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Great Palm Island
Archipelago Greater Palm group
Area 55 km2 (21 sq mi)
Highest elevation 548 m (1,798 ft)
Population 1,984

Great Palm Island, also known as Palm Island, or by the Aboriginal name Bwgcolman; is a tropical island with a resident community of about 2,000 people. The island has an area of 55 km2 (21 sq mi). The official area figure of 70.9 km² refers to Aboriginal Shire of Palm Island and includes nine smaller islands. It is in Queensland, Australia, off the east coast of northern Queensland, situated 65 kilometres (40 mi) northwest of Townsville, and 800 kilometres (500 mi) north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The Australia Post lists the local post office as Palm Island, QLD. It is the main island of the Greater Palm group, and consists of small bays, sandy beaches and steep forested mountains rising to a peak of 548 metres (1,798 ft). The ocean surrounding the island is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park where extraction and fishing are regulated.

Human habitation

Palm Island Jetty
Palm Island pier

Great Palm Island is often termed a classic "tropical paradise" given its natural endowments, but it has had a troubled history since the European settlement of Australia. The local government is the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council, which has jurisdiction over ten of the islands in the Greater Palm group. While the Australia Post lists the local post office as Palm Island, QLD, there is no formal name for the settled areas of the island. Other names include or have included the Mission, Palm Island settlement, Palm Island Aborigines settlement, and Palm Island Community.

There are three settled areas. One settled area is at the southeast end of the airport. To the north on the west coast is a settled area with a pier and the government center—some locals call this the Mission. Beyond a mountain to the north is a third settled area by Coolgaree Bay.

The islands in the area were named the "Palm Isles" by explorer James Cook in 1770 as he sailed up the eastern coast of Australia on his first voyage. It is estimated that the population of the island at the time of Cook's visit was about 200 Manbarra people. The name "Great Palm Island" for the island goes back at least as far as 1866. Beginning in 1918 the island was used by the Queensland Government as a settlement for Aborigines. As an end result, the island population is now a mix of Manbarra and other Aboriginal peoples, with few jobs and a shortage of housing.


Palm Islands context map en
Great Palm Island is the largest island in the Greater Palm group (top, centre), Ingham and Townsville are marked on the mainland

At 55 km2 (21 sq mi), Great Palm Island is nearly twice the size of Norfolk Island and of a similar size to Magnetic Island. According to a Queensland government source, there are sixteen islands that make up the Greater Palm group. The majority of these are micro-islands. Major islands within the Greater Palm group are Great Palm Island, Fantome Island, and Orpheus Island. Notable neighbouring islands outside the Greater Palm group include Rattlesnake Island, which is used for Air Force bombing practice, and Magnetic Island, an island suburb of Townsville.

Topographically, the island is dominated in the center by the tallest peak Mount Bentley, and in the southwest by Mount Lindsay. The surface is covered by rainforest, with small areas cleared for settlements and the airstrip. The Palm Island airstrip nestles along a narrow low flatland at the southwest corner of the island. Surrounding waters include Challenger (Gowyarowa) Bay, which is between Great Palm Island, Curacoa (Noogoo), and Fantome Islands. Local bays of the island are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Bays of Great Palm Island, starting at the north, listed clockwise
Bay Notes
  Cannon (Numbullabudgee)     by Wallaby (Nullaree) Point
  North East (Othoorakool)
  Barber  within view of Barber (Boodthean) Island 
  Butler (Surrumbroo)  at the southeast end of the airport
  Casement  at the northwest end of the airport
  Coolgood  has a pier, a settled area is inland
  Coolgaree Bay  a settled area is inland

There are three man-made bodies of fresh water on the island, including Bamboo Dam near the peak of Mount Bentley, and Solomon Dam.

Natural environment and cyclones

Sea star
Sea star
Aftermath from Cyclone Justin

Great Palm Island is rich in natural beauty, both fauna and flora, however it has been impacted by human settlement and introduced species. Great Palm Island's rich volcanic soil supports tropical flora such as mangroves, eucalypt forest, rainforests, hoop pine, mango, banana, pawpaw (papaya) and wild plum trees. The surrounding bays have a diverse marine fauna including coral trout, crayfish and coral reefs.

There has been significant dumping of car bodies and other environmental pollution on the island.

There are hundreds of brumbies on the island, they are considered to be community-owned.

Pine plantation on Palm Island
Pine plantation on Great Palm Island

As an island in northern Queensland, Great Palm Island is vulnerable to cyclones. In March 1997 Cyclone Justin passed over the Cairns coastline and remained near Great Palm Island causing a great deal of flash flooding. Peaking at Category 4, at landfall it was a Category 2 cyclone; it caused significant damage in the Cairns region during its relatively long, 3½ week life.

In April 2000 category 2 Cyclone Tessi passed directly over Great Palm Island, but caused little damage.

The surrounding ocean

Great Palm Island is inside the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea in the vicinity of Halifax Bay. The ocean surrounding the island is in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Under the zoning authority of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the ocean on the western side of the island is in a Habitat Protection zone. The rest of the island is surrounded by a Conservation zone. These zones exist to protect the park from excess extraction and fishing.

There are seven named reefs adjacent to the island, known as nearshore fringing reefs. The designation of the seven varies; for example, the seventh of the seven is called Great Palm Reef (No 7), 18-054G, Great Palm Reef G, and Reef 18054G. As designated by the GBRMPA, Great Palm Island has the number 18-054, and the seven reefs are a, b, c, d, e, f, and g.

Greater Palm group

Great Palm Island is the largest of the islands in the Greater Palm group. While originally named the "Palm Isles", many names are currently used for the group. Great Palm Island group and Palm Islands are two such names. The nearest island to the group is Pandora Reef.

In Table 2 are the ten islands of the Greater Palm group in the jurisdiction of the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council. Two islands and one rock are in the Hinchinbrook jurisdiction. These are Orpheus (Goolboddi), Pelorus (Yanooa) or North Palm Island, and Albino Rock. Albino Rock is part of Orpheus Island National Park. The remaining rocks owned by the Commonwealth are in the jurisdiction of the GBRMPA. Table 3 lists additional micro-islands.

Table 2. Islands in the jurisdiction of the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council
Island name Aboriginal name Group size Brushfire risk GBRMPA reef designation
Curra-cao or Curacoa Island  Noogoo or Inoogoo major medium 18-052
Fantome Island  Eumilli major medium 18-053
Great Palm Island or Palm Island  Bwgcolman major high 18-054
Havannah Island major medium 18-065
Brisk Island  Culgarool micro-island medium shared with Falcon Island
Eclipse Island  Garoogubbee micro-island not rated 18-058
Esk Island  Soopun micro-island not rated 18-059
Barber Island  Boodthean micro-island not rated 18-061
Falcon Island  Carbooroo micro-island not rated 18-062
Fly Island micro-island not rated 18-064
Table 3. Micro-islands known as Rocks in the Greater Palm group
Island name   GBRMPA reef designation  
  Paluma Rock   18-056
  Albino Rock (AKA White Rock)     18-057
  Dido Rock   18-060
  Chilcott Rocks   18-063
  Hayman Rock.   <none>

Aerial photos and maps

Google, Inc. Google Maps – satellite view of Great Palm Island [map]. Cartography by Tele Atlas. Retrieved on 2011-01-04.

Google, Inc. Google Maps – Great Palm Island Reef (No 1) [map]. Cartography by Tele Atlas. Retrieved on 2011-01-04.

Google, Inc. Google Maps – Great Palm Island Reef (No 7) [map]. Cartography by Tele Atlas. Retrieved on 2011-01-04.


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