York history is likely the longest in Australia.
That's when you think of human, as
opposed to geological
All humans, whether the early European explorers,
or Torres Strait Islander
people, first approached Australia from the north, and Cape York
(possibly along with Arnhemland), was
the first place in Australia ever settled by humans.
Cape York was
also the place for one of the biggest early gold rushes in the
And as some other
Australia, it was one of the main military areas during the Second World War.
are different theories but to keep it all simple, it is believed that
Aboriginal people came
to Australia some time between 30,000 and 120,000 years ago. They are
thought to have come
via the land bridges that existed between Papua New Guinea and the tip
of Cape York.
Food and Culture They
are far from the same people, with hundreds of different languages
across Australia. In Cape York, there are about 50 different clans, all
with their own language and culture.
Their food differed depending on whether they lived on the coast, in
or in the dry inland.
are many places in Cape York where to see the traces of their
past, in form of shell middens around Weipa,
sacred places such as
Split Rock, and some great Aboriginal art examples. Some of the best
and most famous ones are in different "rock galleries" around
Strait Islander People
Strait Islander people arrived much later, maybe as late as about 1000
years ago. They mostly live in the northernmost townships in the
mainland Cape York, and on Torres
Strait Islands. Their culture is
different from the Aboriginal people, and they only have five
was a big industry in northern Australia, and some of the most famous
places where it flourished were Torres
Strait Islands off the tip
of Cape York. It brought many different
nationalities to the area, but started with indigenous people.
History of Cape York
pearling attracted many Asians, in the rest of Cape York there is a lot
of European history. There are the old gold fields, the old railway
lines and ports of gold rushes, as well as old pioneer homesteads, the
of the Second World War and the Old Telegraph Line.
European explorers started circulating in the waters of northern
Australia in the early 1600s. Captain
James Cook arrived in the late
1700s, sailed up along the coast of eastern Australia and claimed the
eastern Australia to England before sailing back to Europe.
Once Australia had grown into a sizeable British colony, the land
exploring started. The first expedition to come to Cape York was that
of Ludwig Leichhardt, but they never got north of Burke Developmental
Road. The next one, of Edmund Kennedy, reached the tip of Australia
though it was a disaster.
Some of the earliest settlers up north were the the
Jardine Family in Somerset
Family in Lockerbie.
You can still visit
what's left of their homesteads. Further south there were more
settlers, and cattle people once the Brahman
Although there is no opal
found in Cape York, there
were a few big gold rushes. They brought many immigrants
to the area and created some of Queensland's largest settlements at the
time. You can still visit the Hodgkinson,
Alice River, Batavia
the 1800s, the telegraph line was built from the south to the
tip of Cape York. It was the only means of communication at the time in
this remote part of Australia. You can still see the old posts along
the Old Telegraph Track
and learn about its history in the Old Heritage
House in Coen.
in northern Australia, and particularly in the north-east, Cape York
was a very strategical place in the Second World War. Places like
Cooktown, Iron Range,
Bamaga and Horn
were turned into military bases. You can see the relics,
including some airplane wrecks.
Telegraph Line is an important part of history in Cape York.
It is not
hard to work out
that it gave the name to the Old
Telegraph Track that follows the line.
is a telegraph line and what was its history in Australia...
A telegraph is an old means of communication where messages were
recieved and forwarded over long distances.
Words were converted to electrical impulses that were transmitted via
wires to a different location.
remember visiting the old dad of my partner's at the time, when I
got a text message that beeped ···--···. The old man said, what? SMS?
What does that mean?
He knew Morse Code
but he didn't know about text messages :-)
I never knew that the
classic Nokia beep when you get a text message
actually means "SMS" in Morse Code!
The code was used in the
old telegraph communication and the job of the
operators who were sitting in the old telegraph stations was to convert
the code to a message.
In fact, Cape York is far from the most famous place for the line, and
many were built before the one on Cape
As everything else, it
the south eastern corner of Australia,
where the lines were built in Victoria,
Australia and Tasmania,
to be followed by New
South Wales, southern Queensland
The first ones were generally short in distance, the longest ones were
the one that connected Perth
to eastern Australia, and the one that
became the most famous - the Overland
Telegrph Line and that connected
to South Australia.
You can still see the poles and stations in places along Stuart
Highway, named after the explorer who first crossed the
being one of the last
frontiers in Australia, was
one of the last places to
get the line,
but it finally happened in the 1880s.
The building of it was a
rough job in
harsh conditions that you can
today witness on the Old Telegraph Track, which follows the line, and
course, was built for the line workers.
You can see the history
of the line
everywhere. There are poles still
along the Old Telegraph Track, and in many other places.
