Great Palm Island, Queensland

Known as Palm Island, Great Palm Island, or by its Aboriginal name “Bwgcolman,” this 64-square kilometer island is the largest in the Greater Palm group, and is located 65km north-west of Townsville in Queensland.

The island is home to a self-governing Aboriginal community called Bwgcolman. In total about a few thousand folks call Palm Island home. The town’s small island goes by several names, from the Mission, Palm Island, Palm Island Settlement to Palm Community.


Palm Island was named by Captain Cook due to the cabbage tree palms growing on the island during his exploratory travels.

Palm Island’s history has been marked by challenges. The Queensland government established an unofficial penal on the island, which operated for most of the 1900s but mostly during the 1940s and 1950s. During this time, the white government relocated Aboriginals – mostly Bwgcolman or Manbarra – who were “troublesome” to the government, meaning that they were “guilty” of being “mixed blood” individuals or being impregnated by white men. Since that time, an Aboriginal reserve was established on the island with the intention of improving the lives of this “stolen generation,” but persistent social and economic challenges beset the islanders – from high unemployment rates to lack of housing options.

Natural environment

Palm Island is one of thirteen in the Palm Group (which comprises mostly small islands), is approximately the same size as nearby Magnetic Island, and is twice as large as the Norfolk Island.

Palm Island rises to over 500 meters above sea level, and offers various habitats, such as sandy beaches, forested hilly terrain, secluded bays, and coral reefs. Most of the island’s landmass consists of rainforest, with notable landmarks of Mount Bentley and Mount Lindsay.

The island has rich volcanic soil which supports diverse plant species: mango, banana, pawpaw, hoop pine, eucalypts, mangroves, and wild plum trees.

Marine systems around the island house crayfish, coral trout, and sizeable coral reefs.

Unfortunately, human settlement, introduced exotic species, and dumping of old cars and other garbage on the island has adversely affected the natural environment.

Getting There

Great Palm Island is located 65km north-west of Townsville, and is easily connected to Townsville by daily Sunferries ferries. The ferry service takes about one and a half hours.

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