Great Palm Island

Great Palm Island, also known as Palm Island, or by the Aboriginal name Bwgcolman;[1] is a tropical island with a resident community of about 2,000 people. The island has an area of 55 km2 (21 sq mi). The official area figure of 70.9 km² refers to Aboriginal Shire of Palm Island and includes nine smaller islands. It is in Queensland, Australia, off the east coast of northern Queensland, situated 65 kilometres (40 mi) northwest of Townsville, and 800 kilometres (500 mi) north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The Australia Post lists the local post office as Palm Island, QLD. It is the main island of the Greater Palm group, and consists of small bays, sandy beaches and steep forested mountains rising to a peak of 548 metres (1,798 ft).[2] The ocean surrounding the island is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park where extraction and fishing are regulated.

Great Palm Island
Native name:
Palm Island
Coordinates18.73633°S 146.617699°E / -18.73633; 146.617699
ArchipelagoGreater Palm group
Area55 km2 (21 sq mi)
Highest elevation548 m (1,798 ft)
Population1,984 (2006 census)

Human habitation

Great Palm Island is often termed a classic "tropical paradise" given its natural endowments, but it has had a troubled history since the European settlement of Australia.[3] The local government is the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council, which has jurisdiction over ten of the islands in the Greater Palm group.[4] While the Australia Post lists the local post office as Palm Island, QLD, there is no formal name for the settled areas of the island.[5] Other names include or have included the Mission, Palm Island settlement, Palm Island Aborigines settlement, and Palm Island Community.

There are three settled areas. One settled area is at the southeast end of the airport. To the north on the west coast is a settled area with a pier and the government center—some locals call this the Mission.[5] Beyond a mountain to the north is a third settled area by Coolgaree Bay.

The islands in the area were named the "Palm Isles" by explorer James Cook in 1770 as he sailed up the eastern coast of Australia on his first voyage.[6] It is estimated that the population of the island at the time of Cook's visit was about 200 Manbarra people.[7][8] The name "Great Palm Island" for the island goes back at least as far as 1866.[9] Beginning in 1918 the island was used by the Queensland Government as a settlement for Aborigines.[10] As an end result, the island population is now a mix of Manbarra and other Aboriginal peoples, with few jobs and a shortage of housing.[5]


At 55 km2 (21 sq mi), Great Palm Island is nearly twice the size of Norfolk Island and of a similar size to Magnetic Island.[5][11] According to a Queensland government source, there are sixteen islands that make up the Greater Palm group.[12] The majority of these are micro-islands. Major islands within the Greater Palm group are Great Palm Island, Fantome Island, and Orpheus Island. Notable neighbouring islands outside the Greater Palm group include Rattlesnake Island, which is used for Air Force bombing practice, and Magnetic Island, an island suburb of Townsville.[12]

Topographically, the island is dominated in the center by the tallest peak Mount Bentley, and in the southwest by Mount Lindsay. The surface is covered by rainforest, with small areas cleared for settlements and the airstrip. The Palm Island airstrip nestles along a narrow low flatland at the southwest corner of the island.[13] Surrounding waters include Challenger (Gowyarowa) Bay, which is between Great Palm Island, Curacoa (Noogoo), and Fantome Islands.[14] Local bays of the island are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Bays of Great Palm Island, starting at the north, listed clockwise
Bay Notes
  Cannon (Numbullabudgee)    by Wallaby (Nullaree) Point
  North East (Othoorakool)
  Barber within view of Barber (Boodthean) Island 
  Butler (Surrumbroo) at the southeast end of the airport
  Casement at the northwest end of the airport
  Coolgood has a pier, a settled area is inland
  Coolgaree Bay a settled area is inland


There are three man-made bodies of fresh water on the island, including Bamboo Dam near the peak of Mount Bentley, and Solomon Dam.[13]

Natural environment and cyclones

Great Palm Island is rich in natural beauty, both fauna and flora, however it has been impacted by human settlement and introduced species. Great Palm Island's rich volcanic soil supports tropical flora such as mangroves, eucalypt forest, rainforests, hoop pine, mango, banana, pawpaw (papaya) and wild plum trees.[3][11] The surrounding bays have a diverse marine fauna including coral trout, crayfish and coral reefs.[3] There has been significant dumping of car bodies and other environmental pollution on the island.

There are hundreds of brumbies on the island, they are considered to be community-owned.[15] Many of them have been tortured, starved to death, and beaten by local teenagers. A local Aboriginal, Wayne Coolwell, has been quoted as saying "I don't like to accuse my own people of things like this, but it's self-evident...and cruelty is cruelty, and when you see the photographs and you hear the stories, there's obviously a real problem on that island."[16]

As an island in northern Queensland, Great Palm Island is vulnerable to cyclones. In March 1997 Cyclone Justin passed over the Cairns coastline and remained near Great Palm Island causing a great deal of flash flooding. Peaking at Category 4, at landfall it was a Category 2 cyclone; it caused significant damage in the Cairns region during its relatively long, 3½ week life.

