Cairns Accommodation

History

Cairns was named for Sir William Wellington Cairns, and officially founded in 1876, following the discovery of gold in the surrounding area. However, Captain James Cook had 'discovered' the area more than a century earlier, on his first voyage of discovery in 1770 aboard HM Bark Endeavour. Captain Cook needed all his seamanship skills to navigate the treacherous channels between the Great Barrier Reef and the mainland. Despite his skill, the tiny 30m Endeavour ran aground on the coral reefs and, limping to land, put in at a river that was named for her, the Endeavour, which became the site of present-day Cooktown. The dispirited crew named other features according to their mood: Cape Tribulation, Hope Island and Weary Bay.

While Aboriginal inhabitants had lived well in the rainforest and from the sea, immigrants found the land harsh and ungiving. The dangerous reefs, dense vegetation, debilitating climate and advent of disease took their toll. For these reasons and more, it was not until gold fever lured hundreds of thousands of fortune hunters after the discovery of gold at Palmer River in 1872 that the region became developed. Initial access was via the Barron River, Trinity Bay provided a port, and the relatively clear, flat land to the north and south of the proposed site allowed for easier development. However, Cairns remained for a long period a mangrove swamp uninhabitable by all but the toughest pioneers.

Cairns was far from secure as a future city until the railway was built, being the starting- and finishing-point for the rail track to the south and up to the Atherton Tableland. The engineering feat required to build the railway up the steep inclines to the tableland was enormous. The railway allowed for the opening up of the rich agricultural lands over the ranges and provided a livelihood for the pioneers after the decline of gold. While fruit and dairying predominated in the high country, sugar cane became and remains the main crop of the coastal flats. The all-important railway served the growing towns with access to markets and supplies.

The city remained a low-key place until after World War II, when visitors for pleasure started arrving. Tourism was cemented as the town's major industry in 1984 with the opening of the international airport, and the subsquent listing of World Heritage areas. Cairns Museum, on the corner of Lake and Shields Streets, is worth a visit to learn more.

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