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17 September, 2021

A Mission to understand the name

LOCATED 90 minutes’ drive south of Cairns we find the small coastal town of Mission Beach. A thriving community rich in history as well as the perfect backdrop for national and international film and television production crews.

By Ken Gray

But Mission Beach has not always been Mission Beach. Mission Beach amateur historian Ken Gray has researched the story behind the name and the evolution from ‘Kenny’ to Mission Beach.

For almost all of time, the name for the district has been Djiru Country and that name is being recognized and used once again as we become more aware of our full history. The Aboriginal name for the main beach area is spelled in a number of ways by European historians eg Bhirriyeh (Mackness) or Birreah (Jones). However, on checking with local Indigenous Elder, Leonard Andy of the Djiru, neither he nor the old people before him have used that name for this area or beach.

Captain Owen Stanley of the HMS Rattlesnake named Clump Point during his 1848 according to Dorothy Jones who said in an earlier book that the person who named the point was not known. The district name of today, ‘Mission Beach’, was not widely used outside the local area until the 1950s as determined by citations from newspaper articles in the area back then. The first European name used was ‘Clump Point’ district.

In 1914 Hull River Aboriginal Settlement was created. Locals began referring to the area as ‘The Mission’, referring to the penal reserve and settlement where Aboriginal people were taken, often forcibly in accord with the 1876 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin published a story on 5 May 1937 with a poem. They explained where Mission Beach was located, so obviously, Mission Beach was not commonly known at the time. Here is what they said with one verse of the poem shown below:

The poem was written by a young Irish lad, who was at that time living at Mission Beach, that part of the Queensland coast directly across from Dunk Island, well known as the home of the late E J Banfield.


Red skies by Dunk Island

In sunset flames of gold.

Cloud galleons a-shimmer,

Each with rainbow-laden hold;

Reaches damp and gleaming,

The curlew’s lonely speech –

Why these have been for ever

The charms of Mission Beach.

Owen Barrett


Cardwell Shire Council (D Ryland) surveyed the Mission Beach area in 1939 after the roads were built to access the area. They named the district, ‘Kenny’ and sold some lots from a subsequent small subdivision in December 1939. That name did not stick however and locally, the townships were known as Mission Beach and South Mission Beach.

In was not until 1961 that Mission Beach and Bingil Bay were first gazetted and South Mission Beach and Wongaling Beach gazetted two years later in 1963.

The above narrative is an abridged abstract from ‘Mission Beach: Origin of Our District Name’ by Ken Gray.

If you wish to find out more about the amazing history of the region, you can contact the Mission Beach Historical Society via Facebook, @missionbeachhistoricalsociety.


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