Cultural heritage

Aboriginal heritage

Aboriginal communities have lived alongside and used the resources of Cape Byron Marine Park for many thousands of years. The Bundjalung People of Byron Bay (Arakwal) have a strong association with land and sea in the northern parts of the marine park, and the Jali people in the southern section.

Cape Byron ('Walgun' as it is known to the Arakwal people) is a place for ceremony, learning and spiritual inspiration and remains part of many dreaming stories.

Arakwal people recognise Taylors Lake, Tallow Creek, Belongil Creek, Julian Rocks 'Ngunthungulli' and Broken Head as areas of very high importance.  Stories tell that the Bundjalung people used to walk to Nguthungulli to do ceremonies when the water levels were lower 7000 years ago.

Thirty seven known Aboriginal cultural sites exist in the local area, including:

  • bora and ceremonial areas
  • middens
  • scarred trees
  • open camp fires
  • mounds (ovens)
  • rock engravings
  • stone arrangements
  • Shellfish - Aboriginal people collected shellfish and at low tide, speared or trapped fish in fine meshed scoop nets called tow-rows.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Arakwal people and Cape Byron Marine Park was agreed in 2007 to ensure better communication and involvement between the community and marine park management. The Arakwal - Cape Byron Marine Park Consultative Committee was formed.

The marine park is adjacent to the Arakwal National Park, a protected area declared following the Indigenous Land Use Agreement between the traditional owners and the NSW Government.

See the Aboriginal engagement and cultural use of fisheries resources policy for more information.

Maritime heritage

European settlement of the area now within the park's boundaries began in the 1840s and has since supported industries including mining, shipping, and whaling.

The Brunswick River area developed a thriving boat-building industry due to the variety of rainforest timbers upriver, which continued until the timber ran out.  In the early days of European settlement, several supply ships were wrecked crossing the treacherous bar.

As with Brunswick Heads, the availability of timber – in this case Australian red cedar or 'red gold' – influenced the maritime heritage. Timber cutters used to 'shoot' the logs down the hills of the hinterland to be dragged to waiting ships.

Several shipwrecks lie in the park's shallow waters.  Many more were lost with no structure remaining.  Notable surviving wrecks are:

  • the Wollongbar – a strong gale in May 1921 washed the 87 m steamer ashore as it attempted to steam from the Byron Bay jetty out into the bay.  The wreckage now lies close to shore, north of the Main Beach car park.  Well regarded as one of the fastest steamers on the North Coast, it was carrying butter, bacon and bananas.
  • the Tassie II – Little is known of the MV Tassie II other than it was wrecked while moored at the Byron Bay jetty in June 1945.  It lies off Main Beach.  The American Army Transport Service used the small trader vessel during the war to carry condemned ammunition from Brisbane to Sydney. Dangerous cargo was salvaged in 1946.

Management of Australian shipwrecks is effected primarily through the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (Cwth). Other heritage structures are managed under the Heritage Act 1977.

The first and most prominent jetty at Byron Bay was adjacent to the site of the present Main Beach car park and its remains can still be seen.  It opened in 1888 and was used for transporting cargo and passengers, until it deteriorated and was removed in 1947.  The second jetty off Belongil Beach opened in 1929 and was destroyed by a cyclone in 1954.

The Cape Byron Lighthouse is a focal point for maritime heritage in the area.  Officially opened on 1 December 1901, it remains an important navigational aid for ships travelling Australia's east coast. Its light is visible some 27 nautical miles offshore.

Check out the host of local maritime treasures at the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum.