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Historic Heritage

Captain James Cook sailed through the Whitsunday Passage during his voyage around Australia in 1770. It’s believed he travelled through the area on the ancient British festival of Whit Sunday (the Seventh Sunday after Easter), thus where the name Whitsunday comes from. It was the mid 1800s when people settled in the area. Explorer George Dalrymple passed through the area on his way north in 1859, naming the area Proserpina – the Roman name for the Greek goddess of fertility, Persephone. The early European settlers were mainly timber-getters, pastoralists and sugarcane farmers. The islands were opened up for grazing leases in the 1880s but it was not until the 1920s when tourism developed as another industry to service the area.

Airlie Beach was formed in 1936.  74 islands sit in the Whitsunday Passage – most of them remain uninhabited and have been gazetted national parks. Meanwhile, James Morrill was the first European to settle in the Bowen region after he was shipwrecked just north of the area. Bowen is North Queensland’s oldest town and was established in 1861, two years after the former governor of New South Wales, Sir William Denison, posted a reward of one thousand pounds for anyone who found a suitable port north of Rockhampton. Captain Henry Daniel Sinclair was the person to do this in 1859. Captain Sinclair discovered Port Denison whilst sailing up the coast and it was described as second only to Sydney’s Port Jackson. Captain Sinclair led a sea party back to the area in 1861 (this included George Dalrymple) and Bowen was then founded. However, no reward was given to Captain Sinclair because during this time the colony of Queensland was declared and Sir Denison was less keen to hand out the reward. Bowen was named after the first governor of Queensland Sir George Ferguson Bowen. Bowen initially had a significant role as a service port for the vast hinterland but that reduced over time as more towns were opened up in north Queensland. Now it has the largest single coal mining area in Australia.

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