The Ngaro People of the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays may be known for its islands, beaches and reefs, but first and foremost are known to be the home of the Ngaro, their traditional owners and original inhabitants.
The Ngaro have lived in what we now know as the Whitsundays for thousands and thousands of years. They originally occupied about 520 square kilometers, including some of the islands and part of the mainland. Even with changing landscapes, the Ngaro were always a sea-faring people spending their time in and around the ocean. Due to the fact that they have lived in the Whitsundays for so long, it will never truly be known what their original territory was, as the landscape has changed over the millennia. The Whitsundays once looked much different than they do today, where much of the ocean floor was dry land and many of the islands were part of the mainland. With glacier shifts and changes in ocean levels, much of what used to be Ngaro territory is now long underwater and home to reefs and the depths of the ocean.
Traditionally, since the beginning, the Ngaro were dependent on the ocean. They made the reefs, mangroves and sea their domain, using if to fit their lifestyle and suits their needs. They hunted large marine animals from large steady canoes, such as those spotted by Captain James Cook in 1788, using ocean life of the ocean to feed their families. Archaeological sites show that from as long as 3,000 years ago, the Ngaro were hunting small whales, dugongs and large sea turtles from their canoes, which were made of ironbark and could be used to cover long ocean distances between the islands.
The Ngaro were first encountered by the outside world when the Endeavour saw several people in an outrigger canoe as it made its way through the Whitsunday Islands, spotting them from a distance as they crossed paths. Since this time, the Ngaro have been a documented part of Australia's history, with much knowledge about them coming from their own traditional stories as well as from the marks they left behind over the past few thousand years, allowing us to understand what life was like for them before European settlement.
The Whitsundays are full of archaeological sites that detail the kind of lives that were historically lived by the Ngaro. One particular site in Nara Inlet on Hook Island dates back to 9,000 years ago and is one of the oldest sites discovered so far on the East Coast of Australia. This means the Ngaro people have been living in the Whitsundays for many thousands of years before it was discovered by Europeans, making a sustainable life for themselves, living off the land and the oceans, seldom venturing far from the Whitsunday coastline.
Relationships between European settlers and the Ngaro people was mostly without conflict until about 1861 when the area of Bowen began to be settled. This is when major conflict began, and unfortunately by 1870 many of the Ngaro we forcibly removed from their lands and many traditional ways of life were lost. Many were forced to move to mills or colonies where they were made to work for colonists and disassociate from their traditions, bringing the end of the life they had previously known in the Whitsundays.
While the Ngaro have had to change their way of life from how it once was, they are still very much present in the Whitsundays and maintain a deep connection to the islands and ocean. They remain as the traditional owners, passing their traditions on through the generations, keeping the Ngaro culture alive in the Whitsundays.