There are some historical telegraph stations like Musgrave
(that is called the
Moreton Telegraph Station however the
building was rebuilt after a fire), and in Coen, where the Old
Heritage House in
fact is the old Mein
Station that was moved here from its original location
It now houses an interesting museum.
In other places you can see only ruins, such as near the tip of the
peninsula are the ruins of the Paterson
and Cape York Telegraph
Stations, the latter is the northernmost one.
And in Cable Bay, also near the trip of the peninsula is the nothern end of the old telegraph
line, marked by an old junction box.
You can also see many linesmen's shelters - one at Sailor Creek along
the Old Telegraph Track, and at least one on the northern bank of
And you can see a few graves, one north of Gunshot
Creek crossing on
the Old Telegraph Track, and one at the Moreton Telegraph Station.
Cape York's Telegraph Line was in use for about 100 years. It was
closed in the 1980s when modern telecommunications finally moved in.
While the Old Telegraph Track was built for the Old Telegraph linesmen,
the Bypass Roads
were built for
Telstra workers and not originally
meant to be an easy way around the rough track for travellers.
can learn about pearling on your Cape York trip.
still happening in
northern Australia, and while in
Cape York, you
can see it first hand if you visit Torres
Most Torres Strait Islands used to have the industry, but nowadays it
has decreased and only
some of the islands - including Friday,Roko and Turtle
Head Island - still
practice farming pearls.
visit the farms and learn about it all, and even buy a local
pearl right from the farm. It makes
a great souvenir to
bring back home.
it was a horrible job.
It meant diving down to
the bottom of the ocean and collecting a lot
it was often done by slaves because of the risks from sharks as well as
basic gear that was
used, and blackout
due to depths and
little knowledge about risks of diving.
Aboriginal people collected them, however they didn't dive.
to harvest them from shallow waters.
started settling in northern and western
Australia, they started diving for pearls.
It first started in Shark
Bay in Western Australia,
and spread north
still is famous for this industry and its history.
In Queensland, the place was north of Cape
York, in the Torres
Since it was a risky job, European boat owners often hired Japanese divers, who
nothing, because they paid off their debts for their own
transportation to Australia.
Not many managed to ever pay off their debts before they were killed by
sharks or died in
You can learn about all that history
on Horn Island.
Island has a monument and a lot of Japanese
from these old days.
flourished until took a
drop caused by manufacturing of plastic pearls.
pearl farms still exist,
It's still a lot of work that can be destroyed by a tropical
that make this business risky, but it doesn't involve diving.
These jewel gems are now
the oysters are either bred or collected, then nucleated, and then
looked after for a few years that it takes for the gems to grow.
have developed and grown inside the oyster shells, they are harvested
a lot of Brahman Cattle in Cape York and northern Australia.
the southern parts
of Australia you see a lot of black and white milk cattle, up in the north we have beef
It is very different from the southern cattle - with large humps on necks
and shoulders, large,
and a large flap of skin
hanging under the
They are mostly creamy or greyish white
in colour, but can also be red.
They have dark
the nose and on the tips of tails and ears. You see
often along the
roadsides as you drive around in northern
Australia, where cattle
stations are huge and not always well fenced.
AND take care, watch out
for them particularly if there are cattle signs, because
they do step out to the road!
Young Brahman on a Cape York
The southern milk cattle
is from Europe,
the northern Brahman
comes from America (where it had previously been introduced from India).
The first Brahman cattle was imported to Australia about the year
1900, but it took until the 1930s before larger numbers started being
started being bred in Queensland, north of Rockhampton,
which is still known as the "Beef Capital of Australia".
The breed is now widely used in the northern parts of Queensland,
Territory and Western Australia.
They are also popular in many other countries including Brazil,
Argentina and Paraguay.
They can also be cross bred, and are used for both meat and milk
production in some countries.
cattle on a
Cape York farm.
The reason why they are
particularly suitable for our tropical climate in northern Australia is
that they tolerate more heat
glands, lighter colouring), and they are more resistant to insects and
ticks (thicker and oilier skin), which tend to be nastier in the
tropics than in the temperate latitudes.
The breed is also resistant to drought
(look at the grass on the photo below, and that's all they have during
the Dry season),
and is a good breeding
as it lives longer than many other
breeds and still produces calves at the age of 15.
A Brahman bull on a Cape York
In fact it has been very
in Australia, particularly during the past 30 years, when huge areas of
remote, dry, previously unused land has been turned into productive beef businesses
the resistance and toughness of Brahman cattle.
opal is actually not found in Cape York.
made this page anyway, because more
than 90% of the world's opal comes from Australia.
