Captain Cook and Matthew Flinders sailed by the area in 1770 and 1799 respectively. Two ships were wrecked off Cape Hawke in 1816, presumably introducing the first white people to the area. The Captain of one of the ships, his wife, child and two crew reached Newcastle. The rest were presumed killed by the indigenous inhabitants of the area.
In 1818, John Oxley and his party, on route to Sydney after an inland expedition, carried a boat from Booti Booti to Boomerang Beach where they spent the night. One of the party was speared by the local Aborigines who watched them from canoes.
Timbergetters investigated Cape Hawke in 1831 and they appear to have treated the indigenous inhabitants very badly. They later scoured the rainforests for cedar and pine using the Wang Wauk River and Wallis Lake to float logs to the coast. We saw signs of old winches and lots of old wharfs now left to decay. Timbergetting, milling, shipbuilding and fishing were the principal industries in the early days with sailing ships then steamships carrying fortnightly cargoes to Sydney.
We tried to find an old mill that we knew was up one of the creeks, but our passage was blocked by years of disuse and the growth of Cumbungi. Days were spent slowly gliding over crystal clear waters where the bottom was visible and littered with gears from old winches, bolts and water logged timbers from old wharfs. There were little shacks dotted about further back in the bush which we suspect were fishing shacks. We found an old cottage on an island long deserted. Other house foundations lay not far from the shore. These houses and workshops instead of being preserved were destroyed by the government to stop people squatting in them.
It gave us a strange feeling being dressed and equipped as we were in 18th century style, travelling this area that had once been an area bustling with boats and sailing ships. Being in winter we were mostly alone on the lakes, although earlier we had met with four unsavory characters who we assumed must be river pirates. They picked up our trail shortly after leaving the wharf near the town that was still intact. We watched them jogging along the shoreline to keep up with us. They were quite a ways off, so may not have been able to see us well. We lost track of them just before we made camp. We think that they knowing the area better than we did got ahead of us to an area they expected us to camp at, because after we made camp they blundered into us coming from the opposite direction to what we had been travelling. They were surprised to see us there and very morose looking. They passed us by without a word. We think that had we not looked like we did, or had not been who we are, there could have been trouble. I could be wrong, they may just have been curious, but given the long way they had travelled and the reception we received, I don’t think so.
I wish we could have spent longer on the lakes, but Arthur had to return to Armidale for work at the university. There was still a lot left for us to discover on the Great Lakes, so Arthur planned to build a sea going period sail boat with a small cabin, so we could cover more distance in a shorter period of time, and go out of one lake into the sea and back into another lake. But sadly Arthur died from cancer before he could start work on the boat, and that was to be our last trip to The Great Lakes.