The Aboriginal people of Lockhart River have lived on their country for many thousands of years following traditional patterns of hunting and gathering, fishing and trade.

The first European explorer to visit the Lockhart River area was Edmund Kennedy in November 1848. The government geologist Robert Logan Jack visited the area in February 1880 and named Lockhart River after a Scottish friend, Hugh Lockhart.

By the 1870s Fisherman with luggers looking for trepang, pearl shell and trochus were in the coastal areas. Miners in search of tin and gold along with timber cutters were in the hills around Gordon Creek and the country inland around the Wenlock River.

During the 1880s, beche de mer and pearling operators began recruiting Aboriginal men from Lockhart River and Lloyd Bay to work on their boats.
In 1908, Hugh Giblet established sandalwood harvesting and fishing businesses in the Lloyd Bay area and soon gained a monopoly on local Aboriginal labour. In March 1908, an Aboriginal reserve was proclaimed at Lloyd Bay.

Between 1907 and 1913, Chief Protector Howard pressed for a settlement at Lloyd Bay in order to control the pearling and sandalwood operators but without success. After Hugh Giblet died in 1923, his businesses ceased operation.

In 1924, an Aboriginal reserve was gazetted in the Lockhart River area and placed under the control of the Anglican Church and the Protector of Aboriginals Cornelius O'Leary. Harold Rowan was appointed superintendent of the new mission. A temporary camp at Orchid Point was established and work began on the preparation of a permanent settlement.

1924 - 1941 The Church of England set up a mission at Ochid Point in Lloyd Bay. This mission was then moved to Bare Hill, south of Cape Direction, which is now known as 'Old Site'.

Rowan moved the mission fifteen miles south to Bare Hill in 1925. A school was built and the population grew to 180 people. A church was constructed in 1928. In 1934, Aboriginal people were collected from throughout Cape York and placed on the mission at Lockhart River, which became a centre for the sandalwood trade. When the Second World War broke out, the Europeans left and the Aboriginal people were told to go back to the bush and fend for themselves.

In 1934, following amendments to the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, the Queensland Government rounded up Indigenous people from throughout Cape York Peninsula and relocated them to the mission. During the Second World War, Europeans were evacuated from Lockhart River and the Indigenous people were left to fend for themselves. In 1947 the mission was re-established and underwent drastic changes as diverse language groups were forced into a single community.

Sandalwood was harvested for income and the mission also supported itself through fishing and hunting. Superintendent Rowan ordered the removal of groups of Aboriginal people from different parts of Cape York to Lockhart River. The removals were often carried out by commandeering Aboriginal children and forcing their families on to the mission.
The majority of documented removals to Lockhart River occurred during the 1930s-1940s. The outbreak of World War II forced the mission to be disbanded by the Anglican Church and residents were instructed to live in bush camps.

By 1944, most residents had returned to Lockhart River.

In 1947, Superintendent H. Johnson restructured the mission from a series of sub-villages representing tribal groupings, to a single settlement in order to break down old tribal hostilities. In 1947, the mission was re-established with drastic changes inflicted on how the people should live and behave. In particular, tribal groups were forced to combine into a single community.

1941 The 'Old Site' mission was abandoned at the start of World War II and moved in closer to the American Bomber base at Iron Range. During World War II, a large American bomber base was set up at Gordon's Airstrip with three airstrips operating. The US bombers would fly to the Papua New Guinea and be met by their fighter escorts based at Bamaga and Horn Island further north. Many thousands of troops, both US and Australian, passed through as part of their jungle training, before being shipped to Southeast Asia. Portland Roads community, 40 km north of Lockhart River, was the supply port for the war effort with a large jetty. This jetty has since been removed. Many old bunkers and rusting 44 gallon drums can still be found in bush areas. After the war, the community moved back to 'Old Site'.

John Warby took over as mission superintendent in 1950. At the time of Warby’s appointment Lockhart River was seen to be in a desperate situation. Warby reorganised housing to ‘bring people under closer medical and hygiene supervision’ and by 1952 the health of the community had improved. Warby changed mission policy from a system of authoritarian rule to a more democratic regime through the establishment of the Lockhart River Christian Cooperative. For the first time, mission residents were allowed to participate in decision making and play a role in routine administration. John Warby resigned as superintendent and was replaced by J.T. Currie in 1960.

Between 1960 and 1963 the Anglican Bishop of Carpentaria held confidential talks with the.

Queensland Government regarding the transfer of control of the mission. The transfer of power to the government began in 1963 and was completed by 1967.
In 1964, the Anglican Church handed over the mission to the Queensland Government who tried to relocate the people to Bamaga. The people refused to go but, in 1971, were forced to move away from the traditional area of the coast. No consideration was given to the traditional owners of the land; the move resulted in much discontent and friction.

1967 - 1987 The Queensland Government took control of the mission and tried to move the population to Umagico, near Bamaga. Some people moved to Umagico; however, many resisted the move.

The government planned to close down Lockhart River and transfer the mission residents to Bamaga. The community protested the decision and the government relented. A new settlement was built near the Iron Range airstrip and residents were relocated to the new site in 1970. The current site of Lockhart River Community was established.

On 30 March 1985, the Lockhart River community elected five councillors to constitute an autonomous Lockhart River Aboriginal Council. In a then ground-breaking recognition ofAboriginal land rights, the council area, previously an Aboriginal reserve held by theQueensland Government was transferred on 29 October 1987 to the trusteeship of the council under a Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT). 

1987 The Lockhart River Community was given 'Deed of Grant in Trust' (DOGIT) title of the lands. Locally elected councillors now provide administration for the Lockhart River DOGIT.

Part of the Lockhart River DOGIT area was transferred to traditional owners in September 2001 into the Mangkuma [mung-Kooma] Land Trust.

In December 2003, the Lockhart River community signed a shared responsibility agreement with the Australian and Queensland Governments to help develop a community plan around economic development and improved community involvement in education. On 1 January 2005, pursuant to the Local Government(Community Government Areas) Act 2004.

Lockhart River Aboriginal Council became the Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council.

A successful Native Title determination for an area north of Lockhart River was ruled in favour of the KuukuYa’u [Koo-kooYaoo] people by the Federal Court of Australia in 2009.

The people

The population is made up from five different clan groups: the Wuthathi from the north of the Olive River; the KuukuYa'u from Lloyd Bay and Weymouth Bay; the Uutaalnganu from the Lockhart River south to Friendly Point; the Umpila from Friendly Point to the Massey River; and the Kaanju from the inland mountain areas behind the coast.

According to the 2011 Census there are 512 people in Lockhart River, with 260 being female (50.8%) and a 252 being male (49.2%)

Lockhart River has 431 people that identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, making up almost 84% of the local population.

Lockhart history

Girl with Black Bean seeds

The Aboriginal people of Lockhart River have lived on their country for many thousands of years following traditional patterns of hunting and gathering, fishing and trade