Also, opal is found in
and you can buy it in Cairns, in
case you are from overseas and interested in buying Australian opal on
your trip, you can buy
them in far
My mum did on her visit, and she ended up with a beautiful opal for a
very good price - a very nice piece of Australian
national gemstone to take back home. But there
are a few basic
things that are good to know before you start
a few different
types of opals to choose from.
Black opal is dark in colour, no matter what the colours are. The
darkness, caused by traces of iron and carbon oxides, makes the colours
stand out better, and vibrate better, than in lighter opals. Black opal
is the most valuable type of opal, and is found in New South Wales.
White opal, as the name says, is light in colour. It does have
the play of colours, but due to its paleness the colours are not quite
as in the black opal above. White opal is much more common, less
valuable, and is found in South Australia.
Crystal opal can be any type of black or white (but not boulder) opal
that is more or less transparent. They can have any colours, it's the
transparency that matters. The transparency adds to the vibrancy of
colours and they are therefore more valuable than opaque opals.
Boulder opals look completely different and are very easy to
distinguish from the other three types of opals above. They form in
ironstone boulders, in very thin layers, and for that reason they are
cut so that the ironstone is left in the back. The dark layer of
ironstone makes the colours stand out better. This distinctive kind of
Australian opal is found in Queensland.
Queensland opal fields are mainly in central and south west, around
Winton and Quilpie areas - not in Cape York or far north Queensland.
However you can buy Australian opal here.
of Opal Cuttings
The black, white and crystal
opals also have different
ways to be
cut, which also affects their value (the boulder opal is
solid - it already has a dark layer in the back so there is no need to
make it any more complicated).
The best opal to buy is a solid
but they are also (by far) the
A solid opal is cut as it is, there is no glue job in the back and no
risk for any damage later.
But cutting them as doubles and triplets artificially improves their
White opals are generally cheaper than black and boulder opals, because
naturally they have nothing dark in the back to bring out the colours.
That can be changed by cementing a dark back to a thinly cut gem,
making it a doublet.
Personally I would prefer that dark back being a common opal or "potch", instead of
silica material, but in any case - the fact that it is glued together
leaves it with some risk for future water damage.
have the same backing
as doublets, but on top of that they also have an extra layer on the
front side - leaving the actual gem in the middle.
That front layer is either glass or transparent quartz, and it is made
in a way to magnify the
which improves its colours.
In other words, doublets
are cheap ways to try to give the gem the qualities of black opal.
But that said, they are not uncommon, or considered cheating, and if you are looking for an
Australian opal in up to a few hundred
dollar range, they are most likely the only choice you have got,
except some boulder opals that have a fair bit of ironstone in them.
to Buy Australian Opal
So if you are up here
and want to buy
Australian opal, where should you look?
There are mainly four
Cairns, Kuranda, Port Douglas and Cairns
In Cairns, pretty
much all the opal
shops are in the block where the Orchid Plaza is - between Shield,
Abbott, Spence and Lake Streets.
There is also at least one on
Esplanade (expensive), and there are always the markets (if you trust
unless they are more permanent shops).
Kuranda, there are a
shops along Coondoo Street, and there are also permanent opal shops at
both the Original and the Heritage Markets.
The Emu Ridge Gallery shop
has some good boulder opals.
In Port Douglas,
in Macrossan Street.
In Cairns Northern Beaches, there is
the Outback Opal
Mine in Clifton
this 50 pages
guide totally for FREE.
contains information that helps you getting started with planning of your trip.
You get to make early-stages desicions such as when to go, how long time you
should take, how to get
there and get
to stay (general info), what
will it cost..
and a short insight to what is there to see and do in Cape York.
This complete 300 pages
travel guide is all you need before and during your trip. Besides the
background chapters on the peninsula's history and wildlife; and the comprehensive detail about all
the places (down to prices, opening hours and full contact
detail), it has invaluable information on at least 10 four wheel drive tracks,
at least 30 guaranteed FREE
camping spots on the Cape (and at least 150 on your way to
the Cape), at least 40 best
swimming holes, all mapped; as well as practical things -
from fuel, roads, wireless internet and mobile phone reception,
how to deal with the national
parks booking rules; and Aboriginal land entrance and camping permits
and alcohol restrictions - to vehicle preparation and accessories and necessary recovery
gear by my partner
Mark who is the recovery guy on northern Cape York and the Old
Not to mention locals'
tips on how to spot that croc and palm cockatoo ;-)
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This site uses British
English, which is the English we use in
best efforts have been made to ensure that all the information on this
website is correct, this site is not to be blamed should there be a
My full time project of 2020-21 is to improve every single page on this website with more information and more, better photos. With almost 300 pages and so many photos to go through, it is very time consuming work, but it is gradually happening, right now :-)
This is the ORIGINAL Cape York Travel Guide run Locally on the Peninsula.