4 October 2023

Cooktown ready to celebrate 150th birthday

| Sarah Martin
Start the conversation

The 1875 view of Cooktown looking over the police complex towards the unloading of stores, where today’s wharf now sits. Photo: Cooktown Historical Society

COOKTOWN will this month celebrate 150 years since the town was formed, with a series of events planned for the community.

Although it was named after James Cook who spent 28 days ashore in 1770, the town was formed a century after his arrival.

The discovery of gold at Palmer River had settlers rushing to the region.

Prior to Cook’s arrival in 1770, the area was home to the Guugu Yimithirr tribal nation, and was historically a place of meetings and peace, something which Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott said has stayed with the community.

“Cooktown was the site of the first recorded act of reconciliation in 1770, between Cook and his crew and the Guugu Yimithirr people, and today we still have something really special here that people appreciate,” Cr Scott said.

“Even though we’re commemorating 150 years of the town in October, there is such a rich history prior to that and the beaut story of the great interaction between the Guugu Yimithirr and Cook.”

Guugu Yimithirr Traditional Owner and historian Alberta Hornsby said Cook himself summed up what was special about the area in his journal.

“He recognised the people as living in a tranquil land, a place where the land and sea provided everything and the people were content,” Ms Hornsby said.

“That all exploded into disruption and upheaval for the Guugu Yimithirr in 1873, but then looking forward to 2023 to what we have learnt and how Cooktown today recognises and continues to recognise the Guugu Yimithirr people.”

Cook Shire Council is hosting a family-friendly bush dance at the Cooktown Shire Hall on October, 20 bringing back popular band Whiskey Boat, and holding a free community barbecue in William Daku Park on October 25.

The Cooktown School of Art Society is also holding the Cooktown Archies portrait competition to celebrate the characters that make up our town, with the opening night at the Elizabeth Guzsely Gallery on October 13.

“It’s fabulous that we’re commemorating this, and I’m sure the community is going to get on board big time because we all love Cooktown and we’re all very proud of it,” Cr Scott said.

“We’re commemorating the past and celebrating the future –come and have some fun with us!”

Cooktown in 1873, showing the lower end of Charlotte Street and the Empire Hotel. Photo: Cooktown Historical Society

Cooktown was initially called Cook’s Town, and formed on October 25, 1873 when the ship Leichhardt arrived carrying government officials and miners keen to hit the Palmer goldfields.

Among the government staff aboard was the gold commissioner, a roads engineer, a lieutenant to survey the river and a police party to keep law and order, as well as more than 70 miners and prospectors.

In just 12 months, the fledgling town’s population had swollen to 4000, with buildings lining what would become Charlotte Street, and the same year its name was changed to Cooktown.

Many of the distinctive historical buildings still lining Cooktown’s streets, including the Old Bank, Seagren’s Inn and Ferrari Building on Charlotte Street, the Cooktown Museum on Helen Street and the old Cooktown Hospital on May Street were built in the next two decades.

Visit www.cook.qld.gov.au for more information on 150th commemoration events, or to buy bush dance tickets.

The Cooktown court house was built in 1874, only a year after settlers first arrived aboard the Leichhardt. Photo: Cooktown Historical Society

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.