Low Isles History

On Queensland's Great Barrier Reef, the Low Isles (Islets) are 2 small coral cays located 13 kilometres from Port Douglas. They are situated on the western edge of the main shipping channel. One is known as Low Isles and the other as Woody Island. Woody is a protected area.

Aboriginal people know these islands as Wungkun. It is an important indigenous cultural site for both the KuKu Yalanji and Yirraganydji aboriginal tribes. The sea Country of both groups overlaps at Low Isles.

1770
June 10. Captain James Cook, sailing past Low Isles in HMS Endeavour made a note in his log describing a "small low island"

1819
Capt Phillip Parker King on the cutter Mermaid officially named Low Isles and Cooktown, previously Cook’s Town.

1842
The first to study the Reef was Prof. Beete Jukes who came on the survey vessel HMS Fly

1860s/70s
A beche-de-mer station was established.

1878
Nov. The light, on the flat low-lying western island, was exhibited for the first time from the new lighthouse, the first keeper being Captain Daniel Owen, previous master of the S.S.Corea. The original 1878 lens for the light is on display in the Court House Museum.
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1907
March 19. William Hannah, aged 42, his daughter Doris Irene Margaret Wallace Hannah aged 14 and son William Thompson Escar Hannah aged 10 went missing in a dinghy. A Magisterial enquiry held in Brisbane failed to find an answer to their disappearance

July. Hugh Nibloe arrived from Glasgow to be the light house keeper. (see DSHS Bulletin no.17) Woody Island then was called Low Woody. The head keeper was Mr Simpson

1911
Oct. Three bodies were found. At first they were thought to be of three missing young men from the Valda who went missing sailing to Green Island, but two of the bodies were children, thought to be the Hannahs.

Cyclone Leonta – some coastal boats were lost with all lives

1912
Feb 7. The bodies of the Hannahs were interred in McLeod St Cemetery Cairns in an unmarked grave.

1928
July 16. The world’s first detailed scientific study of coral reef took place on Low Isles. The European expedition party, led by Dr C. M. Yonge, aimed to study the life processes of coral and of the formation and maintenance of reef.

1929
July 28. The expedition left Low Isles.

1934
March 12th. A cyclone destroyed outbuildings on the island. 79 lives were lost at sea in the area up to Cooktown.

Early 1960s
The original cottages were built in a radial arc around the tower. The same arrangement was used when these cottages were replaced in the early 1960s.

1963
The light was upgraded to electric operation.

A new fibro boat house was built

1979
The first daily cruise to Low Isles began with the Martin Cash owned by Jim and Jo Wallace

1981
The Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's first World Heritage Areas, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding natural universal values

1992
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority announced it was removing its lighthouse keepers from Low Isles and automating the lighthouse. The title would be transferred to the Marine Parks.

LIPS was formed, the Low Isles Protection Society. A Queensland Parks and Wildlife (QPWS) Ranger would be based on the Isles, and an indigenous ranger at Port Douglas.

1993
The solar conversion and installation of a 16 nautical miles self-contained beacon was made, when the station became de-manned. The lighthouse now controlled by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

1994
The last lighthouse keeper left.

LIPS initiated a volunteer marine ranger position

1996
The first trainee rangers graduated from a pilot Volunteer Marine Ranger Training program, initiated to involve the community volunteers in the management of marine parks. Volunteer marine rangers relieve the permanent Low Isles ranger for approximately 100 days per year

2000
6th March. The Low Isles Heritage Walk was officially opened.

Several commercial tour boats visit Low Isles daily. Woody Island is a protected wildlife sanctuary

Compiled by Pam Willis Burden March 2006

A more detailed time line history has been published as a Bulletin, and is available for $2 plus postage from the Douglas Shire Historical Society.