Orpheus Island History



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European History of Pioneer Bay

The Research Station site was originally a private oyster lease held by Inge Moessler and occasionally used by scientists from JCU as a base for field research in the Palm Islands. The lease was subsequently given to the University in 1979 when the original owner retired.

Prior to 1979 mangroves were removed from the southern tidal estuary of the bay to provide boat shelter during rough weather. An unknown quantity of shell grit was removed from the banks of the southern estuary and barged to the coast for sale. Exotic flora and fauna, including rabbits, goats, cattle, and numerous species of cacti, were brought to the island for different reasons, and at different times. These subsequently escaped to become pests.

Aboriginal History of Pioneer Bay

The area was originally used by indigenous groups for the collection and trapping of shell fish and fish. Food was eaten on site and shell middens are common at the back of the beach and adjacent to the two tidal estuaries.

There is no known history of ‘permanent settlement’ in Pioneer Bay, although access to seeps in the hills at the back of the bay may have offered a degree of permanency that was dominated by food availability rather than access to freshwater. Discussions with Walter Palm Island, Aboriginal Elder of the Manbarra People, the original inhabitants of the Palm Group of Islands, indicated that whole-of-tribe movement between the bays and the islands followed a consistent pattern of hunting and gathering that was closely aligned to climate and weather. However, the construction of at least one rock-walled fish trap in the southern sector of the bay, suggests some degree of extended use of the area.

In the mid-1980s the most significant of the shell midden sites (in the northern sector of the bay) was fenced by Queensland National Park and Wildlife Service (QPWS). A board-walk was constructed across the shell midden and explanatory signs were added. The board-walk has since been removed.

Access to all cultural heritage sites is restricted. Visits to cultural sites must be supervised by qualified personnel and pre-arranged with Station Managers. Access to these sites may not always be available.

Orpheus Island


The Orpheus Island Research Station actively seeks volunteers to assist with station duties throughout the year. See our Volunteer Program webpage for further information.

Research Station

Orpheus Island Research Station provides a range of excellent facilities to suit both research and educational groups.

Using the Station