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History of Innisfail

Location and identification
The town of Innisfail with a population of about 9000, is the centre of the Cassowary Coast Regional Council, containing 19000 people. It is on the Cassowary Coast (named after the rare local native bird ) between the World Heritage Rainforest and Barrier Reef areas.

Proposed town symbols are Rain, River and and Diverse Cultures, and the Shire's floral emblem is the hibiscus tileacus or coastal cottonwood.

The Canecutter Monument, InnisfailOriginal Inhabitants and their Fate
The original inhabitants of this Innisfail region were the five societies of the Mamu people, following migratory lifestyles in the rainforest, and moving along the rivers in string-bark canoes. Among these, The " Cassowary Tribe", distinguished by head- dresses of scarlet and yellow feathers, were centred on the Tchuken Bora Ground on Jordan Creek, off the Johnstone River.

Today the Djirrribal or Jirribal people still occupy their original territory at Murray Upper, south of Tully, maintaining a language and hunting and gathering lifestyle dating back perhaps 40,000 years. Together all these Aboriginal people resisted the occupation of their lands vigorously.

The first incursion came in 1872. Survivors of the shipwreck "Maria" arrived on the coast near the Johnstone River. Some of the indigenous people helped; others they opposed. Sub-Inspector Robert Johnstone's search party came to rescue survivors and punish Aboriginal people who had abused them, and ventured up river from what are now Flying Fish and Coquette Points. Johnstone wrote glowing reports of the area, and with vigilante Native Troopers attacked the Mamu people with rifle fire as he escorted the explorer Dalrymple, charting the watercourse and having it named after himself.

When European cedar cutters and Chinese gold seekers arrived later in the 1870s and early in the 1880s, the Mamu fought them and inflicted serious casualties. Again the Europeans sent in the Native Police. Superior firepower broke up the indigenous communities and dispersed or integrated the remaining original landowners.

Settlement and Development
European settlement, with its Asian and Pacific components, began late in the region, partly because of Aboriginal resistance. The Edmund Kennedy exploration of 1848 revealed impenetrable rainforests, confining European economic enterprises to Pacific coastal waters, mostly to pearling and trepang collection.

The first permanent town was established on the southern borders of the rainforest in 1864, at Cardwell. During the 1870s, the opening of the Palmer goldfields and other mineral discoveries brought an inrush of multi-cultural but Anglo-Celtic dominated settlers to the north of what became the Johnstone Shire, leading by 1876 to the establishment of Cairns.

Meanwhile, partly to rescue the goldfields, a variety of agricultural enterprises were developed in these southern and northern areas. Innisfail itself (called Geraldton until 1911) was founded in 1880 by Thomas H.Fitzgerald who took up a 10000 hectare land grant funded by the Catholic Bishop of Brisbane and All Hallows' Sisters of Mercy. With 10 Irish and 35 South Sea Islanders as workers, he began planting sugar cane in the cleared rainforest lands, but not with personal success.

Those who followed him did better and the community began to grow rapidly on the proceeds of sugar production. The Mourilyan mill was built in 1882, the Babinda mill in 1914, and South Johnstone mill in 1915.Thus sugar drove the growth of predominantly European Innisfail and still exerts a major influence.

Chinese have been a part of the history of InnisfailMulti-cultural Settlers
The settlers who moved into this region from 1889 were exceptionally diverse. The first influential group were Anglo-Celtic, but they were outnumbered by "Kanaka " South Sea Islanders. Aboriginal and Torres Strait workers, Chinese miners who developed the banana industry and retail businesses. French merchants, and German timber and sugar producers.

A large Italian migration began before WW1 and continued into the 1930s and post WW2; much of Innisfail's present culture is of Italian derivation, including the evocative Canecutter Monument on the river Esplanade, adjacent to River Reflections sculptures and their visual histories.

Spanish migrants produced the currently world famous Paronella Park tourist attraction as well as, during the 1930s, the first hydro-electric power plant in Northern Queensland. There were also waves of migration from Greece, Malta, Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. The last big wave came from the border highlands of Laos (following the Vietnam War) with the Hmong refugees. By 1996, Johnstone Shire residents spoke 47 different languages along with English.

Main Features at Present
The introduction of the sugar industry opened a new economic era in the region. However, this region today is Australia's largest producer of bananas, rivalling sugar as an income earner. Tea, papaws and exotic tropical fruits also are grown.

Beef cattle are processed in a modern abattoir near Innisfail for domestic and overseas markets. Aquaculture also plays an important part in the region's economy, ranging from prawn, barramundi and fresh water crayfish to crocodile farming.

A large prawn and reef fishing fleet boosts the economy. As well, the Innisfail region is being recognised as one of the best recreational fishing areas - from chasing the elusive barrumundi in the estuaries to game and reef fishing on the Great Barrier Reef and adjacent island. Manufacturing industries include a large foundry, plastic products, farm implements and transport equipment.

The incredible natural beauty of the region from the Great Barrier Reef and nearby tropical islands to the World Heritage Rainforests, coupled with the warm tropical climate allowing year-round recreation, has encouraged tourism and associated development, complementing the existing economic base. The newest expanding primary industry with long-term benefits for sustainable agriculture is millable timber.

The region is gradually becoming aware of the benefits of cultural and eco tourism, relying on the diversity of people, food and art forms and nature in the area. Paronella Park at Mena Creek has led the way, winning many awards and being promoted in a national cultural tourism campaign.

Mission Beach offers top -quality tourist attractions. Massive development in Townsville and more specifically in Cairns, where billions of dollars are being invested, is now having a flow-on effect into this region. Local control is being encouraged in order to preserve the authentic culture of the Shire.


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