Cooktown is visited by Perentie Tours by arrangement and what a charming little town it is. It’s difficult to believe the important events that occurred here over the last 150 years, far too much to put into a single blog but I’ll skip over some of the more outstanding facts.
Cooktown sits at the mouth of the Endeavour River which was named by Jimmy Cook when he utilised the river mouth to repair his sailing ship after hitting the reef off Cape Tribulation. The botanists on board took advantage of this time to collect many specimens and this is where the kangaroo, dingo and fruit bat was first seen and contact was made with the aboriginals. After Cook’s vessel was repaired, he sailed north to the tip of Queensland where he claimed possession of the whole eastern coast of Australia for Britain.
Little happened in the region after Cook’s landing until Billy Hann set out on his overland journey of exploration in 1872 and announced that he had found traces of gold at the Palmer River about 130kms south-west of Cooktown. This inspired Venture Mulligan to investigate further and in 1873 he confirmed the discovery that sparked a huge gold rush, drawing prospectors not only from Australia but also from around the world. It was decided that the Endeavour River would be the more suitable location for a port to service the goldfields so the river was dredged and Cooktown was formed and grew to a population of many thousands, mostly Chinese – by the turn of the century Cooktown reached an excess of 30,000.
A railway commenced construction from Cooktown to the goldfields
(Maytown) but the gold ran out before its completion (the ticketing office still stands in Cooktown’s main street). Although most of the surface gold has long since been prospected, there remain a handful of deeper mine projects in the area.Tin was later discovered south of Cooktown creating another form of income for the many thousands in the region and a pearling fleet began utilising the port.
Since those early years and with the gold deposits steadily falling, so did the population, services and facilities. Cooktown suffered many catastrophes including numerous fires and cyclones and many men, both young and old were drawn into the armed services during the WW1. This had a devastating effect on the already failing township. To further add insult to injury, with the close of the WW1 in 1918, Cooktown was dealt another blow, with a number of commercial buildings in the main street burning to the ground. During WW2 the town was evacuated for fear of invasion, many never returning. Cooktown was revived when a deteriorating convent (established in late 1800’s) was renovated to become the James Cook Museum and opened by the Queen in 1970 followed by the completion of a sealed road from the south. Cooktown is now a popular remote tourist destination. Cooktown is now a lovely, well-serviced town with some of the original buildings from the 1800’s still standing and a genuine ‘must see’ destination in Far North Queensland. Although a short visit can be achieved in one day that includes the notorious Bloomfield Track, an overnight stay is always a good option. Iconic Cooktown and the surrounding area now has a population of about 2,300 and because of the seasonal nature of both tourist numbers and the notorious Far North Queensland wet season, there are just a few tour companies that visit the township.
More information can be found at http://www.tourismcapeyork.com/go/cooktown
or have a look at the Perentie Tours home page