Kuranda was first settled in 1885 and surveyed by Thomas Behan in 1888 in anticipation of development that would accompany the arrival of the railway. Kuranda Station is one of the earliest stations to be built in Australia. The current railway station was completed in 1915 using standard concrete units, and is one of the oldest remaining examples of its type in Queensland.
The renowned scenic qualities of the railway line quickly led to the recognition of tourist potential, and the village became a popular retreat where locals could escape the heat and humidity of the tropical coast. Kuranda Post Office opened on 25 June 1891. By the late 1960s Kuranda was the place to be, spectacular scenery, a wonderful climate, cheap living, grow your own food, do your own thing. So called "hippy" communes flourished for a few years.
In the 1970s new settlers arrived; musicians and people with artistic talents and imagination pursuing an alternative lifestyle. Their unusual hand-built houses of bricks and timber were inspired by this unique place. Open-air market stalls sold locally grown produce and an abundance of hand made wares. Buskers and fortune-tellers entertained the crowds. Today Kuranda is a vibrant 'Village in the Rainforest' with tourism being the current backbone of the local economy.
The rainforest around Kuranda has been home to the Djabugay speaking People (also known as Tjapukai) for over 10,000 years, under the protection of Bulurru. In Djabugay Country, "Bulurru" is the "spirit of creation, the sacred past, the word and the law to be followed". As the "Bulurru" ancestors journeyed across the land, stories, songs and ceremonies were recorded and have been passed down from generation to generation.
"The greatest ancestsor of all is "Gudjugudju, the Rainbow serpent. Gudjugudju transformed into Buda:dji, the carpet snake, who created all rivers and creeks of the Barron Gorge National Park. During the wet season, Gudjugudju's presence is most profound in his rainbow form. The voice of Bulurru , the creation spirit, can be heard through Gudjugudju in the sound of thunder. Linked by a network of trails, the rainforest Aboriginal people had an intimate knowledge of their environment and the country’s food patterns. Traditionally they moved along these trails taking advantage of seasonally-abundant foods; and were skilled in making tools, clothes, blankets and shelters from natural materials.
Before European settlement, Kuranda village was known as “Ngunbay”, or place of platypus, an important camping, hunting and fishing area for the “Bama”(rainforest) people. However this all changed with the opening up of the hinterland for gold and tin mining. As Europeans descended on the land, access along the tracks of the “Bama”(rainforest) people were developed as trading routes which had an immediate impact on the Djabugay people. Many of these trails have now been developed into highways, roads and modern day walking tracks.
Coffee, the regions first cash crop, began in 1896. The Bama people were soon utilized as farm labourers on the rapidly expanding plantations around Kuranda, until well into the twentieth century. Many Bama became fringe dwellers on the edge of white settlements, unable to hunt and fish, or move around as they had for thousands of years.
Today the wet tropics is a cultural living landscape imbued with deeply signicant spiritual meaning, useful plant and animal resources, languages, traditional ecological knowledge, cultural sites and human history. The Djabugay culture is recognised as a unique and irreplaceable part of the heritage of the Wet Tropics. All aspects of their lives—social, cultural, economic and spiritual—are intricately entwined with plants, animals and the environment. While development—such as mining, logging and farming—of the wet tropics coast impacted on the traditional way of life of rainforest Aboriginal people, it did not interfere with their strong and enduring connection to country.
Exploration by Europeans to the Atherton Tablelands commenced in the early 1800s, where the area was explored for its mining potential. Deposits of tin and a little gold were found which opened the way for prospectors. Gold rushes drew thousands of prospectors from all over the world to the region, and by the early 1870s migration and settlement to the Cairns region flourished.
Cairns was founded as a port and the Douglas and Smiths tracks were established through Barron Gorge as the first links between the goldfields and the port. Miners even fossicked in Barron Gorge itself where remains of mining shafts and diggings can still be found. European timber getters also became active in the area during the 1870s. Valuable red cedar, known as 'red gold', was logged in the Barron Gorge in the 1880s.
The early transportation of timber was difficult and bullock teams were used to haul logs, some were even sent down the river over the falls. By then it became recognised that a better means of transport for timber and also minerals, produce and cattle was needed, and the Barron Valley was selected as the site for a rail link to the Atherton Tableland. This formidable task was undertaken between 1886 and 1891 by 1500 men in steep, rocky terrain, dense forest and seasonal wet weather conditions. Incredible by today's standards; much of the original construction work was done by hand.