A history of Tangalooma & Moreton Island - Queensland

Tangalooma and Moreton Island, have a rich history dating back to the native Aboriginals and early European settlement.

Aboriginal History

Moorgumpin meaning 'place of sandhills' is the Aboriginal name for Moreton Island. The Indigenous people of Moorgumpin are known as the Ngugi. Moorgumpin lies within the area referred to as Quandamooka. Quandamooka is commonly defined as the Moreton Bay region.

Extensive site surveys have established that the Ngugi people lived permanently on the Island, maintaining a marine-based lifestyle for over 2000 years. Fish, shellfish, dugong, turtle and crustaceans formed a major portion of their diet, which was supplemented by the bungwall fern (Blechnum indicum), midyim berries (Austromyrtus dulcis), pandanus and honey.

Archaeological sites on the Island are important to the Ngugi descendants as a reflection of their heritage. Up to 330 cultural sites have been recorded and include shell and bone scatters, large middens and a stone quarry.

The Ngugi people's connection with the land and sea has a strong spiritual basis and some animals are strongly linked with traditions and customs. This deep connection with nature meant that the Ngugi people would look for signs to tell them of certain events that were about to take place such as the arrival of fish in the bay. Mullet are migratory fish and the Ngugi had three signs that told them of the arrival of mullet:

  • Lorikeet parrots visit the island

  • Caterpillars at the base of coastal wattles

  • Paperbark trees in flower

The Ngugi also had a special way of hunting fish cooperatively with the dolphins! The men would wade into the water, slapping their spears onto the surface. This sound would bring in the dolphins, herding schools of fish into the shallows towards the men. The Ngugi would then catch the fish using nets made from bark fibres. They always threw part of the catch back in for the dolphins to eat!

European Settlement

In 1770 Captain James Cook named "Morton Bay" after the Scottish Earl of Morton on the 17th May, which was later misspelled as 'Moreton Bay' in translations from his journals. It wasn't until 1823 that the first 'white visitors' arrived on Moreton Island. The last of the Ngugi people were forced to relocate to Stradbroke Island in 1850, where their descendants still live today.

World War II

World War II saw two large defence batteries built on Moreton Island — one at Cowan Cowan and the second at Toompani (known as the Rous Battery). During the war a naval base and jetty were built at Tangalooma. The remains of the batteries and other relics are still present and are of historic significance.

Tangalooma Island Resort and Wild Dolphin Feeding

In 1963 the Tangalooma Whaling Station was sold to a syndicate of Gold Coast businessmen and in 1980 the resort was purchased by the Osborne family, who still currently own and operate the resort and the wild dolphin feeding program.

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