Lizard Island - Culture and History


Located 93 km north-east of Cooktown and 27 km from the Queensland coast, Lizard Island was known as Dyiigurra to the Dingaal Aboriginal people and was regarded as a sacred place. It was used by the people for the initiation of young males and for the harvesting of shellfish, turtles, dugongs and fish. The Dingaal believed that the Lizard group of islands had been created in the Dreamtime. They saw it as a stingray with Lizard Island being the body and the other islands in the group forming the tail.

The first European to explore the island was Captain Cook, who anchored in one of the island's bays and climbed to the top of the hill now known as Cook's Look. There he surveyed a suitable passage away from the island. He wrote of the island "It is mostly high land very rocky and barren except on the NW side where there are some sandy bays and low land, which last is cover'd with thin long grass trees etc the same as upon the Main(land)." Cook saw numerous lizards (Gould's sand monitor) on the island which led him to write: "The only land animals we saw here were lizards and these seem'd to be plenty which occasioned my nameing the island Lizard Island."

Cook's recommendation meant that most of the major explorations of the Queensland coast - the HMS Beagle in 1839, the HMS Fly in 1843, the HMS Rattlesnake in 1848 - stopped at the island.

By the 1860s the island was being used by beche de mer fishermen who found that the waters contained substantial quantities of the sea cucumber which was a popular delicacy in Asia.

In 1879 Captain Robert Watson with his wife, a servant and baby daughter, built a cottage on the island. The ruins are still visible. Captain Watson, was a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fisherman and during one of his absences Aborigines from the mainland attacked the cottage. Mrs. Watson, accompanied by her child and a Chinese servant, attempted to flee to the mainland in a barrel (it can be seen in the Townsville Museum - it is a large rectangular tub) used for boiling beche-de-mer. The vessel floated away from the coast and all three died of thirst.

In 1939 the island was declared a national park. Currently there is an exclusive 40-room resort and a research station. Regular flights to the island allow visitors an opportunity to wander the shores or to go bushwalking. Lizard Island is popular with deep-sea fishermen who use it as a base.

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