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a brief history of the area

Mission Beach Community Arts Centre Inc. is a hub for all things cultural in the Mission Beach area.  This ranges from the visual, literary and performing arts through to the history of our region. The following information panels were prepared by local historian, Peter Kellett, with the assistance of RADF funding. They feature the local indigenous people, white explorers and pioneers of the area.

Also included is a glimpse into a connection with the seat of power in Canberra through the late former prime minister, Harold Holt, who used to holiday here with his family. 

It touches on his friendship with the late Mission Beach artist and environmental campaigner John Busst, who played an integral role in the conservation listing of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

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Traditional Owners of Mission Beach

The Djiru people have been the Aboriginal traditional owners of the land and sea country of Clump Point and greater Mission Beach area since time immemorial. Their traditional rainforest and coastal country has provided them with food, medicine, materials and resources, while their language, stories, songs, dances and cultural traditions reflect their coastal rainforest environment and lifestyle.

Clump point is a place where their ancestors met with other groups, held ceremonies, fished , hunted, camped, lived, loved and collected resources for thousands of years. To Djiru, their culture, spirituality and country are one.

Their identity is connected to this place. 1901 photographs taken by Dr Roth, Protector of Aborigines, of the local tribe shows the ingenuity in using handy and useful objects from nature and then making them into practical items for their survival and defence.

Kennedy Expedition

The Kennedy Expedition was the first to explore Far North Queensland, from Rockingham Bay to Cape York Peninsula in 1848. Members were landed with sheep, carts and horses and were soon engulfed by the tropical landscape but persevered onwards. They overcame many physical difficulties with the country and the destructive effects of consequent disease; of thirteen men they were reduced to only three survivors.

The expedition members are all commemorated with streets of the South Mission Beach area named after them:

  • Kennedy Esplanade; Carron Esplanade, botanist;
  • Wall Street, naturalist; Niblett Street, storekeeper;
  • Costigan Street, carter;
  • Carpenter and Goddard Streets, shepherds;
  • Mitchell, Douglas & Dunn Streets, labourers;
  • Luff Street and Taylor Street;
  • Galmarra Street and Jackey Jackey Street were named after Jackey Jackey, an Aborigine of the Hunter River District. Jackey Jackey's native name means poet or singer of songs. He was among the three survivors of the expedition.

Edmund Kennedy, the leader, did not survive. .

Huxley Street was named after the noted biologist who conducted explorations around the Hull River and Tam O'Shanter Point areas. Owen Stanley Street was named after Captain Owen Stanley RN, who accompanied HMS "Rattlesnake" and transported the expedition.

MacGillivray Street was named after the naturalist included in the complement of the "Rattlesnake", who wrote an account of the voyage. Their findings opened the whole of the north for later settlement.

Zara and Harold Holt

Zara and Harold Holt visited artist and Great Barrier Reef campaigners John and Alison Busst on Bedarra Island in the 1960s. They so loved the beauty of the Mission Beach area that they bought land at Garner's Beach, overlooking the Coral Sea.

As Treasurer, Holt wrote his budgets at Bingil Bay. When he became Australia's 17th Prime Minister in January 1966, he was still treated as a local (cabbage hat and all) and his privacy respected while the family took a much deserved holiday in their "shack".

Helicopters would transfer vital government documents from Townsville for the Prime Minister's signature.

Holt and Busst used to sell coconuts and pineapples at the corner near the EI Arish Hotel and their Portsea entourage, bikini-clad, would soak up the local atmosphere of the pub.

Holt Close and Holt Road perpetuate his name in the area.

The Cutten family

The Cutten family were the first to take up a homestead selection at Clump Point (Bingil Bay) in 1884, until their 34-year enterprise was destroyed by the 1918 cyclone. Three thousand acres were cultivated with pineapples, bananas, coffee, tea, coconuts and transported to Dunk Island to be taken to southern markets. They employed local Aborigines and South Sea Island (kanaka) workers.

By 1895 they were the largest coffee growers in Australia but lack of shipping during WW1 and the cyclone destroyed all, and their age prevented continuance.

The family have several streets named after them in Bingil Bay: Cutten Street, leading to their 10 room residence, Blcton Close after their house, and Plantation Drive where tropic-resistant and hardy tea strands were taken from in the 1970s to establish the New Guinea tea plantations. The family grave is still located in Holt Close for the respectful visitors.