Once Upon a Time in an Aboriginal Reserve: A Brief History of Palm Island

There is no question that Palm Island holds an important part in Australian history and culture and despite its troubled past and reputation, it is a destination that is very keen to create a better future and a positive impression when visitors arrive.

This stunningly beautiful tropical island destination is widely regarded as one of the most stunning natural destinations and can be considered to be the undiscovered gem of North Queensland.

This is no ordinary tourist experience and the sense of history is keenly felt from the moment you arrive. Here is a quick look at the events that shaped what Palm Island is today.

Home of the Bwgcolman people

Palm Island is actually one of a group of sixteen islands in the so-called Palm Island group and the contemporary name Aboriginal name for those living there is the Bwgcolman people.

Many of the current residents can trace their roots back through Aboriginal history and some of their descendants came from Torres Strait, where they were removed from Queensland to the island.

It was in 1770 that Captain Cook named the island and the settlement was officially recognized in 1897 by the Queensland Parliament.

Sadly, Palm Island has a notorious and violent past, mainly as a result of the island being used as a penal institution for Indigenous people, especially those who refused to conform to the Protection Act.

Since it was finally and firmly established as a recognized settlement in 1918 it is fair to say that Palm Island has gained notoriety as one of the toughest Aboriginal settlements in Australia, and it was only in the 1970s that night curfew’s were lifted and roll calls for the inhabitants stopped.

Looking forward to a brighter future

It would be wrong to try and erase events that shaped the island from history and it is clearly important to appreciate and understand the timeline of events that have led to shaping the culture and environment of Palm Island today.

What you get when you visit Palm Island is an unspoiled destination that is not your usual tourist experience. There are no luxury Spa treatments or fancy hotel rooms, no fishing or diving trips for the tourists either, just a refreshing version of indigenous-styled tourism that is aimed at giving you a great time and demonstrating how much pride there is how they have survived history and want to look forward, for the sake of future generations.

Tourism has only really been established as an industry on the island within the last 10 years or so, and that means it is a refreshing experience when you are a visitor and embrace the goodwill and enthusiasm that is in such abundance when you are in the company of a local tour guide.

The sign that greets you when you arrive on Palm Island and walk through the terminal that says “Palm Island Welcomes you. Remember the Past, Live for the Future”, and that sums up perfectly what this amazing place offers in terms of a cultural experience.