Hull River Aboriginal Settlement
The Dyirbal-speaking Aboriginal people who inhabited this island coast were linguistically, culturally and socially related to the Dyirbal, Girramay and Gulngay groups of the Tully and Murray River districts. Hunters, fishers and gatherers of the rainforests and coast, they utilised the rich plant and animal resources to provide their needs. They excelled in making and using canoes and rafts and were expert fishermen of both fresh and marine waters.
Contact with early navigators and coastal surveyors as well as with beche-de-mer fishing boats was established long before the first white people settled the beach areas in 1882. Timber-getters also camped on the beaches during their cutting expeditions and occasionally utilised Aboriginal labour in return for tobacco or tools.
Chinese banana growers along the Tully River were numerous after 1900. They cleared garden plots and grew bananas that they sent to southern markets, loading them from their sampans onto the lighters which took the fruit out to the coastal steamer waiting at the river mouth. The Chinese employed Aboriginal labourers and opium addiction became a problem. Other problems arose from the inevitable conflict resulting from white settlers moving into the traditional hunting territories of the Aboriginal people. The Queensland Government proposed to establish the Hull River Aboriginal Settlement on high ground at the north end of what is now South Mission Beach to combat the opium and other problems. Superintendent John Martin Kenny arrived on 1 September 1914 and commenced organising the clearing and building of three large houses on the hillside overlooking the beach
On 10 March 1918 a furious cyclone and tidal wave swept across the area and wiped out the Aboriginal settlement at Hull River, the homes and the orchards of the scattered settlers on the coast. The afternoon the cyclone hit, a telephone link had been set up between Banyan (the forerunner of Tully township) and the "mission". It was not to be replaced for some time.
During the cyclone the camping area at the beach was covered to a depth of ten feet by the tidal wave which swept away the bark and grass huts, and several people were also swept away and drowned. Superintendent Kenny and his daughter died, killed by flying debris, as did a number of Aboriginal people. Records show that 37 people were killed in Innisfail itself and a further 40-60 people killed in the surrounding area. It is likely that many more people were killed at the time. Record keeping was sketchy and it is possible that well over 100 people were killed making it the worst natural disaster in Australian history. Some 90 years later another cyclone, Cyclone Larry, passed over Innisfail and may have been as big.
- "Palm Island aboriginal settlement". The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866-1939). Brisbane, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 12 April 1919. p. 13. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
The aboriginal settlement at Hull River, which suffered severely in the cyclone in March of last year, was subsequently transferred to Palm Island.