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Montague Island

A rich history

From 1770 where the island was incorrectly named “Cape Dromedary” by James Cook, the Montague Island has a rich history. Also known as Barunguba, it has particular indigenous significance.

Indigenous history

Officially known as Montague island, local Aboriginal people call the island “Barunguba.” The name affectionately refers to Montague island as the oldest son of Guluga, which is located on the mainland and officially known as Mount Dromedary, and the brother of Najunuka, located at the base of Gulaga and officially known as Little Dromedary.

Both oral history and archaeological records confirm that the Aboriginal names for the island date back quite some time. This evidence explains the strong connection between the Aboriginal people and the island, which used to be the site for traditional Aboriginal ceremonies as well as a food source. Significant Aboriginal sites and artefacts can be found throughout the island, except for on the east coast. To this day, the island remains a significant site for men’s teaching.

After the ice age, the only way to get to the island was by bark canoe. The distance between the mainland and the island is 8-9km and the journey could be particularly dangerous due to the constantly changing sea conditions in the area. In the 1800’s, a single trip from the mainland to the island caused the deaths of 150 men.

However, the connection between the Aboriginal people and the island is kept alive through their involvement in the island’s management and cultural activities hosted by local elders.

Lighthouse

The southern side of the island is particularly historic. The lighthouse tower, keepers quarters and other buildings in the area represent more than 125 years of lightkeeping.

In 1873, the concept of a lightstation was born. However, it struggled to obtain appropriate funds for several years. Construction officially began on 1 November 1881.

The lightstation is largely unchanged from its original form, which makes it a significant historical landmark. The only changes made to the lighthouse have been done to enhance its technology, living standards and working conditions.

Well-known colonial architect James Barnet drew the plans for the lighthouse quarters, which reflected his typical Georgian style. The resources used to construct these quarters were inspired by the island environment, while the specific style Barnet used was indicative of the culture.

Well-known colonial architect James Barnet drew the plans for the lighthouse quarters, which reflected his typical Georgian style. The resources used to construct these quarters were inspired by the island environment, while the specific style Barnet used was indicative of the culture.

There is one small cemetery on the grounds, which is the final resting place of an Assistant Keeper and two young children who passed away sometime between 1888 and 1894.

The island’s remote location made for a difficult lifestyle for many of the families that occupied the island. However, over the 100 years that these families lived on the island, they were able to adapt to the conditions.

To learn more about Australian lighthouses, head on over to the website of Lighthouses of Australia Inc.

European Settlers

Over 200 years ago during a sea voyage, James Cook renamed the island. On 21st April 1770, James Cook gave Barunguba the name “Cape Dromedary,” as he incorrectly assumed that it was part of the mainland, where he had given Gulaga the name “Mt Dromedary.”

However, the island officially began known as “Montagu,” after the Earl of Halifax George Montagu Dunk, in 1790. However, it is unknown who named the island and why they chose “Montagu.” A few years later, the island was officially confirmed as such by Bass and Finders.

As sea-travel was the fastest and most efficient method of travel, the mainland’s coast became scattered with settlements. With so many ships making the voyage to the mainland, there arose a need for navigational beacons.

It was for this reason that the island’s resources began to be exploited by mariners. It was turned into a sealing site and fishing base for those in the industry. Camping was permitted on the island- and enjoyable in nice weather- until the island was transformed into a Flora and Fauna Reserve in 1953. The island simultaneously became the first property of the Australian National Trust and was managed by them until 1990, when the island was deemed a nature reserve.

In the early 1800s, prior to excessive human occupation, the island was filled with animals like goats and rabbits. While many other islands around the world saw their animal populations die out quickly after people began occupying the land, this was not the case for the goats on Montague Island. In fact, they were only removed from the island towards the end of the 20th century because they had caused significant environmental damage.