In April 2000 category 2 Cyclone Tessi passed directly over Great Palm Island, but caused little damage.[17]

The surrounding ocean

Great Palm Island is inside the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea in the vicinity of Halifax Bay. The ocean surrounding the island is in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.[18] Under the zoning authority of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the ocean on the western side of the island is in a Habitat Protection zone. The rest of the island is surrounded by a Conservation zone. These zones exist to protect the park from excess extraction and fishing.[19]

There are seven named reefs adjacent to the island, known as nearshore fringing reefs. The designation of the seven varies; for example, the seventh of the seven is called Great Palm Reef (No 7), 18-054G, Great Palm Reef G, and Reef 18054G.[20] As designated by the GBRMPA, Great Palm Island has the number 18-054, and the seven reefs are a, b, c, d, e, f, and g.[18]

Greater Palm group

Great Palm Island is the largest of the islands in the Greater Palm group. While originally named the "Palm Isles", many names are currently used for the group. Great Palm Island group and Palm Islands are two such names. The nearest island to the group is Pandora Reef.[18]

In Table 2 are the ten islands of the Greater Palm group in the jurisdiction of the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council. Two islands and one rock are in the Hinchinbrook jurisdiction. These are Orpheus (Goolboddi), Pelorus (Yanooa) or North Palm Island, and Albino Rock. Albino Rock is part of Orpheus Island National Park.[18][21] The remaining rocks owned by the Commonwealth are in the jurisdiction of the GBRMPA.[18] Table 3 lists additional micro-islands.[18]

Table 2. Islands in the jurisdiction of the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council
Island name Aboriginal name Group size Brushfire risk GBRMPA reef designation
Curra-cao or Curacoa Island Noogoo or Inoogoomajormedium18-052
Fantome Island Eumillimajormedium18-053
Great Palm Island or Palm Island Bwgcolmanmajorhigh18-054
Havannah Islandmajormedium18-065
Brisk Island Culgaroolmicro-islandmediumshared with Falcon Island
Eclipse Island Garoogubbeemicro-islandnot rated18-058
Esk Island Soopunmicro-islandnot rated18-059
Barber Island Boodtheanmicro-islandnot rated18-061
Falcon Island Carbooroomicro-islandnot rated18-062
Fly Islandmicro-islandnot rated18-064


Table 3. Micro-islands known as Rocks in the Greater Palm group
Island name   GBRMPA reef designation  
  Paluma Rock  18-056
  Albino Rock (AKA White Rock)    18-057
  Dido Rock  18-060
  Chilcott Rocks  18-063
  Hayman Rock.[9]  <none>


Aerial photos and maps

Google (4 January 2011). "satellite view of Great Palm Island" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 4 January 2011.

Google (4 January 2011). "Great Palm Island Reef (No 1)" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 4 January 2011.

Google (4 January 2011). "Great Palm Island Reef (No 7)" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 4 January 2011.


  1. Bindloss, Joseph (2002) page 330
  2. Bernard Matthew Johnson (1996). "Palm Island – The Place". Reconciliation and Social Justice Library. Austlii. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  3. Koch, Tony; MATP (4 December 2004). "Bitter Paradise". The Weekend Australian. sec. Features, p. 19.
  4. "Local Government Directory – Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council". Queensland Department of Local Government & Planning. Archived from the original on 2 March 2007. Retrieved 25 January 2007.
  5. Townsend, Ian (29 April 2007). "Privatising Palm Island (Part One)". Background Briefing. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  6. "Captain James Cook Biography". self-published extract by the author of Robson, J., Captain Cook's World, Random House, New Zealand, 2000. Archived from the original on 15 October 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  7. The Manbarra People and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority [2004] AATA 268 (15 March 2004), Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
  8. Wilson, Paul (1985) pages 49-50
  9. "Shipping Intelligence, Notice to Mariners". South Australian Register. Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 25 May 1866. p. 2. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  10. Meade, Kevin (26 January 1998). "Cathy Freeman, island of despair's patron saint". The Australian. p. 4.
  11. Walker, Jamie (17 March 2007). "skin deep". Qweekend (Courier Mail). pp. 16–21.
  12. "QLD, Gov Palm Island Communities". Archived from the original on 14 December 2008.
  13. NNTT map QI2005_005.jpg
  14. "Indigenous Land Use Agreement: QI2003/052 Coolagree Sponge Farm ILUA". Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  15. Wilson, Ashleigh Wilson (29 July 2003). "RSPCA baulks on horse cruelty". The Australian. p. 3.
  16. "Palm Island animal abuse". The World Today. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 28 July 2003. Retrieved 2 February 2007.
  17. Taylor, John (3 April 2000). "Tropical Cyclone Tessi batters Townsville". AM (ABC Radio). ABC. Retrieved 31 January 2007.
  18. "Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Detailed maps, MPZ8 – Townsville (3.2 Mb)". Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. 24 April 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  19. "Interpreting Zones". Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Archived from the original on 27 December 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  20. "Great Palm Island Extension, Density, and Calcification Data for 1872 to 1985". NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, World Data Center for Paleoclimatology, Boulder, Colorado. March 2001. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  21. "Proposal to alter the boundary of Palm Island, creating new localities of Orpheus Island and Pelorus Island, map QPN1144". Queensland Government, Department of Environment and Resource Management ; not found November 2014. Archived from the original on 10 April 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  22. "Bushfire Risk Analysis for Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council" (PDF). Queensland Government, Department of Community Safety. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2011.


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