Dent Island is in the Whitsunday Island Group of the Great Barrier Reef approximately 18 km south-east of Shute Harbour (20º20'21"s, 148º55'48"e) (
Dent Island is in the Great Barrier Reef, between the Queensland coast and the outer Reef. It is approximately 1.5 km west of the largest inhabited island in the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island, positioned about midway along the coastline between Brisbane and Cairns. The island has a surveyed area of about 312 ha.
Dent Island is a steep island with an undulating coastline rising to rounded hills. The island is dissected by small gullies and has shallow embayments on all sides. In places the shore has been cut into rocky bluffs. The geology of Dent Island comprises Whitsunday Volcanics, waterlaid acid to intermediate air-fall pyroclastics, minor pyroclastic flows and lava.
4.3. The occupation and use of Dent Island
Government archives contain records of a succession of licences, leases and transfers of property on Dent Island; however, written records of Indigenous occupation are limited.
Coppinger (1883) counted 40 or 50 Aboriginal people on Dent Island in 1882 and stated his surprise at the large number of children. During the early post-contact period Dent Island became a refuge for many Aboriginal people. Blackwood (1997) also reports that about 50 people were living around the Dent Island lighthouse in the early 1880s. By the 1930s most of the offshore islands were almost completely depopulated of Aboriginal people, with the exception of those people who stayed on to work at islands occupied by European settlers (Farr 1965; Blackwood 1997).
Prior to European contact, the entire Whitsunday region including all the islands had been home to the Gnaro people of the Birri-Gubba nation, at least since the last major sea level rise in the late Pleistocene period (i.e. the end of the last ice age). As a result, Gnaro people have sites of significance to them that are below the current sea level.
Throughout the Whitsunday Islands there are sites of significance such as the petraglyphs of Nara Inlet which show tangible evidence of occupation and use. Unseen, and just as significant, are the intangible sites of significance to the Gnaro people which leave no physical evidence of occupation and use. It is known that the Gnaro people have visited and occupied all the islands in the region for reasons of subsistence, shelter, seasonal changes in natural resource availability, ceremonial and other reasons. It can be said that the entire Whitsunday region is culturally significant to the Gnaro people.
4.3.2. Lightkeepers, pastoralists and tourists
The lightstation occupies only a small portion of Dent Island and the Queensland government has granted a succession of licenses and leases for the remainder (Blackwood 1997).
From 1905 until 1912 Michael Ahern held an occupation licence over the whole of the island, but it is not known what use he made of it. William Galbraith took over the lease until it lapsed in 1913. Blackwood (1997) notes that this may have been in connection with the Commonwealth Government’s decision to create a lighthouse reserve and official correspondence in 1910 shows their claiming a strip of 200 acres (81 ha) running across the island 20 chains (396 m) north and south of the lighthouse, effectively isolating the southern end of the island. By 1919 or 1920s this reserve had been extended to cover the whole of the southern half of the island (about 400 acres (160 ha)) with some argument that the northern half should not be leased because of the danger that smoke from fires may obscure the light. In any event it seems that from about 1915 a reserve over the southern half was a ‘fait accompli’ as in that year all lighthouse reserves passed to the Commonwealth Government.
Between 1927 and 1933 Edward Stuart Abell held a lease over the whole island, including the southern lighthouse reserve, with a proviso that he was to fence the boundary to keep stock out of the lighthouse reserve. He built the fence, but did not run any stock or live on the island.
The lease was transferred to John James O’Hara in 1933. He ran cattle and sheep on the island and initially built a corrugated iron shack, and later a fibro house, for shelter during occasional visits. A more substantial fibro house came later, and was used by the workers who built the new lightkeepers’ cottages around 1958. From 1939 O’Hara and his wife lived full-time on the island, in a building relocated from the main street of Proserpine. The lease passed to other O’Hara family members, who retained the interest until it was sold in 1968.
In 1961, the Wallace’s leased 1.01 ha around the building that had been moved from Proserpine — this continues as the Coral Art lease (Lot 4 on CP855596) on the State part of the island.
The pastoral lease over the northern part of Dent Island passed in turn to Ronald Willam Vigar (1968), Sebastian Properties Pty Ltd / Normelda Developments Pty Ltd (1973), the Faust family (1974), and a private lessee (1989).
In 1989, following the de-manning of the lightstation, the Commonwealth leased the small area of land immediately around the lighthouse to AMSA, and put out to tender the lease of the remainder of the southern part of Dent Island. The lease was granted to a private lessee.
The northern part of Dent Island (about two-thirds of the island) is owned by the Queensland government and the southern part (the former lighthouse reserve) is held on behalf of the Commonwealth by the GBRMPA.
The private lessee has responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the land and facilities within the leased areas.
The southern Commonwealth part of Dent Island comprises five leased areas, as described below:
Lot 1 HR2019 (58 m2): This small area contains the lighthouse tower and is leased from the GBRMPA by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). AMSA owns the lighthouse and the associated equipment and is responsible for maintaining this structure. AMSA has rights of access to the site through the surrounding areas.
Lot 2 HR2019 (2836 m2): This lease is divided into two areas:
Lease A contains no structures and is leased from the GBRMPA by AMSA as a potential helipad site.
Lease B contains the former lightkeepers’ houses and other ancillary structures of the lightstation and is leased from the GBRMPA by a private lessee. The lease commenced on 3 November 1989. The private lessee is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of this Lot.
Lot 3 HR2019 (1.662 ha): This area is leased from the GBRMPA by Maritime Safety Queensland as a navigation beacon reserve.
Lot 4 HR2019 (115 ha): This area, the major part of the Commonwealth area in the south of the island, is leased from the GBRMPA by a private lessee. The lease commenced on 3 November 1989. This lease includes the golf course. The lessee is responsible for the day-to-day property management of this allotment.