Location and History


Cairns is a city in Queensland, Australia, on the east coast of Far North Queensland. The city is the 5th-most-populous in Queensland, and 14th in Australia.

The population in June 2019 was 153,951 having grown on average about 1% annually over the preceding five years. Cairns is a popular tourist destination because of its tropical climate and access to tropical rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

The Cairns region is the traditional land of Bama Aboriginal people and continues to be home to Aboriginal people from three main language groups and 15 clan groups. About 9 percent of the region's population is Indigenous - one of the highest populations of First People in Australia.

Yirrganydji culture and history

The land was originally the home of the Yirrganydji people-an indigenous rainforest and coastal culture belonging to the
Djabugay language group of Far North Queensland. Yirrganydji territory comprised the coastal strip of land between the areas now
known as Cairns and Port Douglas, including Freshwater Creek and the Barron River.

In Yirrganydji Dreaming, the Rainbow Serpent is known as Gudjugudju. After shaping the landscape, Gudjugudju curled up and went to sleep at Wangal Djungay-the place where the fast-moving Dreamtime boomerang landed. This is the area now known as Double Island.

The Yirrganydji people had an intimate knowledge of their lands and waters, flora and fauna, seasons and weather. They were both a rainforest-dwelling and seafaring people, utilising the resources of both environments for their food, clothing and other needs.

The Yirrganydji lived in small groups comprising married couples, children and older relatives. By night, they would camp on the large sand dunes along the coast, lighting fires to ward off the mosquitoes and sandflies. In the wet summer season (Gurrabana Bana, meaning water) from November to April, they lived in semi-permanent shelters constructed from loya cane, palm fronds and paperbark.

Each year, the Yirrganydji would meet with the neighbouring tribes near the area now known as Palm Cove. Here they would come together to feast, trade, conduct initiation ceremonies, arrange marriages and settle old scores. They traded square-cut nautilus shell necklaces, dilly baskets, long, single-handed swords and large fighting shields.

A gatherer-hunter society

A gatherer-hunter society, the Yirrganydji foraged up and down the coast, following seasonal food sources. The creeks, rivers, coast and sea yielded barramundi, bream, jewfish, grunter, catfish, cod, eels, turtles, prawns, crayfish, oysters and periwinkles.

They hunted animals such as wallabies, bandicoots, scrub pythons, sand goannas, blue-tongued lizards, flying foxes, cassowaries, brush turkeys and various other birds. Fruit and vegetables gathered included yams, figs, plums, quandongs, lilly-pilly and various nuts and berries. Honey from the sugar bag bee was a seasonal delicacy.

Towards the end of the dry winter season (Gurraminya Minya, meaning meat) from May to October, vegetation would be burnt off. This process would stimulate new growth, providing fresh pasture for the many animals on which the Yirrganydji depended.

Hunting and fishing were predominantly the domain of the Yirrganydji men, while the women concentrated on gathering, foraging, preparing food and caring for their children. The Yirrganydji women had a vast knowledge of different food sources. Certain edible nuts, for instance, were highly toxic in their raw state. They would be placed in a dilly basket and leached for several days in a slow-moving stream, removing the toxins and making them safe to eat.

Lives changed forever

European settlement had a major impact on the native culture and environment of the region. The lives of the Yirrganydji people would never be the same again. Their land was taken over for farming, gold mining and the development of Far North Queensland's port towns. While some Yirrganydji remained on the fringes of the township, many were removed to mission stations.

Today, many Yirrganydji descendants live in and around Cairns and Yarrabah. They maintain their spiritual connection with the land of their forebears, and continue to teach new generations about their rich and ancient culture.

European settlement

Cairns was officially founded in 1876 and named after the State Governor of the day, Sir William Wellington Cairns. It was formally declared a town in 1903 with a registered population of 3500. Initial European settlement in the region in the 1860s was driven by beche de mer fishing, and the discovery of gold to the north (Palmer River field) and Atherton Tableland (Hodginkson River field) saw the population begin to climb.

Throughout the 1870s and early 1880s European and Chinese settlers opened up the region to agriculture generating a large enough population base for the borough of Cairns to be declared a municipality. The first mayor, R.A. Kingsford, was elected in 1885.

The development of the Cairns to Herberton rail line in 1886, and subsequent expansion from Redlynch to Myola, is widely considered the catalyst for the City's expansion. The rail line made travel through the difficult terrain easier and attracted a large number of immigrants during construction. Many of these immigrants settled in the region, establishing the sugarcane industry and extensive fruit orchards.

During World War II, Cairns was at the forefront of the Battle of the Coral Sea (1942) and the Pacific offensive (1943). Anti-aircraft gun emplacements were established along the Cairns Esplanade and Trinity Beach was used as a major training ground for defence forces for amphibious landings.

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