top of page


Magnetic Island Rocks & Sunset

How was Magnetic Island formed?

Magnetic Island is well known for its distinctive environment and picturesque landscape featuring large granite boulders, hoop pines, sandy beaches and fringing coral reefs.


The story of Magnetic Island began 275 million years ago when molten granite was pushed to the earth’s surface with volcanic force. Over time the overlying volcanic rocks weathered away.


The underlying granite mass has decomposed along fracture lines, creating today's extraordinary landscape of rounded domes and boulders (tors), many of which are larger than a house and spectacularly perched.


Fault lines have eroded to form gullies and valleys. Today, a shallow sea separates the island from the mainland. However, before the sea level rose 7,500 years ago, Magnetic Island was connected to the mainland between Cape Pallarenda and Kissing Point.


Magnetic Island's traditional owners the Wulgurukaba

The Aboriginal Traditional Custodians of Yunbenun (Magnetic Island), the Wulgurukaba ‘canoe people’, have ancient and ongoing connections to the island and nearby mainland.

Cockle Bay, near the island's southern tip, was a popular camping spot. Because the mangrove system sheltered mud crabs and grew oysters, the hunting in the bush behind the bay was plentiful. You could walk from the mainland across the salt pans to Pallarenda and then swim across the channel and reef flats at low tide.

Photo above: Cockle Bay at low tide.


Magnetic Island's traditional owners the Wulgurukaba

The Aboriginal Traditional Custodians of Yunbenun (Magnetic Island), the Wulgurukaba ‘canoe people’, have ancient and ongoing connections to the island and nearby mainland.


Shell middens, stone tools and art sites on the island are some of the physical reminders of their strong connection with the island.

Rock art and middens of Magnetic Island

Yunbenun is scattered with Aboriginal artefacts and rock art, yet these sacred sites remain hidden to preserve them.


Shell middens, stone tools and art sites on the island are some of the physical reminders of the strong connection with the island.


Red ochre is the only colour that was used on the island in rock art sites. However, there is white ochre available but it was probably used for trading with other tribes. Magnetic Island had a small relatively permanent population of its own, but there are many indications that other Gurambilbarra people (story of Gabul) routinely used Magnetic Island.

Rock art locations include Hawkings Point (the point between Picnic Bay and Rocky Bay), Bright Point (the point between Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay), Alma Bay near Alma Lookout and Petersen Creek, and Horseshoe Bay.**

There are at least two important art sites in Arcadia and a significant midden site located next to a spring/waterhole on a major freshwater creek in the area. This site contains oyster, pipi and mud mussel shell remains and stone tools. Because of the freshwater it would have been ideal for camping and could also have been a stopover point on a walking track connecting Arcadia to the western side of the Island.

It’s a living site. People congregated there. Between Petersen Creek and Bremner Point was a perfect place to camp.

In the rocks near Alma Bay, there’s a working area, a knapping site where people chipped away at stones to get spear points and shaped tools for domestic use.

*Source, and more information:
**Rock art source:

horseshoe-hills-aboriginal-rock-art_Photo credit Luen Warneke_sml.jpg

The Wulgurukaba creation story of Gabul describes the Rainbow Serpent that travels down from the north creating the landscape along the way. Gabul came down from the Herbert River, went out to sea creating the Hinchinbrook Channel and down to Palm and Magnetic Islands. Gabul's head is said to lay to the right of Alma Bay.

The Wulgurukaba people were able to maintain their traditional lifestyle until the mid-1890s when the Townsville port was established. As more European people moved into the area, the Wulgurukaba people were forced to move off their traditional lands, and confrontations with settlers, loss of traditional food sources and disease took their toll. They remained on the island until the 1920s and 30s but were eventually forced to live in missions on the mainland.


Wulgurukaba people have an enduring and continuing connection with Yunbenun and ongoing custodianship of their country, culture and community. The Wulgurukaba people, work closely with a number of Magnetic Island groups to manage and make decisions about their land and sea country.

Wulgurukaba Walkabouts with Fire Flyz.JPG

Magnetic Islands' indigenous stories retold

The Ripple Effect was a performance that was part of the Magnetic Island Bay Days Festival in 2014, and made possible with funding from the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF).


The show consisted of four local indigenous stories performed through a contemporary multimedia, glow presentation, and cast an inspiring light on our local culture.


Uncle Russell Butler (Wulgurukaba/Bindal country) was the story teller, with the production and presentation by three local islanders, Sara Shaw (production), Dominique Abraham (performer and choreographer), and Matt Whitton (film and audio).

