Cape and others nominated), and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 administered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.


Cultural heritage places that are considered part of the historic environment are commonly regarded as only the built environment but they also include modified landscapes of historic meaning and places that have social and aesthetic importance to communities.

Considering the area of Cape York there are comparatively few such places either entered in the Register of the National Estate or nominated to the Register. Of the 21 historic cultural places nominated to the Register of the National Estate, most are either historic structures of Cooktown, and mining sites of Normanby, Palmer River and the Laura area. The exceptions are the Chalmers to Maytown Coach Road, Raine Island Beacon, the Quinkan Hotel, Mrs Watson's Cottage at Lizard Island and the former Musgrave Telegraph Station.

Historic mining sites are of great concern to heritage authorities as many are being reworked without any respect given to their historic fabric. A study of historic Queensland mining sites is currently being carried out and approximately 20 individual sites - either mill sites or mine sites in the Cape York area were surveyed, along with the large workings at Wenlock. The Commission expects that there will some nominations to the Register resulting from this work. The Commission is also aware of studies which have been undertaken by individuals such as the Somerset Graves study and the Lockhart River study but to date there have been no nominations to the Register from these projects. The Cooktown study by Gordon Grimwade and the Palmer River study by Noreen Kirkman, contributed a number of nominations to the Register.

Some historic places are strongly linked with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environment and therefore will require consultation with relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to fully understand their importance.

In recent years the Commission has encouraged comprehensive assessments for the Register. In some cases these have been done as local government inventory surveys, in other cases they have been identified as part of 'type' or historic thematic study such as mining sites or World War II sites. Areas of low population, such as Cape York, have not been conducive for such studies. It is helpful to the Commission when a network of contacts can be established to assist in providing additional place information when required to complete assessments. This is naturally more available in more densely populated areas.

In order to undertake a comprehensive study of significant historic environment places on Cape York a strategy which covered the following aspects would be required:

a. Consultation with local communities to establish what places have importance to them. These places may be historic structures but they may also be places valued by community members for associations, such as places of community events, landmark features, or places that have strong aesthetic importance for community members.

b. A history of Cape York which covered all human activities and the resulting landscape disturbance in the region. From that study the major historic themes could be identified and important places related to those themes identified. Places could be classified into types based on their physical form and thematic relationship and their significance could be established from type comparisons.

The historic themes of importance in Cape York would no doubt include:

c. Types of places which could have historic, cultural significance could be:

The Commission will be assessing those places that have been nominated to the Register of the National Estate and that have sufficient information to support the assessment. The Commission is aware that Tourism Resources study by Peter James has listed themes and places which relate to those themes. It is therefore recommended that a planned assessment program for these places is undertaken to help safeguard significance prior to tourism or other development impacts that may be proposed for the area.


The population of Cape York Peninsula has a majority of Aboriginal people, most of whom now live in DOGIT's (Deed of Grant in Trust) - areas of land which are subject to land claim under the Queensland Lands Act 1991). Permission is required to go onto DOGIT land.

Most Aboriginal communities retain close cultural links with their land, with a strong understanding of the religious importance of the land. This generally reflects as a web of interrelated places integrally interwoven with each other - not as individual 'dots on the map' of 'sacred sites'. There are also archaeological sites which increasingly are of contemporary importance to communities as evidence of past associations with the land, and politically useful to land claims. Historic places are also important to Aboriginal people as part of their recent past and their links with non-Aboriginal settlement on the Cape.

The Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander view of heritage is that it is not public, that is, it is owned; heritage is not a matter of sites, but a relationship between culture and landscape. This relationship exists over most of the Peninsula. Obviously, any documentation of Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander places of significance needs to be directed and owned by the relevant Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander community(ies). Recognition of the widespread cultural values on the Peninsula should also be built into any landuse decision making, which should include adequate consultation and clearance steps.