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Cairns History

Cairns History Guide

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Cairns History Facts

Cairns history has links to various material from Cairns past. It also has links to some of our other work (mainly post European arrival) that we hope you find interesting or at least entertaining.

However, it is important to remember that the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji are the traditional owners and custodians of this area. Indeed they refer to Cairns as Gimuy. Consequently, we acknowledge their past struggles and success.

Aboriginal Australians of Cairns and the surrounding rainforests call themselves the Bama people. Despite the frontier wars during the period of early contact, and the racist policies of the past, the Bama people have endured and maintained their cultural heritage.

When was Cairns founded?

Cairns was officially founded in 1876. The area was previously known as Trinity Bay by Europeans and as Gimuy by the Traditional Owners.

However in 1876 the settlement was named after the Queensland Governor at that time, Sir William Wellington Cairns. The settlement was later declared a town in 1903.]

Why was Cairns established?

Initially, Cairns was established for the miners who worked the Hodgkinson River goldfields.

However, after an easier track to the goldfields was discovered from Port Douglas, Cairns became a rail port exporting sugar cane, gold, precious metals and other agricultural based products.

The fertile soil on the Atherton Tableland were perfect for farming and remains a major source of fresh produce for Australia. In addition, sugar cane farms were developed on the lowlands around Cairns as there was now access to transport the cane to the southern sugar mills.

Cairns History Timeline

Cairns City of the South Pacific A History 1770 – 1995

The most comprehensive historical account of Cairns is Cairns City of the South Pacific A History 1770 – 1995 by Timothy Bottoms.

This work covers the many and varied people who have lived and worked in the district, as well as the dramatic changes that have occurred. As a result, it is a fascinating coverage of this unique tropical city.

Tim’s work is accessible and interesting to all levels of readers and listeners. Tim is an intrepid author and narrator who has a cosmopolitan approach and yet artfully allows the many historical voices and faces to speak for themselves.

Old Pictures of Cairns

While this page links to many aspects of Cairns history, it is the old pictures of Cairns that people enjoy the most.

You will find links to old pictures of Cairns streets as well as pictures of the Cairns Esplanade.

Indeed these pictures are a useful way to show the past. We have pictures of Cairns in flood, as well as other images that highlight the city’s built history and cultural diversity.

Cairns History - Policeman in Abbott Street
Policeman in Abbott Street in 1890

Cairns History Resources

Cairns Museum and Cairns Historical Society

The Cairns Museum and the Cairns Historical Society Research Centre are located in the Cairns School of Arts building, in the heart of the Cairns CBD. The Cairns Museum is owned and operated by the Cairns Historical Society.

However, the Society’s extensive archival and photographic collections are open to anyone with a research interest in Cairns or Far North Queensland. So if you have an interest in history, you should get in contact.

Bookings are required to visit the Research Centre and access the collection. Email research queries are welcome.

Cairns History Map

We love old maps of Cairns. So we were delighted to find Old Maps Online with many great maps from Cairns past.

McLeod Street Pioneer Cemetery

The heritage listed McLeod Street Pioneer Cemetery, Cairns, was used for interment from 1877 until 1949.

The McLeod Street Pioneer Cemetery has endured as the resting
place of over two thousand five hundred people of diverse ethnic and
occupational backgrounds.

I found the grave of John Samuel Pyne who was a good runner, horseman, butcher and my great uncle. He died in 1890 (aged 21) when he fell riding his horse ‘pickpocket’ on the Cairns Esplanade.

cairns history pioneer cemetery
Cairns History – Pioneer Cemetery

Far North Queensland

Far North Queensland was a long way from anywhere as far as the modern world was concerned. Consequently, it developed a very distinct environment and culture.

Cairns Flooding

Cairns flooding should surprise no-one. After all, Cairns is a tropical city in Far North Queensland. However climate change is making the problem worse.

Old Pictures of Cairns History

Old Pictures of Cairns links to a number of pictures of Cairns past that we hope you enjoy.

Struggle & Resistance

Rob Pyne’s Struggle and Resistance in the Far North, is a glimpse into Far North Queensland politics, history and culture. Further, it is an account of the region’s hidden stories and prominent identities.

Qld Political Culture

Queensland political culture provided an interesting and sometimes uncomfortable backdrop to my life growing up. After all, these were deeply Conservative times.

Cairns City Council

Cairns City Council was a municipality in Far North Queensland. Indeed it was established in 1885 and merged with the Mulgrave Shire Council in 1995, becoming part of Cairns history.

Cairns Regional Council

Control of the Cairns City Council had alternated between administrations which supported ‘development at all costs’ and those which had more of a commitment to fairness and the environment.

Tom Pyne

Tom Pyne was born in the town of Babinda in 1935. Furthermore, he was the youngest of five children born to John Samuel and Katherine Hannah Pyne.

Rob Pyne

Rob Pyne was born in Gordonvale and raised in Edmonton, south of Cairns. He was born to Tom Pyne and his wife Marion. Rob campaigned for social justice, including disability rights.

Relevant Material

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