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History of Moreton Bay & Islands

The First Inhabitants

Moreton IslandMoorgumpin, meaning ‘Place of Sandhills’ is the aboriginal name for Moreton Island. 

The first known inhabitants of Moreton Island were the Ngugi tribe. (pronounced Nooh gee). They lived a wandering lifestyle which took advantage of the islands rich food resources. Their diet consisted of fish, oysters, crabs, goannas, wild honey and midgen fruits.

Archaeological sites on the island are important to the Ngugi descendants as a reflection of their heritage. These include items such as bone scatters, large shell middens and a stone quarry. 

The Ngugi tribe traded freely with the other islands and mainland tribes, and took part in the annual Bunya feast, north of Toowoomba. The arrival of Europeans spelt the end to this happy, healthy and resourceful race. Their numbers were savaged by smallpox. In 1833 they suffered a massacre, and by the early 1850’s most of the survivors had moved to North Stradbroke. This self sufficient race was no more.

European Discovery of Moreton Island

Moreton IslandOn May 17th 1770, James Cook names Morton Bay and Cape Morton, after the then President of the Royal Society of Britain. In 1799 Matthew Flinders discovered the Cape was actually part of the island. He named it Moreton Island, misspelling the name which appeared in Hawkworth’s edition of Cook’s voyages in 1793.

In 1823 Thomas Pamphlet set out by boat from Sydney to fell cedar on the NSW south coast. They were caught in a storm and blown north. Near death, and after 21 days at sea, they managed to beach their boat on Moreton island. The Ngugi tribe assisted them and after they had recovered from their ordeal, they attempted to find their way back to Sydney and in the process discovered the Brisbane River.


The first organized settlement of Moreton Island wasn’t until 1847, when the loss of 44 lives with the wreck of the ‘Sovereign’ highlighted the danger of the south bar. The Northern end of Moreton Bay became the entrance. The Amity pilot station was moved from Amity Point to Bulwer bringing the first European residents in 1848. The station was eventually closed in 1909.

Moreton Island, a 35km long sand island of more than 17000ha, resides a mere 35km east of Brisbane and provides a fragile north easterly boundary for Moreton Bay. 


The Island Today

Moreton IslandThe island remains one of the few untouched areas of natural wilderness along the east coast, and supports an amazing variety of vegetation on its sand based environment. White sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and refreshing freshwater lakes make Moreton Island a much sought after destination amongst campers, bushwalkers, fishermen, naturalists and four wheel drive enthusiasts.

The cape Moreton Lighthouse, built in 1857, still operates and provides one of the islands most outstanding scenic views.

The remains of the old military emplacements and fortifications can still be found at Cowan Cowan and Rous Battery, reminders of Brisbane’s efforts to defend itself during World War II. 


Mount Tempest, a vegetated sandhill in the centre of the island, makes for a challenging climb for those walkers keen on the best views of Moreton Island and the bay. Mt Tempest is reputedly the highest sandhill in the world, standing approximately 283m above sea level.

The Big and Little Sandhills near the southern end of the island, provide an awe inspiring sight of mountains and pure silica sand, running across the island from East to West, some 2.5km. The Desert is a major sand dune blowout, just south of Tangalooma and accessible via scenic walking track from the western beach. These areas of bare sand dunes also provide the slopes for an exhilarating sand toboggan.

Wetland areas at Heath Island in the north, and the Mirapools and Days Gutter in the south, provide interesting and unique habitats for migratory birds and newly established mangroves. The seas around the island teem with life, such as turtles, dolphins,dugongs and whales.