There were two sell out shows on Friday 5th September 2014.

Fire photo above: Magnetic Island Bay Dayz Festival 2011, with the Wulgurukaba Dancers and local group the Fire Flyz beach concert performance.

Below: The Ripple Effect stories and program - click on the image for the full program (PDF).


A festive Magnetic Island corroboree

As part of the 2013 Magnetic Island Bay Dayz Festival, the Wulgurukaba Walkabout dancers encouraged everyone to join them on the Horseshoe Bay foreshore for a Corroboree.

City of Adelaide.jpg

James Cook and 'Magnetical' Island


Magnetic Island was named by Lt James Cook on 6th June 1770 as 'Magnetical' Island when he believed the magnetic compass on his ship the Endeavour was affected by the island.


Since this magnetic pull was first noticed, people have tried to uncover why it happened, by exploring the island with various instruments. However, there’s still no real conclusion as to why Magnetic Island was/is so magnetic.


During the 1800s Magnetic Island became a popular picnic area and by the late 1890s the first resort was established in Picnic Bay. Tourism prospered during the early 1900s as Townsville grew to be a major city in north Queensland.

Photo above: City of Adelaide between 1871 and 1890, as a two-masted steamship. You can still see it's remains just off Cockle Bay.

Landing at Nelly Bay.png

Early industry

The settlement of European people on the mainland brought industry to the island. The landscape of coral reefs, granite boulders and thick forests that today attracts tourists was viewed differently during the late 1800s.Coral, granite and timber (hoop pine) were collected as building materials for Townsville. Even substantial quantities of gold were mined in 1886. In 1875 Magnetic Island was set aside as a quarantine station, although buildings were not constructed at West Point until 1885.

Photo above: Docking in Nellly Bay.

Magnetic island quarantine station.jpg
The Forts Magnetic Island

Military presence - WW11 on Magnetic Island

From 1942 Townsville became a major base for the military and its harbour, Cleveland Bay, an important assembly point for shipping. During 1942–43, a signal station and coastal battery were built on Magnetic Island for controlling shipping and defence of the harbour.

Two 3,000,000 candle-powered searchlights, capable of spotting aircraft at 30,000 feet, were located at Horseshoe and Florence bays, and a radar screen was located high in the hills above Arthur Bay.

The Australian Coast Artillery Units operated the Forts complex from 1943 until the end of the Pacific War in 1945. Today the Forts ruins are protected under the Queensland Heritage Act 1992. The Forts Walk has a historical interpretative display about Magnetic Island during WWII.

Photo above courtesy of Roslyn Budd Photography: The Forts are the number one walking track on Magnetic Island.

Picnic Bay Esplanade 1970s.jpg

Pipeline of prosperity

In 1970, Magnetic Island became the first Queensland off-shore island to receive a water supply from the mainland, when an 8km-long submarine pipeline was laid from Rowes Bay to Cockle Bay, on the south-eastern side of Magnetic Island.

Photo above: Picnic Bay Esplanade in the 1970s.

water supply to Magnetic Island - 1970.jpeg
Geoffrey Bay Magnetic Island.jpg

A world first!

Coral Spawning was first discovered in 1981. Geoffrey Bay is where scientists discovered that many coral species reproduce on the same few nights each year. The discovery revolutionised coral research.

Visit for more information on coral spawning.

Photo above: Geoffrey Bay.

coral spawing geoffrey bay.jpg

The Solar Cities Program

Magnetic Island was the test location for the Solar Cities Program of 2008 to 2013. Homes and businesses were asked to host solar panels on their roofs to reduce the need for an additional electrical cable from the mainland, to reduce power usage.

The program was a huge success. A trial found lots of solar PV can be incorporated onto a small grid, and can help defer costly network upgrades.

Magnetic Island Skate Park Solar Panels.png

A bright future for Magnetic Island (Yunbenun)

As a significant project for our small community, ten Working Groups have been established so that we can work towards making Magnetic Island (Yunbenun) a leading sustainable Island community.

Our “Whole of Island” approach
will enable us to work towards a more resilient future for Magnetic Island's community and environment, while offering more sustainable choices to our visitors.

Magnetic Museum

Find out more!

Visit the Magnetic Museum and craft shop in Picnic Bay for more captivating stories, photos and artifacts about Magnetic Island's history. Open Easter to Australia Day, 10am to 2pm every day except Tuesday and Wednesday.

bottom of page