Daintree Rainforest History
The oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world, the Daintree Rainforest is part of the Wet Tropics Rainforest that spans across this northern tropics region. It spreads along the coastline north of the Daintree River and grows right down to the edge of the sea.
It is named after Richard Daintree (1832-1878), a pioneering photographer and the region’s first government geologist who discovered gold fields and coal seams throughout North Queensland.
Settlement in the region led to foundation of Daintree Village in the late 1870s when timber companies and their workers moved in to harvest the rainforest’s native and highly prized mahogany red cedar, of which there were vast stocks near the Daintree River.
Felled trees were lashed to rafts and moved down the river to the coast for further transport.
Logging has played a major role in the history of the Daintree Rainforest and has been an ongoing threat to its preservation.
Major timber mills were developed in the area after World War 2 to principally mine the red cedar, ancient trees from the forest being regularly felled and sold at high prices by various authorities.
Transport connections were established to make the logging more efficient, including a steel punt barge in the late 1940s.
Also in the late 19th century, Daintree Village was a base for European and Chinese settlers, initially attracted by the discovery of gold in 1877 and the potential for tin and mineral mining.
The influence of the pioneering Chinese is still evident throughout the region. At Cow Bay, they grew rice, maize and sugar cane, but were not so successful with bananas and pineapples.
The development of pastoral activity led to a rise in dairying, initially begun in the 1890s, and the opening of a butter factory in 1924, while beef farming eventually became a significant local employer.
Daintree River was an important catalyst in Daintree Village’s establishment as it was the only means of access until 1933 when the road to Mossman was built. The first official river ferry service started in 1958.
The Daintree and its environmental assets have been mined by the tourism industry since the demise of major logging activity and it is visited by more than 400,000 tourists a year.
Its convenient proximity to the Great Barrier Reef enhances its appeal as part of a “reef and rainforest” package and tourism operators are sensitive to its environmental sustainability.
As the nascent tourism industry developed, the first tourist boating trip on the river was recorded in 1979, Daintree Village became a hub for facilitating early morning tours of the Daintree River which were popular with visiting birdwatchers.
The growing appeal of the vast natural attractions led to development of various accommodation services, including B&B’s, in the early 1990s and yielded new job opportunities for locals.
Red Mill House in Daintree Village was the first B&B in the Douglas Shire in 1993 and paved the way for many others to follow.
Descendants of some of the region’s original settlers remain in the area and their links continue to be evident in beef cattle, tropical fruit and sugar farming.